We are moving at a snail’s place to achieve gender equality. When it comes to driving change within our societies, we are reluctant and often wait for someone else to take the first step. We are also accustomed to a way of life that we are not ready to compromise or to embrace change for the global good. Many of us are still not aware of how we can advocate and come together for the establishment of a gender-equal society.
How can we all come together to ensure a society free from gender bias?
1. Women’s participation in shaping policies - The first and foremost step in ensuring gender equality is to ensure that policies for women are decided by them. According to Sowmya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, WHO, “The gender elements of how women are impacted by this health emergency are not well-captured enough, Policies for women are often not being decided by women.” Even when national programs are being designed, women are not consulted or involved in the decision-making process. If enough thought is given to some of these national programs run by countries’ they would find that girls and women would still be restricted to their homes with household chores. This is a result of bad policymaking without considering both genders. It is also one of the main reasons today that women in most societies are not considered equal to their male counterparts.
2. Gender-responsive actions and practices - The Covid-19 crisis is an unprecedented crisis and is currently posing challenges of all sorts to the human race. The last thing we want is the crisis disproportionately affecting the more vulnerable gender (i.e., women). The WHO has time and again reminded countries’ that their response to the pandemic must be gender-neutral. Although more men than women are dying due to Covid-19, data still suggests that women are at a higher risk in terms of health outcomes, social and economic consequences. The pandemic is far from over and women should be placed at the center for any pandemic related response.
3. Making education gender-sensitive - While efforts to increase access to education have been fairly successful, little has been done to improve the gender sensitivity of the education system. Textbooks and other academic-related reading material have to promote positive stereotypes. It's with minute changes at grassroots levels that can empower women to make an enormous difference to today’s society. Having an equal number of girls attend schools is great, but the curriculum needs to be embedded with gender-sensitive information.
4. Child marriage and sexual harassment - Child marriage and sexual harassment is one of the biggest consequences of gender inequality today. But we need to understand why this is still happening in the 21st century? Parents cite that insecurity from sexual harassment is one of their main concerns. It leaves them no option, but to marry their daughters off at an early age. According to some parents, they feel that if their daughter is sexually harassed, no one would marry their daughter. This is also one of the major reasons why girls stop pursuing education halfway. In Bangladesh, more than 50% of girls are married before the age of 18, and about 30% of girls 15 to 19 already have one child.
5. Equal work equal pay - Globally, the gender pay gap stands at 16 percent, meaning women workers earn an average of 84% of what men earn. For women of color, immigrant women, and women with children, the difference is even greater. Equal pay means all employees are entitled to equal pay for equal work, without any racial or gender discrimination. The gender pay gap unfortunately is deep-rooted in systemic inequalities. Overrepresentation of women in the informal sector means that they are not just underpaid, but they also do not have any access to any social benefits. Apart from this, women are also overburdened with domestic chores, which are taken for granted most of the time. Their efforts are undervalued and seldom recognized.
6. Empowering mothers - Once mothers are educated and empowered, they develop the intellect to make the right choices for their daughters. At a community level, this makes a huge difference. Young mothers and mothers who haven’t had access to formal education, often do not understand its importance and undermine its value. However, with schools being built exclusively for girls, mothers need to take proactive steps to ensure their daughters get access to formal education. Mothers play a very important role when it comes to breaking the chain of illiteracy.
7. Changing mindsets and raising aspirations - One of the biggest hurdles to gender equality is the patriarchal mindset. Parents don’t think or believe their daughters would ever grow up to become leaders or even be remotely successful. Strategies must be devised to make society, parents, and girls imagine and dream of what they would like to become. Ample women leaders and thought leaders across a diverse range of industries are just examples that women are not just meant to be good wives and mothers. They are extremely important contributors to society and in a way bind the world together.
While it looks like we have a long way to go when it comes to establishing a gender-equal society, there have been a few welcome steps that have been taken by socially aware businesses in these recent years. Be it through setting up a gender-neutral work culture or a gender discrimination-free hiring policy. Companies and corporates can do their bit to establish an equal landscape.