Gender equality represents a paradigm shift away from systems favouring men

Dear Editor,

I salute women past and present who have been and still are working towards realising a just and fair world for all humanity.

The theme used for International Women’s Day 2015 reminds us that the onus is on world leaders as well as citizens to fast-forward efforts to achieve gender equality through women’s empowerment. Contrary to the perceptions of some, gender equality does not speak to women aspiring to become like men in their attributes and actions. Nor even trying to take on the biological functions of men because our logical mind tells us that this can never happen – ever. But more profoundly gender equality addresses a movement, a paradigm shift away from the systems and structures that traditionally favour men to a balanced and just state of affairs where men, women, boys and girls are respected for who they are while being given the scope to realise their potential in a safe and accommodating environment. This is necessary because previously women and girls were marginalised and discriminated against just because they are female. The world cannot progress and witness the ‘fruits of development’ with more than half the population experiencing some form of inequality or another.

It is for this reason that the United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls on governments to make national commitments that will close the gender gap by implementing laws, formulating policies and developing national action plans for the next fifteen years. His vision “Planet 50-50 BY 2030: Step It Up For Gender Equality” makes a clarion call for gender equality.

Gender as well as social inequalities exist in human civilizations hence we should not be naïve into thinking as some do, that women are never satisfied. Inequalities based on gender, race, class, sex, economics, education are real and are disproportionately experienced by the female.

It is for this reason in addressing the world on IWD that the United Nations highlighted that the call for gender equality is stronger today than it was twenty years ago when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for action was signed by 189 world governments. This document served as the roadmap which set the agenda for realising women’s rights. However, according to Ban Ki-Moon “…the gains have been too slow and uneven, and that much more has to be done to accelerate progress everywhere.”

Progress towards gender equality would involve adjusting the action to match the shout, for every so often the two are incongruent. There is need for a just world where each woman and girl can exercise her choices, such as participating in politics, getting an education, having a decent income and living in societies free from violence and discrimination, says Ban Ki-Moon.

On the issue of receiving an education there has been much shouting about women achieving equality of access, especially to higher education. Dramatic increases have been reported around the world concerning the rates at which women are entering and successfully completing post-secondary education. Nevertheless, many of those women who are educated remain under/ unutilised as a result of oppressive organizational and interpersonal power structures. Post-secondary or tertiary training should result in improvements to women’s decision-making capacities yet how many women are stifled by the said systems and structures. They find it extremely difficult to contribute meaningfully to decisions even regarding their own lives.

Therefore it becomes much more than just developing space for ‘50-50’ but transforming the landscape for women to emerge as meaningful participants in the decision-making process. For every so often ‘tokenism’ becomes the order of the day, and glossy statistics are presented to reflect ‘50-50.’ This in essence speaks to equality on the surface but at the root gross unfairness and injustices abound.

Also violence remains a major factor undermining women’s dignity and access to work. Hence the international community is asked to be outraged against the targeting of women and girls by violence, the consequences of which go far beyond the individual female victims, affecting their children, families, and friends, as well as society at large. Violence against women is frequently accompanied by psychological abuse and is associated with a host of both short and long-term problems including physical injury and illness, psychological symptoms, and in extreme cases, death. If a woman is constantly being battered then it will pose serious challenges for her staying on the job. She would have to have off-time to heal from the brokenness experienced during the battering. This often repeated offence results in loss of productivity while putting a strain on the public health system. In some instances also it results in loss of employment.

In an effort to underscore the gross inequalities women face, the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UNWomen) Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was moved to declare that progress towards gender equality had been halting or restrained. She also opined that some areas of women’s issues have experienced outright stagnation and regression. Strong words were used to make us take note in order to take the necessary steps at changing what takes place at the micro, mezzo and macro levels of society. Change must begin at the level of the home where children must be taught respect and love for each other although belonging to the opposite sex. Boys must not be taught independence and be privileged over girls, while girls are taught helplessness and dependence. Gender equality must be taught in the home for transformation to take place and for us to realise a just and fair society for all.

 

Yours faithfully,
Audrey Benn

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