Happy International Women’s Day!
I thought I would digress from the usual travel posts and write about the joys and the plight of being a woman in today’s world by sharing some facts that I have gleaned from my travels and from my research.
I have always been a supporter of gender equality. I am one of three sisters. We have never been told that we couldn’t do something because we are female. I was given many opportunities to play whatever sports I wanted and to choose whatever university degree and profession I wanted. In the early years of my career in banking, I was ahead of my peers, male and female, in terms of earnings and career progression, so I wasn’t badly affected. In later years, I remember indignant colleagues openly criticising how much I was paid and demanding that their salary be raised. As I progressed through the years, I realised that I was being left behind, with my male colleagues earning more and getting more promotions for less or lower quality work.
Since moving to India and living and working here, my passion for equality has exploded. Whatever injustice I felt whilst in Australia or the UK has been magnified tenfold.
To be clear, I do believe that much progress has been made however there is still a long way to go for reaching true gender equality.
62 million girls are denied an education. 4 out or 5 victims of human trafficking are female. A third of females will suffer domestic violence at the hands of someone they know. Women account for more than 60% of all the world’s illiterate.
In India, 12% of women make up the Parliament and 19% of women make up the non-agricultural workforce. 47% of homes have no sanitation, the figure increases in rural areas, placing considerable strain on women and jeopardising their safety. Baby boys are still preferred, with girls being aborted, killed at birth, starved or abandoned. This is prevalent even amongst the highly educated middle class, so much so that it is illegal for medical staff to tell you the sex of your child during your pregnancy. We know people who have refused gifts for a newborn son in a draconian attempt to break the pattern. It extends even to inane bureaucracy, where I am asked on official forms for my husband or father’s name, as an identifier (often denoted as “wife of” or “daughter of”), thus marking me as their property. I can only imagine what the single woman, who might not know who her father is or does not want to be associated with an abusive, alcoholic one, must go through during the gazillion form-filling events.
In Australia and the UK, women earn 24% less than men. This equates to £300,000 less over their working life. To top of it off, women have to pay a “tampon tax” for the privilege (and indeed it is a wonderful privilege) of being born a woman and bleeding each month. Of the top 200 companies in Australia, 40 of them have no women on their boards and 58 have only one. There is an objective to have at least 30% of women on these boards and the fact that there is a quota indicates a huge underlying problem with unequal opportunity and discrimination against women.
This is so ingrained and I am also guilty of perpetuating the inequality in indirect ways, sometimes directly too!
I have been on the giving and receiving end of unconscious bias. I have made bad decisions and snap judgements whilst affected by my bias. I have had to force myself to stop telling my nieces and any little girl I meet that they look pretty / are wearing a beautiful dress / have lovely hair, and instead ask them about their favourite book or tell them that they are smart or praise them for working hard. I have had to ask for two female candidate CVs for every male candidate I am presented. I have been accused of bias (towards females – GASP!!) and to address this I have had to ask for the names and gender information to be removed.
It’s not all bad news. In Iceland, a woman has been head of state in 20 out of the last 50 years. In Denmark, workers are given 52 weeks of parental leave. In Iran, two thirds of university students are women. In Bhutan, property is passed matrilineally through the generations of females. For every horror story, there is a countering positive one. Every journey I make around the world brings more stories of joy, of empowerment, of positivity for women to light. And for this, I am grateful for the privileged opportunity of travel.
But the truth is, we need to do more. Women AND men need to stand together and fight for equality. We need to become aware of our biases, conscious and unconscious and to challenge ourselves to remove them. We women need to take charge of our lives and careers and believe that we can do whatever we choose to do. We need to support our fellow women in getting there and we need to educate our boys to treat women with respect and to pull their weight at home. We need to stop doing everything and stop wanting everything to be perfect. Men, do the laundry and soothe the sick child occasionally, if not regularly. The biggest aphrodisiac for a woman is a man doing housework. Think on that.
Let’s all do more together.