Much room for progress

ANOTHER International Women’s Day has been observed and celebrated around the world.
There would have been symposia and rallies, where the more outspoken and radical voices, apart from continuing to draw attention to the still unfair and hazardous state of tens of millions of the world’s women in a male-dominated world, would have continued their demands for greater attention to alleviating same.

National leaders and other groups, both government and non-governmental, would have pledged their continuous support to this seminal battle against gender discrimination that has become a global cause.

In Guyana, there were no national rallies as in those other countries, but Guyanese women were honoured through a series of events as the country observed International Women’s Day. There would have been the usual statements, lauding and celebrating the achievements and status of Guyanese women over the decades. These very well-known personalities, some deceased, many retired after yeoman service to a variety of socio-economic political causes; and others, particularly of the present succeeding generation, do deserve their effusive compliments for their more than outstanding service to society. They have done their forbears proud.

Of course, there would have also been the usual social side of the special occasion: Dinners and cocktails. From all these various instances of celebratory acknowledgement, in whatever form, and wherever held, there is undoubted recognition that so much more needs to be done for the women of this world. Efforts to promote gender equality have come a long way in gaining attention and catalysing change, but there is still a long way to go. Women are now a part of the workforce, but the #MeToo campaign showed that the workplace can be a breeding ground for inequality and violence against women.

The movement for gender equality, the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender, has indeed come a long way with its global message being heard in every corner, in every region of the world. No one can claim ignorance, for the social media has become its most efficient and powerful conveyor. Also, much has been achieved, in many of the world’s nations, with women continuing to rise to very prominent positions of State and corporate bodies.

The answer to change exists in the societal structures, of traditional prejudices, that are of human construct and influenced and are resistant to change, despite the realisation that women are just as competent and capable as their menfolk, and should be recognised as such.

This untenable situation is not helped when, in former colonial societies especially, there exists in many quarters, a shocking attitude of unconcern, non-empathy. Since we reside in a society where social attitudes are easily discerned, It is not difficult to observe at times the look of disdain from those women who are better placed, towards the less fortunate; or opinions/views on the latter category of women regarding, for example, the issue of pregnancy and being abandoned by the male concerned, whether husband/companion; or the instance of domestic violence that has become a national scourge in the lives of many of the nation’s women.

We should hasten to add that even reports of rape sometimes elicit rather surprising comments from some women. Why the indifference, one may ask? Is it because of a different social upbringing that ensured success, and therefore a better quality of circumstance, which would have greatly militated against such brutal experiences?
There would always be differences in birth stations. It is a reality of life, which determines individual outcomes for all of us, especially women. And we should know that society often places the woman in an unfair category, where she is mostly criticised when she suffers misfortune/travail.

Since domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment; and gender inequality in terms of employment opportunities and equal pay are common denominators among the general women population, wherever they may reside; and further, since these dark human attributes are in existence, irrespective of ethnicity or class, then there ought to be a realisation that all are involved. No woman, regardless of social standing can claim indifference or immunity from such injustices.

There is need for common cause, between both categories of women in all societies where the aforementioned continue to be the greatest threat to gender equality and parity.
There cannot be the well-known position of indifference because “It’s not happening to me”. For even the men, who have been the biggest perpetrators of the traditional male chauvinist behaviour are beginning to finally wake up to the folly of their Stone Age view of women, with too few becoming vocal anti-domestic violence advocates, and representative voices for gender equality.

UN Women’s work on engaging men and boys for gender equality is anchored in the belief that achieving gender equality is about transforming unequal power relations between men and women. This involves challenging notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood. It requires men to question power dynamics in their actions or their words at the personal, interpersonal and societal level, and to take responsibility for change. Men need to be engaged as gender advocates, speaking out as active agents and stakeholders who can transform social norms, behaviours and gender stereotypes that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.

From a set of four studies, Subra Tangirala, associate professor of management and organisation at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business has revealed that men often refrain from participating in, or speaking up about gender parity initiatives because they experience lowered levels of psychological standing than women; that is, they feel that it is not their place to engage with those initiatives. This explanation held even when other possible explanations, such as possible prejudicial attitude or sexism on the part of men, were taken into account.

In many parts of the world, there is still much room for progress in realising women’s access to basic human rights such as education, safe and secure employment, and to own property, among others. These aspects require supportive policies by governments, but work is needed to ensure that gender-sensitive policies are implemented and effective at enabling positive change in women’s lived realities. The battle against all forms of discrimination against women can be given greater impetus, achieving greater results with all concerned joining hands and raising voices together. This is a movement for justice that must have the unqualified concern and support of every woman, every man – all citizens, every society.


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