Chris Koney’s column: Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world


Marilyn Monroe was right when she stated that when you give a girl the right shoes, she is certainly going to conquer the world! Currently, we have witnessed a shift in the state of female power around the world. Women are gaining ground in the c-suite of several companies, an improvement in gender parity in the boardroom and at other levels.

Globally, the subject of women empowerment has been an issue of immense discussion and contemplation over the last few decades. This is an agenda that has been on top of the list of plans and programmes for most governments around the world. However, to achieve gender equalitythere is a need to have an allinclusive, well-coordinated and multi-faceted approach. In addition, to improve and subsequently achieve gender equality, there is a need for a policy change from the top.

Fundamentally, it should be a collective effort to raise the aspirations of girls and women in general. A growing number of development interventions have targeted aspirations of individuals or goals for the future with emphasis on girls and women. Over the years, it has become obvious that failure to aspire higher contributes to the persistence of poverty, and these interventions have revealed that a little effort is more likely to raise aspirations of women to motivate them to become successful.

Fortunately in some countries, gender inequality is treated as a punishable offence as per the laws of the land, making it compulsory for parents and teachers to make children sensitive towards the other gender. Gender awareness is more analytical and critical since it clarifies issues about gender disparities and gender issues. It pertains to one’s effort to show how gender shapes the role of women and men in society, including their role in development and how it affects relationships between them.

For a while now, several gender advocates have argued that the educational system should become gender sensitive. There has been much progress in increasing access to education for girls and women, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the educational system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. The education system needs to be gender sensitive and gender friendly. One of the best possible strategies to minimise gender discrimination in society is to promote gender awareness at all levels of society starting from the classroom.

Schools can play an important role in inculcating gender sensitivity in etiquettes and manners of students. It is necessary to create a gender responsive school in which the academic, social and physical environment and its surrounding community take into account the specific needs of girls and boys. A detailed action plan with a definite road map is required in the school curriculum to achieve gender equality.

Another important element is to provide girls with images and role models that expand their dreams while empowering their mothers. When mothers are educated and empowered to make choices in their lives, they enable their daughters to go to school. Role models can make all the difference for our daughters; however, does the gender of a role model really matter?

When our daughters see more women in leadership positions, they see living examples of what success can look like for them in the future. A dream future becomes a reality when girls and women are exposed to diverse role models they can easily identify, with as well as those who are different from them and expand their worldview. Unfortunately, women are still under-represented in important leadership roles and in certain career fields. This leadership gap ultimately has ripple effects on the next generation.

Getting women into power and influential positions becomes very important to provide some remedy. A proven way to overcome many systemic barriers to a woman’s success is increasing participation of women in local, regional and national legislation and other key positions as empowered change agents. Women ought to be encouraged into non-traditional vocations. Supporting women in non-traditional jobs is crucial in not only making long-lasting change in their lives but also help break social taboos.

To address the gender gap, our efforts cannot be done in silos, but must involve everyone to work together. Large-scale progress toward gender equity should not be a battle of the sexes. In fact, it can only be accomplished with an enthusiastic alliance between men and women. In today’s reality, men still operate with the vast majority of the decision-making positions in our workplaces, so any progress will necessitate allies in positions of power who want to see a more just and equitable world. The discussion does not have to pit genders against one another, rather it should focus on how they can align to improve circumstances overall.

As far as diversity and inclusion are concerned, a common challenge for women is that they want men to get involved. The problem is, women often expect men to speak up on their own, to stand up for equity because it is the right thing to do and they are disappointed when they do not engage.

The interesting thing is, men want to be involved but are uncertain of how to go about it. Though the by-laws of women-led groups usually explicitly state that men are welcome, sometimes men still feel unwelcome in those spaces, or that they will not be able to do or say the right thing, so they avoid the situation altogether. Many simply need the reassurance that their participation is wanted.

Efforts to make progress towards gender equality are sometimes met with resistance, both individual and collective, formal and informal. Resistance against progressive social change is a common feature of the social world and we must be aware of the backlash that comes with that. One of the realities that we need to remember and address is that, when women ‘trespass’ in spaces that were previously completely male-dominated, there is often a penalty. In education and in the workplace, that backlash often takes the form of sexual harassment, humiliation and violence in various forms.

Women’s work has always been characterised as precarious, casual, informal, low skilled, unskilled, unpaid, unrecognised, unvalued and invisible. It is important to challenge this characterisation by advocating for the realisation of equity and non-discrimination, and for the reconceptualisation of the value of work. Simply, redefining the value of women’s work and a call for a paradigm shift that redefines the worth of women’s work in the global value chain.

To give proper value to women’s work, the unpaid work women and girls do which provide the foundation for the global economy should be recognised and rewarded.  These facts need to be highlighted more in the media, the private sector and in our communities.

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