Happy International Women’s Day! The global theme for 2023 is #EmbraceEquity, which is part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness around ‘Why equal opportunities are no longer enough’. Equity is not just a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. I believe a focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA. It is critical to understand the difference between equity and equality.
Equality and equity are essential concepts in terms of fairness and justice; however, they mean two different things. Equality is the access to and distribution of a set of resources evenly across individuals. Equity helps everyone to thrive, and goes further to remove the discrimination of different groups.
It is not enough to use just a day, but every day is time to highlight achievements made by women and an opportunity to become better informed to collaborate and brainstorm about the path forward.
Have you wondered how to help to put an end to gender bias and discrimination? Consider taking a few minutes today to learn about pervasive challenges affecting women, including in the workplace. Since unconscious bias is a major driver of hurdles holding women back, it is beneficial for people of all gender identities to educate themselves about the varied experiences of others.
It is important to continue our tradition of building community and celebrating women’s achievements together throughout March and the rest of the year. We must also encourage discussion on equity vs. equality, and how we can champion equity for ourselves and those around us. How do we deal with the obstacles slowing down progress of women and gender equality?
Make education gender-sensitive
There has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring that textbooks promote positive stereotypes. This is critically important for girls to come out of schools as citizens who can shape a more equal society. In some countries, there is a tendency to assume that things are fine as long as there are equal number of girls in schools.
Raise aspirations of girls and their parents
One of the key strategies must be to change how girls, families and society imagine what girls can be and can do. We need to give girls images and role models that expand their dreams. I was at an International Women’s Day event that emphasised the need to build girls’ and women’s confidence that they could be engineers or entrepreneurs. We also need parents to see that there really are opportunities for their daughters, and that being good wives and mothers is not their only security.
In some parts of the world, there have been great moves to increase the number of girls going through formal education by providing schools for girls in every district. We have learned that through empowering women on the community level, you will also enhance girls’ education. When mothers are educated and empowered to make choices in their lives, they enable their daughters to go to school.
Give proper value to ‘women’s work’
The unpaid work women and girls do provide the foundation for the global economy. This fact needs to be highlighted more in the media, with the private sector and in communities. More research and data for messaging on this point could be useful in promoting the key role and contributions women and girls make to the economy and the need for proper recognition and compensation. We also need a concerted campaign for equal pay for equal work worldwide. Legislation, economic incentives, and pledges like the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles should be adopted and replicated everywhere.
Get women into power
A proven way to overcome many systemic barriers to a woman’s success has been increased participation by women in local, regional and national legislation as empowered change agents. In just 10 years, the number of women holding seats in houses of national parliament in South Asia rose from 7 percent to 18 percent. However, a global goal of equal representation is still a long way off, with only one woman for every four men in parliamentary houses. A woman’s voice and her ability to become a leader in her community is fundamental to empowering women.
Alarmingly, gender gaps in sub-Saharan Africa have widened at higher levels of schooling. This is a reverse of the global trend toward greater parity. Between 1999 and 2010, the ratio of girls in secondary school fell from 83 to 82 girls for every 100 boys, and from 67 to 63 girls for every 100 boys at the tertiary level.
This is stalled progress and a reversion to the deep gender equalities that characterised previous eras. To address this gap, our efforts cannot be done in silos, but must involve the people – girls in this case. Girls know best what their challenges are in education and it is imperative to involve them in our discussions to address the gap.
Beware of backlash
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. Looking at a local level or a specific situation, we can see how that slows the pace of women’s entry into that sector or opportunity. Could that be one contribution to a global set-back?