The international community paused yesterday, March 8, to acknowledge the social, political, cultural, economic achievements of women globally as well as to encourage gender parity. The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 was Be Bold For Change.
In many societies, women are discriminated against and their voice given a back seat. Disturbingly, in some countries, the female fetus is often aborted as many families view girls as a burden on the economics of the family. Therefore, no preparation or very little is made for girls.
The discrimination of girls and women globally is rooted in a patriarchal system in which the male gender is given pride of place, along with privileges and benefits attached to being male. Unfortunately, many men still identify women through sexist lenses for the sole purpose of sexual gratification.
The culture of entitlement to female bodies served on a platter for men’s pleasure must be interrogated and replaced. It bears thought that sexual abuse, sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances are only some of the issues girls and women face daily.
This view by men of claim to the female body serves as a catalyst for, among other things, the continuation of the barbaric practice of Female Genital Mutilation of thousands of women and girls across the world each year. This violation of women’s human rights has left numerous women scarred both physically as well as psychologically.
In an informal online survey carried out recently, women identified safety as being among the most pressing issues they face. In Jamaica, the issue of Gender Based Violence (GBV) is of utmost importance given the fact that many of our womenfolk have been under attack from men in recent times.
In order to empower women and girls, they must first feel a sense of safety regardless of their socio-economic class. This sense of security must be experienced both in the public and private sphere. It is only through having more women putting themselves forward for leadership that those societies will be able to break free from the cultural and historic discriminations which have held back so many women.
Interestingly, except for the Nordic countries, as well as Rwanda, female participation in governance in woefully lacking. Women are generally discouraged from entering politics and those who do enter must bear the brunt of unpleasant, sexist and unkind remarks. The society must encourage women to enter business and facilitate easy financing of same. Closing the gender gap in employment could add another US$12trillion to the global GDP by 2025.
We can and should do more work towards a more inclusive and gender equal society. There needs to be more engagement of boys and men in discussions on gender relations. At times, we are tempted to think that by excluding men from the discourse pertaining to gender and interpersonal relationships that the narrative surrounding women will improve. We need to encourage and foster a culture of conflict resolution in order to arrive at solutions for many relationships which have gone bad.
Men need to give more support both in practical as well as in symbolic terms to the concerns and plight of women. Gender equality is pivotal to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed to by almost all world leaders to tackle the challenges we face. Sustainable Development Goal 5 speaks specifically to gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.
It is only through attaining financial stability that women are going to free themselves from the vices and mechanisms which are in place to keep them dependent upon men. In being Be Bold for Change, we need to promote a society and indeed a world in which women’s rights are human rights.
In wishing my sisters happy International Women’s Day yesterday, I left the words of Mae Jemison “Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live”.
(Wayne Campbell is a Jamaican educator, poet, blogger and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)