The terms gender equality and women’s empowerment are used almost daily as part of target setting for organisations and governments across the globe.
Countries find themselves being judged by the number of women who are elected as part of the governance structure of the country and organisations find themselves being forced to consider and hire more women for top positions.
The United Nations now has what is called a gender seal; on UNDP’s global website it is stated, “To close persistent gender gaps in the workplace, UNDP is supporting public and private organisations to implement a Gender Equality Seal Programme.
Through the Seal Programme, UNDP provides government partners with tools, guidance and specific assessment criteria to ensure successful implementation and certification.
For participating organisations, Gender Equality Seal certification supports a more efficient and equitable workplace and contributes to the advancement of gender equality and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
All these efforts show how much emphasis is being placed across all sectors on issues relating to equality for women and also for empowerment of this group of people. For generations, in some instances, women and girls have endured less than stellar treatment at home, in the workplace and elsewhere.
According to the Peace Corps, “the word gender describes the socially-constructed roles and responsibilities that societies consider appropriate for men and women. Gender equality means that men and women have equal power and equal opportunities for financial independence, education and personal development.”
They then go on to indicate that women’s empowerment is an important component in achieving gender equality, “...it includes increasing a woman’s sense of self-worth, her decision-making power, her access to opportunities and resources, her power and control over her own life inside and outside the home, and her ability to effect change.”
To summarise, without women’s empowerment there cannot be true gender equality. We also know that gender equality is needed not just because it is the right way for us as humans to exist but also because it helps families to be happier and wealthier. This in turn helps societies in general.
For the last few decades, the work done on gender equality issues have been ground-breaking, valuable and impactful. The lives of so many people across the globe have changed for the better due to the efforts undertaken at all levels:
- Crimes against women during war is now a real issue with statutes, this was not the case up to the 1980s;
- More women across the globe now have rights to own property;
- The number of girls having access to education has increased globally;
- The number of women who have been allowed access to higher levels in their organizations is growing;
- The voice of women as a whole has become stronger and has led to outcomes such as the “Me Too Movement”:
- A larger proportion of women are now are part of their country’s political governance systems.
These are a but some of the achievements of the gender equality thrust that has taken place over the past few decades. The feminist movement of the 1970’s started the modern momentum which has now morphed into an unstoppable force.
This force still has a long way to go to completely shatter the biases against the success of women but which should be lauded for all the accomplishments to date.
With all this success, however, there has been negligence when it comes to a certain sector of women: those who are not poor, potential victims of crimes or mistreatment. No one talks much about the middle-class or upper-class women in our societies who face gender inequalities on a daily basis.
Yes, these women are not hungry, cold, wanting for basic needs but their concerns are as painful to them as many of the issues facing other women. A woman who gives up a career and follows her husband’s across the globe to then be only described as that husband’s wife versus her individual identity is often a woman in emotional turmoil.
Her pain and sadness is often masked by the seeming life of luxury but many of these women are akin to captives. Captives, as they live a life chosen for them by the dictates of society.
A society which says it is selfish for a woman to live apart from her family in order to build or keep her own career. A society that often judges a woman who cannot cook and who chooses not to have children as they would “interfere” with what she loves most: her career.
So while we continue, as we should, to address the plight of the average working class woman, let us not forget the women facing issues which are not spoken about because they seem petty in the grand scheme of things.
The writer is owner and managing director of Forrest Jackson Properties, a full-service real estate company in Kigali, Rwanda
The views expressed in this article are of the author.