Davos 2018: Gender parity is about men and women, not women alone

This decline was observed in the workplace, the education and health sectors, and in political representation. It was estimated that should this rate of decline continue, it would take 217 years to close the global economic gender gap.
One of the reasons why women do not excel at the workplace is because they have to juggle housewifery with office roles. /Net photos
One of the reasons why women do not excel at the workplace is because they have to juggle housewifery with office roles. /Net photos

This decline was observed in the workplace, the education and health sectors, and in political representation. It was estimated that should this rate of decline continue, it would take 217 years to close the global economic gender gap.

During panel debates, various arguments were made as to why this had happened, some of which, as quoted below, and in my opinion, were very relevant to the current global situation.

Malala, a young lady that nearly lost her life to male chauvinists that did not like her fight for the right to girl education, interestingly highlighted the need to ‘educate boys on girls’.

The education of young men on the subject of women’s rights is a crucial step to ending gender inequality”…

“When we talk about feminism and women’s rights, we’re actually addressing men”…

“Men have a big role to play … We have to teach young boys how to be men. In order to be a man you have to recognise that all women and all those around you have equal rights and that you are part of this movement for equality.

I couldn’t agree more. In my new role as the coordinator of gender and HIV/AIDS mainstreaming back in the year 2000, my excitement got derailed when I got into an argument with my supervisor on male inclusion. My thinking was ‘it takes two to tango’ and the last thing I wanted was for the men in my organisation to take gender as a ‘women thing’. She, on the other hand, was of the opinion that Africa was still very behind in gender parity, the reason why we had to focus solely on women.

It was a wrong move. Our male counterparts were totally disinterested in gender and did not give it much value during their field work on village farms. Most surprising was our female colleagues who were feeling a little embarrassed because it felt like favouritism. On the other hand, our colleagues in Malawi had totally embraced male inclusion in mainstreaming gender. While on a field trip there, we were intrigued by how the trained farmers were very knowledgeable on gender, to the extent of entrusting their wives with the finances.

Important to note here is that most of the trainers in both countries were men. The knee-jerk response would be that ‘women were not yet empowered’. While this may be true, we should remember as well that given their reproductive roles, most women would prefer jobs that give them a structured time to mind their homes.

This is why the argument by Salesforce President, Vice Chairman and COO, Keith Block, made sense. He thought it ridiculous that gender parity could take so long to be achieved.

It should not take us 100 years. This should just be the way that life is. “It starts with the culture, a set of values and a mind-set.

True, cultural and social values are so ingrained in us that whether we want it or not, our actions are guided by the way society perceives them. One of the main reasons why women do not excel at the workplace is the juggling of housewifery with office roles, putting her in a disadvantaged position. She is expected to excel in both. A kind of workhorse, where she is frowned upon by society should she fail in either.

The concept of equity therefore comes handy. If both genders worked as partners and are supportive of each other’s roles, the question of work being hampered by such, like maternity and child care would not be a problem at all, especially at policy level.

Mary Flanagan, a professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth College, hammered this home;

“Let’s not forget that women grow up as little girls in a particular framework,”… “The inequities start early, and they’re subtle…We need to really, critically look and also act at each stage of the way.”

The suggestion therefore, that companies offer more flexibility on parental leave for both men and women, to improve retention, especially for the women, is very welcome. Family friendly policies like longer paid maternity leave for women (in the Netherlands for example) are crucial, especially if children are to be raised properly. We often forget children play an important role in achieving gender parity. How they are raised by society and taught in schools determines how gendered our society will be in the future.

What is important to note here is what Mary Flanagan said. Inequities start early and they are subtle. Perhaps it is time we start focusing on those subtle but yet important aspects of life that derail our goals towards gender parity.

 

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