Every year, 8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. It is a global day celebrating the achievements of women. At the same time, it is a great time to advocate and reflect on issues related to gender equality, that is men and women (including trans-gendered individuals) should receive equal treatment and not be discriminated against based on their gender. Gender refers to socially constructed characteristics and norms of women and men (and people have the right to assert how they want to identify yourself irrespective of your biological sex).
Globally, the women are fighting to get their deserved share of equality and opportunities; however, the situation is not celebratory for Pakistan. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014, Pakistan ranks 141 out of 142 countries worldwide. Large gaps continue to exist between men and women in health, education, politics, and economic participation. Factors contributing to high inequalities for women include gender-based violence, restricted mobility, lack of education, little awareness of rights, lack of access to and ownership of resources and assets, and limited access to social services. The root-cause of this divide and the outlined factors has been the patriarchal norms of the society.
We are aware of this fact but it is also important to acknowledge that in the modern age, these norms equally harm the men. Humankind is selfish and in my skepticism, men would only join the league when they see the benefit for their own kiln because change of norms is a long-term battle. In order to understand how patriarchy hurts men themselves and how we can engage all genders of society towards equality, I can think of only one solution i.e. raising questions, as I do not have the answers yet. Historically, Pakistanis are encouraged not to question any authority whether it is the family, school, religion or any other area of life so the first step is overcoming our complacency.
Let’s begin with economic development as at the end of the day, it runs the home. This year, the central theme for International Women’s Day campaign is the pledge for parity. Parity refers to the equal pay and leadership opportunities for all genders. But the argument that men ask is that why should women get equal pay in our society when men has more responsibilities for the financial sustenance of families. Orthodoxy in interpretation of religious scripture supports such perception and this patriarchal norm is nothing less than a burden for a family unit in today’s age where the middle class is diminishing quickly. One person earning for the whole family is an unrealistic proposition. If women have the chance for equal pay, the urge of genders to participate increase and the independence of working woman can be mutually beneficial to families if men can keep their egos aside. In many instances, women are the sole-earners or continue to support their families (I won’t bring marital status here because it is so irrelevant) and therefore, the whole idea of one gender bearing financial responsibility is baseless and parity becomes even more important. The idea of family is all about love and support of all kinds. It is an imperative to destroy patriarchal norms and therefore, a pre-requisite to establish other equalities of responsibilities as sharing housework after work and taking care of development of children. Paternal and maternal leaves also helps in maintaining that balance for a married couple.
In return, this participation can help in easing the emotional pressure that comes with patriarchal ideals of manhood. Under patriarchy, a man cannot be vulnerable, sensitive and expressive because he has to be strong enough to sustain the family, its economics and dynamics. Equality can ease out these unrealistic and inhumane expectations that men have created themselves for their creed. Briefly, we need to realize and acknowledge that women do not require men to save their lives. There are plenty of examples of women from diverse backgrounds who fight against the odds to get through every day. The solidarity will eventually help men to understand themselves holistically.
So what questions should we ask as a society to get there? For each of the area discussed henceforth, HeForShe campaign website has been referred to determine questions.
- Does a healthy family is dependent or interdependent?
- How would my workplace change positively if all genders were treated equally?
- Does my workplace support equal pay for equal work?
- What positive examples of women we have of female co-workers and leaders who are balancing their quality of life?
- How can we eliminate taboos of using digital technology so that it can accelerate learning, provide economic opportunities and connect them to life-saving resources?
- How would my family’s life be different if safety wasn’t an issue, in person or online?
For economic development of tomorrow, we will need to start today with good education and health for all genders, especially the girl child because they already have lesser opportunities. For United Nations global goals for sustainable development, 2016 is dedicated to the girl progress. For many societies, a myopic understanding of religion can create a barrier for development especially in what we equate to ‘honor’, which in my opinion, has never been an intention of any faith. One need to think about Mother Mary, Hazrat Bibi Khadija and Hindu goddesses to understand how they had already made a difference in the world before men came and contributed in their lives. Moreover, their initiative was never dependent on permissions from men.
So what question we need to ask ourselves for the area of education and health? They are pertinent to ask because if even we are providing girls’ education, we stereotype their opportunities (also sometimes attach shame) based on our biases of gender roles. Hint: the answers are mostly affirmative based on research and current job trends.
- Should schools require all students to take computer science classes?
- Do you think boys and girls can excel at the same subjects?
- Should schools offer the same number of extracurricular sports to boys and girls?
- Do we need more positive male and female teachers championing for the girl progress? What does it mean for young boys and girls?
- Why do you think women now outnumber men on many college campuses?
- What role models do we have of successful individuals pursuing a non-traditional degree for their gender?
- What do you think is the biggest health risk in our country? Do genders stereotypes contribute to the risk?
- Are all genders prepared to provide emotional support with intelligence?
- Do partners in our society give each other respect for health and choices related to wellbeing?
- Do you think your families and health system adequately supports mother’s and child’s health?
- Can genders talk openly about their sexual wellbeing, so they have a sound physical and mental health?
In all the questions, there is a need to shift how we identify, communicate and act our societal roles. How can we embrace diversity and find strength therein? Are we man enough to demonstrate a new definition of masculinity where we are intuned with the feminine traits that we inherit from our resilient mothers, where heroism corresponds not to macho-ism but the emotional strength of kindness, compassion and sensitivity? How can we teach children and teens to be accepting of all genders identities? How can we contribute to making our society safe for all genders? More importantly, what it means to be human – the experience where you transcended and didn’t conform to normative gender expectations.
I know socio-economic realities are harsh, there is no one-size that fits all but these are some starting points towards assimilation and we need to be inclusive. If anyone reading this can engage any one member in your circle of influence – your family member, friend, work colleague or your own workers to think about even a single question and act on the answers, this will push us for the subsequent questions.
As world-renowned feminist Gloria Steinem said “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”
It is high time that all genders including men set their egos aside and join the collective. Sometimes women also unconsciously try to propagate the patriarchy because everyone has a fair share of baggage. It will not change rapidly; it will be a daily ordeal. Sometimes you will believe in these ideals but it will be difficult to act on it. Personally, I believe in this ideal but I have also faltered because of my share of societal baggage. We all will need to forgive each other at times, and sometimes we learn it hard way.
However, on a larger level, we need to respect the choice of a woman to take her decisions about their identity, beliefs, appearance, mobility, action and nature of participation, marriage and so on. Most importantly, men cannot be secure until they liberate their fear of women (a disguise for fear of what other men or world will say). Men will never be secure until they are fearful of using the next cuss word, sexist joke or dogmatic comment.