Earlier this month, the world commemorated the 109th ‘International Women’s Day’. Through acts of courage and determination, the day honours the advancements that women have accomplished across the sociopolitical, economic and cultural spheres. This year, global celebrations encapsulated the theme: “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”. It recognizes how advancements to gender parity have been incremental and slow to enact. As multiple obstacles still exist and remain unchanged in law and culture, the UN reminds us that there is no single country that can claim to have achieved gender equality.
Within the same week as Women’s Day, the UNDP released the “Tackling Social Norms” report. Stated early, the advancements to women’s rights are far and few between; there has not been enough progress in improving the quality of life and safety for women across the globe. “This is the time for a reality check…the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030”.
The 2020 report found that close to 90 percent of men and women hold some sort of bias against women, which provided “new clues into the invisible barriers women face in achieving equality”. Social norms act as an integral part of understanding the persistence and systemic nature of gender disparity. By surveying 75 countries, these nations and their ‘progressive’ values are challenged. Sociocultural beliefs – like stereotypes – are found to hinder the development of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
One example is this illusion of choice promoted by countries: there is a belief that young girls can achieve anything they want, by investing in their education. However, the UNDP explains how the same societies – who promote ideals of inclusion – also privilege males and block a girl’s “access to power positions without giving them a fair chance”.
Using the ‘Gender Social Norms Index’, the report found multiple biases. The measure uses the cumulative total of a country’s political, educational, economic and physical integrity. The latter refers to beliefs about women’s reproductive rights and support for violence against women. Globally, the analysis saw that almost “50 percent of men agree that men should have more right to a job than women”, and nearly a third of respondents considered it acceptable for males to act violently towards their partners.
Several critiques of Women’s Day have questioned the influence of corporations rebranding the day as a ‘light brunch’ which “couldn’t be further from its revolutionary roots”. While communities are free to observe the day in whatever capacity they deem appropriate, it is essential to remember that – amongst all the celebratory narratives – the essence of Women’s Day is to educate and mobilize action for women’s liberation.
Women and girls are undervalued as they are routinely subject to multiple forms of violence, both privately and publicly. Women remain underrepresented in equal numbers across business and politics; and by working harder and earning less, there still exists a lack of equal access to education and health resources.
The COVID-19 outbreak had forced the cancellation of many demonstrations. Yet, this did not deter the efforts of some in their countries. There was an undeniable global presence of activists who still marched for their messages of equality on Women’s Day. In the images that we have seen from these distinctive, worldwide demonstrations, there exists a cross-cultural commonality: the fight for equal rights has defined lives, and the power of collective change is crucial in the drive for gender equality.
As bell hooks surmise, “privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege. I want to live in a world where all women have access to education, and all women can earn Ph.D.’s if they so desire. Privilege does not have to be negative, but we have to share our resources and take direction about how to use our privilege in ways that empower those who lack it.”
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