Today is a very special day around the world as the International Women’s Day is celebrated today, the 8th day of March. This global day, which is 108 years old today, is a celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women – while also making a call to action for accelerating gender balance. It is a day – a celebration – set aside to honour every woman on Earth, irrespective of any barriers be it ethnic or language for instance.
We live in a largely patriarchal society, a power structure designed to give dominance to men. Women are not considered the same in all respects to men and as such, are undervalued. Their rights are not considered side-by-side the rights of men and are often ignored or treated with levity. Take education for instance. According to UNICEF’s Statistics on Education in Nigeria, of the 10.5 million out-of-school children, 6.3 million are girls. One of the influencing factors is the low value placed on girl education. It is felt that girls do not need an education because they would eventually marry, bear children and would need to take care of their home. This would, in turn, lay the education they had previously received to waste.
In Nigeria, of the 10.5 million out-of-school children, 6.3 million are girls.
In the recently concluded Presidential elections, 5 out of the 73 Presidential candidates were female and 22 out of the 73 Vice-President candidates were female. In the workplace, women experience gender discrimination and inequities too. Some organisations would not hire young women because they are more likely to gate married, become pregnant and request for maternity leave. This is seen as a loss because they still must pay her in full despite the leave. Some organisations enforce a two-year ban on getting pregnant on new female employees. Some women are skipped over for promotion. Women are also more likely to be judged by their looks and appearances than their male counterparts. In some organisations, women who carry are on the same level, carry out the same responsibilities and achieve the same set goals as their male counterparts are paid lesser than them, nonetheless. Women are also more likely to be sexually harassed at their workplace as opposed to men.
This year, the International Women’s Day theme is #BalanceforBetter. What do we mean by this, you may ask. Simply put, it means a gender-balanced society will give us a better, balanced world. Balance is a state of harmony, equilibrium, uniformity. It is a state of stability. A state where none possesses more value than the other. Balance is a state of equality. Having established what balance is, gender balance is a state of equal participation of women and men in all areas, irrespective of ethnic, language, economic, social, cultural or political barriers.
When you see inequities or injustices, speak up against it.
What gender balance implies in education for instance, is that males and females should have equal opportunities to be educated. Boys should not be favoured to get an education because they are future ‘breadwinners’ of their families. Girls need to be educated just as much as boys. It is also not just about having gender balance in school. When there is equality in education, a woman is empowered in her home. She can contribute to catering for and the development of her home, including financially. There should also be equal representation in politics. A reflection of gender-balance in politics is 35 male candidates and 35 female candidates vying for the post of the President in an election, for instance. It means nomination forms are set at a price male and female aspirants can afford. It means campaigning as vigorously for a female candidate as much as a male candidate. It means an equal number of male and female representation in political offices. It means that the opinions expressed by men and women in the process of decision making are equally valued.
Otun we osi, osi we otun, lowo fi n mo (The hands are clean when the right and left hands wash each other).
Gender-balance in the workplace means only qualified candidates are recruited, irrespective of gender. Gender-balance of employees. Nobody is sexually harassed. Dress codes are uniform, and positions are not awarded based on appearances. Promotions are given to those who qualify, irrespective of gender. Workers of the same level are paid the same amount and enjoy the same benefits accorded to that level. Ridiculous maternity policies are abolished. Maternity and Paternity leave is enforced. Pregnant women are not forced to go on early maternity leave. Equal representation of women and men in decision making levels in organisations. Equal number of work hours. Taking all reports of harassment seriously, irrespective of the gender of the person reporting.
Gender balance in sports would mean an equal amount of sports coverage, irrespective of gender. Equal benefits. Equal remunerations. Equal value metrics system. Equal opportunities for sponsorship. Equal training opportunities.
Advocate for gender balance.
Gender balance in medicine would means equal rights to access medical care. Not stereotyping certain jobs to certain genders, eg. Men are doctors, Women are nurses/midwives. Equal opportunities to be admitted to medical schools.
Socio-culturally, gender balance plays out in men and women sharing equal responsibilities for child care and development. Men and women contributing equally to the development of their society. Practicing equalitarian systems. Promoting equal opportunities to inheritance. Abolishing inhumane practices on widows.
Remember, a gender-balanced world is a better-balanced world.
Achieving a gender-balanced world is not for a set of people. Everyone must participate in achieving this goal. It is our collective responsibility and we need to drive our society towards achieving gender balance. A Yoruba proverb says “Otun we osi, osi we otun, lowo fi n mo (the hands are clean when the right and left hands wash each other)”. Every little action we undertake as individuals also makes a driving change in the course of action for gender balance.
When you see inequities or injustices happening to someone, speak up against it. Don’t ignore. Don’t act unperturbed. If you are not able to correct it, speak to those who can. If you can, do not take such reports/eye witness account with levity. Do what is right and ensure justice and equality, irrespective of gender.
Above all, be the change you desire.
Advocate for gender balance. You can start within your community, online and physical. Talk to people. Talk to stakeholders. Correct mindsets. Push for equality. Join forces with other like-minded individuals and drive your advocacy to key stakeholders – be it your community/religious leaders, HR manager, etc.- who can make the major changes towards a gender-balanced society. Advocacy for a gender balance should not be just today. It should run all year round. Refuse to be silent. Organise events to promote gender balance. There are websites such as the International Women’s Day official website where you can find toolkits and resources needed to plan and carry out successful campaigns.
Support other women in business, education, politics, career, community, etc. Promote them. Aid them. Help them overcome challenges. Connect them to those who can help them achieve their goals. Celebrate their successes. Point out their errors in love. Be your sister’s keeper.
Women are also more likely to be sexually harassed at their workplace as opposed to men.
Above all, be the change you desire. You cannot call for gender balance and yet practice gender inequality. You should be an example to others. Your actions should reflect equality. You cannot promote gender balance and then turn and criticise a woman for her dressing but see nothing wrong in a shirtless man. You cannot call for gender balance and still believe that you are not equal to a man/woman. However, equality does not equate to disrespect. That you see yourself as equal to your significant other, for instance, doesn’t mean you should begin to disrespect him/her. You should also not be surprised if you don’t receive the respect you so deserve as well.
We are what we believe in. Together, we can make the world a better gender-balanced place. Remember, a gender-balanced world is a better-balanced world. Happy International Women’s Day!!!