My home base is in South Africa but I work for a global organization so we celebrate both a local Women’s Day on 9 August and an International Women’s Day on 8 March. While I love any occasion that acknowledges my female peers and acquaintances, I remain frustrated that each year we celebrate these days and yet the same issues are still a priority. Where is the change?
The pandemic shone a 10,000-watt spotlight on gender inequality, burning brighter than we have ever experienced before. Too many women lost their jobs during the pandemic as a direct result of the previously unacknowledged demands of taking care of kids, including becoming home-schooling specialists, all while trying to do their day job. The global statistics of gender-based violence continue to soar, and another Women’s Day or brief campaign against violence doesn’t seem to have had any impact on this at all.
Why is it taking so long for more women to get to c-suite positions? Why do we still have a huge gap with gender parity when it comes to earnings? Why do we still expect women to juggle careers, families, personal lives, and still remain the fairer sex? Why do we still need to have initiatives and dedicated days or months to women in 2022?
Effectively using the tools at our disposal
My dad is an engineer and he passed on a pearl of wisdom to me when I became a homeowner and was struggling to remove garden debris and undesirable structures. He said: “the solution is always within 20 meters”. This piece of advice has elevated my problem-solving skills from “how am I going to fix this?” to “what tools do I have to fix this?”.
Life is different when you are looking at things from this perspective. The problem is the same, but my perspective on it is fresh and unlimited. Any number of things can be used to fix a broken hinge or landscape a garden on a tight budget. And while those problems are insignificant in comparison to gender inequality, the principle remains the same.
We’ve done the awareness days. We’ve done the campaigns. We’ve got behind celebrity-endorsed adverts and promos. We’ve had global leaders describe GBV as a scourge on our society. So, what aren’t we looking at to solve this problem? What are the tools we have within our spaces to address the issue of gender and the consequences of inequality? Look around you, what can you do differently?
The power of allyship, respect, and compassion
Firstly, allyship is a tool that everyone can embrace to make small changes that will have a big impact. Behavior that is inconsiderate, disrespectful, discriminatory, unfair, and unjust must be addressed and stopped. It shouldn’t be tolerated because “it isn’t happening to me”. Have we each taken a step back to understand how traditionally acceptable behavior in the workplace might not serve everyone’s best interests?
Secondly, respect. This seems fairly obvious, but sometimes the common is not so common. Respect is a learned behavior starting at home and reinforced in schools, religious communities, workplaces, and social interactions. If every single person started their day with an attitude of respect for themselves and for those around them, it would have massively advantageous consequences for women and girls.
And finally, compassion. Do we understand the impact of unfair wage practices and the devastating ripple effect this has on young women trying to establish a career? Can we understand what it is like to be a single mother trying to keep children safe and get them a decent education, all while staying focused on their own job? Compassion is more than empathy because it requires action – I understand your distress AND I want to help.
So, each time we mark an official Women’s Day, whether local or international, I implore each of you to look at the gender-based problems we are facing around the world and ask yourself, “what can I do to change this?” Trust me, the solutions we need are within 20m of us all.