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Towards achieving a world of equality, a world beyond labels

Nothing says trouble like a woman in pants. That was the attitude in the 1930s, anyway; when Barbara McClintock wore slacks at the University of Missouri, it was considered scandalous. Even worse, she was feisty, direct, incredibly smart, and twice as sharp as most of her male colleagues. She did things her way to get the best results, even if it meant working late with her students, who were breaking curfew. If you think these seem like good qualities for scientist, then you are right. But back then, these weren’t necessarily considered good qualities in a woman. Her intelligence, her self-confidence, her willingness to break rules, and of course her pants were all considered shocking!

Rachel Ignotofsky, Women in Science

That was 1930. What is it like in 2021? International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on what has (or has not) changed. 71 years, after all, is almost a lifetime.

We are used to thinking of human development as a linear progression, where we go steadily from bad to good to better. Yet, it is worth evaluating: are we headed in the right direction? Is the pace of change good enough? And who defines good enough? And particularly because this is the first women’s day in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider whether the effects of the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women.

I don’t intend to give you the answers to the above questions, these are for you to ponder and answer for yourself, but I will leave you with some data points that reflect the current situation of our world as of the writing of this article.

  • Nearly 60 per cent of women around the world work in the informal economy, earning less, saving less, and at greater risk of falling into poverty. Women earn 23% less than men globally. Legal restrictions have kept 2.7 billion women from accessing the same choice of jobs as men. (Source: UN.org)
  • As COVID-19 continues to affect lives and livelihoods around the world, the pandemic and its economic fallout are having a regressive effect on gender equality. Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Women makeup 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. (Source: McKinsey & Company)
  • Women are Heads of State or Government in just 22 countries globally, and only 24.9 per cent of national parliamentarians are women. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government will take another 130 years. (Source: UN Women)
  • Progress toward equality in work and society has stayed relatively flat in the five years between 2014 and 2019. In 2014, the global Gender Parity Score (GPS) was 0.60; today, it is 0.61 (on a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 signifies full parity between women and men). Gender equality in work continues to lag behind gender equality in society, with a GPS of 0.52 versus 0.67, respectively.  (Source: McKinsey & Company)
  • 1 in 3 have experienced physical or sexual violence and 200M of girls/women have suffered genital mutilation. Emerging data shows an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries since the outbreak of COVID-19. In some countries, resources and efforts have been diverted from violence against women response to immediate COVID-19 relief, thus exacerbating already-terrible situations. (Source: UN Women)

Far from where we would like to be, is my conclusion from the data above. However, as I look towards the future, I refuse to feel despair. What I feel, what I choose to feel, is determination and resolve. And I hope you will feel the same way too. Personally, I would like to be a member of Generation Equality. As adults living in this age of unprecedented turbulence and transformation, I believe that we owe it to the generations past and present and to ourselves to pledge our efforts to the cause of equality. Not in several generations from now, but in our lifetime.

The pendulum has swung so far into a world of oppression and lack of opportunities for women that we have to push it back forcibly. Towards a balanced world, a world of equal opportunity for all. It is on all of us to find our own way to help to push the pendulum towards its right place, and I invite you, on this women’s day, to reflect on what your contribution could be to Generation Equality, and to resolve to make that contribution a reality every single day.

As I have become more intimately aware of the nuances of addressing gender equality and the complexities of social change, I believe that the way best way to address women's day is not just to celebrate women, but the uniqueness in each and every one of us.

Labels may serve many purposes, including to designate one day a year to celebrate half of the world’s population, but they come with a price. They come with stereotypes, expectations and connotations which may or may not represent us as individuals.

I believe that a world of equality would also be a world without labels. A world where labels don’t matter. Labels may be armours against uncertainty, shorthand for the lazy brain, guarantees for belonging – but they come with a hefty price tag. One that we should be very careful about before agreeing to pay. In a world that requires us to put labels on everything, to present ourselves as fragments, what is really required is an ability to express the contradictions simultaneously and/ or sequentially in a way that is uniquely ours.

Some of us - regardless of gender and sexual orientation - may have a more feminine or masculine side to us. Gender and sexual orientation in themselves, cannot be considered binary definitions - we are the human rainbow with a whole range of shades and hues. We are each unique individuals with complex lives, with a desire to be accepted, appreciated and loved for all of who we are. That is the world I would like to live in, or at the very least, to leave behind for the next generations. That is the world that I resolve to help create, a world beyond labels.

When I think of the future, I imagine a world where every day is a women's day. Where every day is a man's day. And every day is everyone's day. Where we will have a new generation who would think it slightly ridiculous that we needed to celebrate just one day for half of the world. Where we are all celebrated every day, for the unique individuals we are, where we are all beyond all labels.

To that day, I raise a toast.

#BeyondLabels #GenerationEquality #EachforEqual #IWD2021 #women

Author: Surya Ramkumar, is a leader in the technology sector with ~20 years of experience working in fast-paced and global environments and a track record of delivering high growth and transformation in large organizations. An engineer by training, with decades of business experience, she works at the intersection of technology and businesses. Surya serves on the Board of Directors for ICRW in Netherlands, a global research institute whose mission is to empower women, advance gender equality and fight poverty. She is a published author, her latest book is Silent Eloquence and you can find more of her writing at her blog, Sandbox

 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.

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