Gender Justice is a Daily, Bread-and-Butter Battle

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Female students at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. Pakistan is ranked second lowest among 136 countries in gender equality according to the Global Gender Gap Report, Image courtesy The Express Tribune
BORN EQUAL…Female students at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan. Pakistan is ranked second lowest among 136 countries in gender equality according to the Global Gender Gap Report, Image courtesy The Express Tribune

Gender equality is a very ‘personal’ project, to be practiced and implemented whole-heartedly by every man in this world

RABIA ALAVI

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he official United Nations theme for International Women’s Day (March 8) this year was: ‘Equality for women is progress for all’.

And right they are, for women have a right to live in dignity, free from the anxious yearning that accompanies a life of ‘wants’ (especially if the wants are as basic as sufficient food, clean drinking water and shelter), and the dread that comes with living in fear – of violence and persecution.

Everyone knows that empowering women contributes to the health and resourcefulness of whole families – and even societies and communities. The future of the next generation can be improved if the girl child is given the same right and access to education as the boy is.

When girls are educated; they have more opportunities to generate income. According to USAID, one extra year of primary school raises a girl’s future wage from 10 to 20 percent and an extra year of secondary school boosts that earning potential by 15 to 25 percent. Education also helps mothers take better care of their children. According to the World Bank, every additional year of female education reduces child mortality by 18 per thousand births. In the past 20 years, and especially in the past decade, much headway has been made to close the gender gap in primary education.

Along with this has come the realization that a country cannot thrive if half its population is left uneducated, without work, or not part of the decision-making process. In some countries, there are no laws that ensure the safety of women – both inside and outside their homes. International agreements have been signed to resolve issues that limit the involvement of women in public life.

But despite the strides made in recent years, discrimination continues to be a reality – no matter which part of the world women live in.

Gender-based violence, reproductive health inequities, economic discrimination and harmful traditional practices have withstood all efforts. According to a WHO report last year, globally about one in three women will be beaten or raped during their lifetime, and more than 140 million women and girls are estimated to be living with the consequences of FGM (female genital mutilation).

Women continue to bear the brunt of humanitarian crises and armed conflicts. And despite numerous UN resolutions being in place that stress the importance of women’s presence in the reconciliation process and peace talks, they continue to be excluded quite often.

These then, are issues that form the main reasons for inequality in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – the two parts of the world where conflict and crises are rampant. These are also places where it is particularly difficult to break the social taboos that prevent girls from gaining a meaningful education. Gender disparities have endured here, and women still comprise two-thirds of all the illiterate people in the world.

Meanwhile, economic discrimination is a core issue in their battle for equality in the developed world, although that is not to say that women there face no other problems.

But it is true that gender equality is also a bread-and butter issue. Despite calls for equal pay and rights in the workplace, women continue to be underpaid as compared to their male counterparts, and they are charged more for just about everything. It might be hard to believe, but even insurance costs are higher for them!

The Arab League recently held a series of meetings in collaboration with the UN Women office in Cairo, with the aim of achieving gender empowerment in the Arab world. A progressive paper was drafted with the aim to achieve gender empowerment in the Arab world. The draft will form part of the framework for the new “post-2015 Development Agenda”, eventually replacing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the UN Women agency, Arab countries rank among the lowest in women’s participation in parliament at 12 percent. Women in the workforce also rank low with 23 percent participation.

Speaking at the meetings, the UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri said, “In terms of participation of women and their agency in (the) Arab Spring movement, one can say that it was a woman’s Arab Spring…Yet, when it came to the establishment of new order, in many cases we did not see women getting their rightful place, whether politically, economically, or socially,” Puri said.

“In that sense, the spring in the eyes of many has turned to winter,” she said. She also said that the MDGs had left out cultural and religious sensitivities, something the new document had put right, taking into account the many challenges faced by women, especially in the Arab world.

Yet while conferences, papers and speeches are all great when it comes to forming a framework for what might have gone wrong, the progress that has been made, and the action that needs to be taken to achieve the set goals, the story does not end here. “Gender equality is ultimately a national project,” Puri said.

But really, gender equality is also a very ‘personal’ project, to be practiced and implemented whole-heartedly by every man in this world.

The call must be for an attitudinal change on the part of men – to educate themselves first and foremost on the most basic of human rights – respect. Only when men begin to respect without inhibitions what women can achieve (and perhaps sprinkle some of those enlightened thoughts upon their children’s belief system too), can we start proclaiming women’s equality. Until then, we still have quite some miles to go.

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Clarion India

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