The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter as we strive towards a gender-balanced world where there is gender equality in all aspects of society from the boardroom and government to media coverage and sporting achievements. Where this is held as an issue for everyone, not just women, no matter where we live in the world.
As I sit here writing this, I am thinking about what does #BalanceforBetter mean to me right now. I am acutely aware of the disparity in gender equality on a global scale from listening to well-known campaigners and activists tackling many diverse issues that fall within this vast umbrella. It is overwhelming.
It is overwhelming to think of the scale of balance that needs addressing, particularly in countries where girls and women have no voice and are given no choices and where there exists extreme brutality and disregard even, for the value of female life. This week, I also read an article that focussed on ‘a world built for men’ from testing car safety to stab vests made to men’s measurements. Gender equality is not about women making a fuss, we should be glad that so many conversations about it is out in the open.
I am proud to know know women who have set up social enterprises to champion women in business in developing countries. I know women who tirelessly use social media to call out injustice involving gender equality when it arises. I really admire the work that they do and having lived for a time in south east Asia, I know how vitally important this work is.
I am from a culture where gender inequality is rife. It’s an odd to think about now because I have never felt undervalued in my immediate or even extended family because of my gender. This could be down to several factors including when I was born and the fact I was born in the UK to first generation immigrants. An education was the most important thing and stereotypically, good professions to undertake include being a doctor, dentist, teacher, accountant or lawyer. I am none of those but my husband is a qualified accountant so that apparently, gives me credit.
Growing up, I was identified by family friends as the ‘Daughter of my Father’ rendering my own name, that was given such careful thought when I was born, almost obsolete. My father is no longer with us now but for his generation I am still identified as such. Does this bother me? I don’t think it does but perhaps more for the reason that it links me to my father still. My ancestral village, before I got married, is the one that my father was born into and only sons remain attached to the ancestral village. Daughters who marry then ‘belong’ to their husbands village. This also means that only sons inherit the land in the ancestral village. So my brother could apply for a plot of land in the village to build a new home but as a daughter, I would not be allowed to. I mentioned this to a friend the other day and she looked at me and said it’s just not something she can comprehend in this day and age.
To think that I have always readily accepted this without question. Perhaps I could easily do this having been brought up in a western culture half a globe away from it. It was a way of thinking that existed far from my everyday and if I’m honest, I did not need to worry about this issue because I did not feel held back by these cultural views. I was encouraged to pursue an education and a career and marry for love, no different to anyone else I knew in my peer group.
The trigger though, happened when my father passed away, it wasn’t to do with land rights in the village or anything with a financial value. It was to do with what was culturally considered the ‘correct’ way of things. Towards the end of the funeral ceremony, it was announced that only the men in my family were allowed to be present with the casket as it was prepared for my father’s final journey. I remember feeling taken aback at the time but I let it go, not wanting to cause a scene or address gender equality at that moment. It took some time to fully abate, that feeling of outrage and how it was considered so normal. I was his only daughter and my father and I were close. So to feel that I was pushed down the line because I was female, pissed me off no end.
For all these years, I never challenged this notion that men were perceived to be of higher status, more important than the women in our family. In conversations with my mother over the years, we’d talk about it quietly the challenges faced by women when she was growing up. How women were viewed without husbands, how they were married off in arranged marriages, how if you were widowed, like my Grandmother was in the late 1940s, how vulnerable you became trying to raise a family and manage the land. I wish I could have had conversations with my Grandmother about her life but then again, culture and generational values probably would have prevented her from telling me much. That was just how life was for women as my mother would say.
In my raising my children today, I hope I am steering them in a direction where they consider themselves equal. Oftentimes we challenge each other’s perception of what each gender can or cannot do. At their young age, they do not see limitations by gender. Limitations are imposed by those around us. As such, I realise just how little action I have taken to address gender equality that has been around me all these years and that it’s time to redress the balance and do away with complacency that will hinder progress for both women and men.