Building a World of Gender Equality

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DR MANZOOR SHAH

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Woman – a unique and complex blend of positive thoughts, strength, determination, selfless love, care and affection –  is blessed with the power to nurture, transform and create a balance. Being highly committed and productive, women are playing key roles in varied sectors of an economy. Hence, giving them equal status with men, making them educated and empowered becomes essential for the advancement of a society. The focus of modern societies, therefore, has shifted from equipping women for their traditional roles (of homemakers, mothers, daughters, sisters and wives) to knowing their worth as mompreneurs, producers, partners, partakers, planners and others, thus making a major contribution to the family income and welfare, in particular and human progress, in general. But, since ages, womankind across the globe has been fighting for their right to speech, to equality, to education and most importantly for their right to freedom.

This being so, every year 8th March is celebrated as the International Women’s Day. The occasion marks numerous events that are organized worldwide showing respect, love and care towards women and girls. On this day, their achievements and contributions in diverse fields are assessed, acknowledged and appreciated. At the same time, this day is a reminder of the discrimination and inequality that is still prominent and continues to plague societies. The occasion which is not country, group or organization specific, but belongs to all groups collectively everywhere, gives voice to the muzzled voices and the unnoticed tears.

To embrace this day, the current trend of sending happy women’s day messages, gifting presents or greeting cards, exchanging flowers or bouquets and giving chocolates or rosettes is believed to be the ideal way to express love and gratitude for women. But, what if we identify the rights and power of the womenfolk, celebrate their achievements, give them a stature that they deserve and act in the ongoing fight for gender equality?

It is a proven truth that the efforts which a woman puts in for her progress together with the progress of people associated with her are immeasurable. Indubitably, numerous women around the world hold some key positions at different levels-be it social, economic, political or educational- who have played or are playing an extraordinary role in the history of their respective countries and communities. They are becoming the role models and inspiration for all of us. But instead of recognizing and appreciating their incredible contributions in our lives, it is distressing that women continue to be undermined; they work more but earn less and have fewer choices. They are the victims of many injuries, experience multiple forms of violence in private and public spheres and parity is far from obtained. While a lot of noise is generated, there is very little light thrown on the women’s sufferings, their concerns and the social/economic costs of discrimination. As such, the most important thing which needs to be done is to bridge this gender gap. Towards this end, much has been done and much more remains to be done.

Pertinently, all religions preach gender equity and emphasize the fact that no one is superior to the other as a gender. Our religion, Islam, has given women special status in society and regards them as precious creation worthy of reverence, respect and honour. Therefore, giving women equal opportunities with men and empowering them is necessary for bringing gender equality. Women too should understand their status and incredibility of their power. They must know that there is no stance in which women are less in comparison to men as both contribute equally to the betterment of a society. In order to appreciate the gender equity, the first step in this direction, therefore, should be that people must change their mindset, attitude and their indifference towards the subject. But, as ill luck would have it, those who speak about gender equality are modern by way of their lifestyle only and not by way of their thoughts and ideas.

With a view to reinstate the status to women, understand and eliminate discrimination against them, the United Nations General Assembly declared 1975 as the International Year of Women, thus bringing about a renewal of interest in their status and development. Also the four International Women’s Conferences organized–at Mexico in 1975, at Copenhagen in 1980, at Nairobi in 1985 and at Beijing in 1995 followed by a series of five-year reviews– stressed the need for active women participation in all spheres of life and improvement of their issues. In his message Antonio Guterres–the present UN Secretary General–on International Women’s Day last year rightly said, “Let’s make sure that women and girls can shape the policies, services and infrastructure that impact all our lives. And let’s support women and girls who are breaking down barriers to create a better world for everyone”.

Despite such laudable efforts, it is a sorry state of affairs that a good majority of women, especially in the developing societies, are not aware of the benefits conferred on them. However, it is gratifying that many communities have taken significant steps to advance women’s rights and empowerment. New laws, initiatives and campaigns are helping to curb discrimination and violence against women and girls. Consequently, momentum has been gathering that demands gender equality and push for equal representation of women in all domains of life as equal partners with men and also in achieving educational progress and access to knowledge. Removing barriers that have traditionally inhibited women empowerment is expected to go a long way in bringing transparency, accountability, efficiency, effective governance and improved performance in all human activities to a larger extent.

In this part of the world, people have started recognizing the role of women in different walks of life. Today, there seems much acceptance of their energies, capacities, intelligence, talents, creativity, skills and potentials which were otherwise privileges of men only. There is no denying the fact that our present female generation is blessed with ample knowledge, more exposure, higher confidence and analytical bent of mind. They aim to use their talent to the fullest. However, a recent survey about gender equality paints a grim picture. A sizeable number of women and girls have been affected more by poverty, lack of opportunities and facilities owing to the innate discrimination prevalent in our society. It revealed disparity, shrewdness and violence against the female gender. Harassment at workplaces and belittling by male colleagues has also been reported. Some respondents were in a state of anger and talked about taking action at societal level which would somehow help in alleviating this menace. This is something we, as a society, need to get very serious about. Notably, the survey predicts that if our women are empowered and given an equal status with their male counterparts, their active participation in several socio-economic activities would certainly lead to prosperity and stability in community. Hence, a gender-balanced society is necessary where every single individual has a part to play, with collective efforts of all who care about human rights. Though it is the foremost duty of all those working in the name of women empowerment, gender equality and feminism to safeguard the rights and interests of women and grant them due liberty in pursuing their daily affairs, women too on their part must strictly adhere to ethical standards, follow moral code of conduct and protect their honour/chastity at any cost while performing their routine duties inside or away from their homes. Instead of entering into a needless debate, what is required is to educate and sensitize the members of our community and take necessary steps towards creating awareness about gender issues. Keeping in view the sensitivity of the matter, this exercise is necessary to assuage the doubts and anxieties leading to utter confusion and dismay among people.

Gender equality is essential for societies and communities to blossom. Collectively but ethically, we ought to show understanding towards matters related to gender issues. We must put our heads together, scale the problem successfully and thwart any attempt to present an alarmist situation in the name of women issues or gender equality. Once we comprehend the costs and consequences of discrimination against women and girls, only then we would be able to lessen their woes. This rational approach would certainly help us in achieving the theme for the Year 2020: “An Equal World is an Enabled World”, which is drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. Most importantly, we all are parts of the whole. Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. But collectively, our activities, conversations, behaviours and mindsets can have an impact on the larger society. As such, together we all can play a part and make change happen. The race is on for a Gender Equal Workplace, Gender Equal Government……Gender Equal World. Surely, each one of us can help to create a Gender Equal World. So let us join hands and make it happen. We all can choose to be #EachforEqual.

Tubah Shah is Masters in English Literature and Dr Manzoor Shah a Former Commerce Teacher.