Saturday, 13 April, 2024

Gender Parity Still Far Cry

Gender Parity Still Far Cry

Namrata Sharma

A recent interaction in Chitwan with a group of women involved in several professions such as the crusher industry, handicraft, farming, medicine, nursing, tourism and academics highlighted why the International Women’s Day (IWD) is necessary even in the 21st century. Around 30 women gathered to have a fellowship among each other. However, the majority of them needed a special arrangement to come out of the house to spend an evening outside with friends. Among them was a renowned medical doctor- a medical practitioner and a social worker in Chitwan.

All the women gathered there that evening and many more all over the world have been managing their homes, communities and work places and have excelled as both providers and workers. However, due to various social and cultural norms they still have to “prove” themselves in their work and at the same time abide by the “social norms” imposed on them. Many are still “not allowed” to move out of the house without permission from their household heads no matter what age they are!

Nepal now has women Deputy Mayors and Vice Chairpersons of Wards and Municipalities all over the country; however, the majority of them have to fulfill most of their household chores and follow the restrictions on their movements imposed by their husbands, in-laws and sons. These family members probably feel threatened with the fact that women are climbing up the power structure and therefore want to constantly remind that the society still wants them to fulfill all the domestic chores and responsibilities no matter what profession they get into.

The most important fact is that these women fulfil all the several responsibilities that come their way as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, or a professional mostly with unconditional love and responsibility. However, even till today most of the care work and family input they provide goes unaccounted and is mostly taken for granted. While giving so much to their families, societies and ultimately to the nations, women all over the world still have to give excuses, to gain a few moments of fun and joy on their own, to their families. While several pro-women laws have been promulgated and women are climbing up the professional ladder, it is an irony that in 2022 we still have to celebrate IWD, and that too with a theme of Break the Bias!

In 1869, Elizabeth Cady Stabton and Susan B Anthony founded the National Women Suffrage Association (NWSA) to continue the fight for women’s rights in the USA. In early 1900s women were experiencing pay inequality, a lack of voting rights and were overworked. In 1908, around 15,000 women marched in the streets of New York City to demand for their rights and in 1909 the first National Women’s Day, which was declared by the Socialist Party of America, was observed. In 1910 Clara Zetkin, a German suffragist and leader in the Women’s Office organised an International Women’s Conference and proposed for a special Women’s Day to be organised annually and the IWD was honoured in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland with more than one million attending the rallies.

Now IWD is celebrated all over the word on March 8 every year. Therefore, the fact that in 2022 we still have to organise IWD, with a theme of Break the Bias sometimes feels like a slap in the face of the feminist movement. It might therefore be important to sit down and reflect where we have succeeded and where we may have failed to accelerate the process of ending the gender bias so far.
The UN and governments all over the world talk about sustainable development goals and have set a target of reaching it by 2030.

This sounds ridiculous particularly when women’s equal participation and leadership in political, public and family life is still a question mark. As per the data of UN Women, as of September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or government in 24 countries. Therefore, it is estimated that gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years. Just 10 countries have women as Head of State and 13 countries have women as Head of Government. Only 21 per cent government ministers were women with 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets.

With an annual increase of just 0.52 percentage points, gender parity in ministerial positions will not be achieved before 2077. The UN Women data also shows that five most commonly held portfolios by women ministers are family, children, youth, elderly and disabled, followed by social affairs, environment, natural resources, employment, labour, vocational training and women affairs and gender equality. The UN data from 133 countries show that women constitute 33 per cent of elected members in local bodies. Only two countries have reached 50 per cent and 18 countries have more than 40 per cent women in local bodies.

Social inclusion
Nepal’s constitution ensures gender and social inclusion in its national and local elections, however, the power transfer and social acceptance is still a far reality. So why do women still have to justify their actions and get “permissions” to carry out their personal interests and desires? An overall empowered world where boys and girls, women and men and transgender, LGBTQ community look at each other as equals and treat each other as equals seem to still be a myth. Even now whether it is the pandemic or war those who bear the worst brunt are the most vulnerable communities, especially girls and women and LGBTQ community.

Respect of humanity in the pure sense has not happened. The most heinous of crimes still happen mostly against girls and women. So while we celebrate the IWD this year, let us also take time to reflect where the boat has been missed and how we can guarantee equality as soon as possible.

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP )