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Diverse gender stereotypes have always existed in our culture and before even a woman enters into puberty, she inherently carries beliefs about her place and role in family and the society.
The outcome of such internalised beliefs is a dependent, vulnerable and an incapable Girl, evolving into an Adolescent and a Woman, reinforcing the pattern of subjugation and discrimination, disabling the realisation of their full potential.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2021(IWD) , with the official theme: “#ChoosetoChallenge”, now is the time to Challenge gender stereotypes, bias and inequality and turn attention from women’s appearance to their intelligence, strength and leadership qualities. The theme is significant in the era of pandemic, which has brought its unique challenges for women – from rise in domestic abuse cases, intimate partner violence to job losses, pressure of homeschooling children and not to forget, the ever increasing care and domestic chores responsibilities – making the need to celebrate IWD 2021 with this theme more relevant than ever!
A UN released Global data notes that the pandemic could put back the realisation of the goal of gender equality by another 25 years, as women lose access to education, contraception and health care facilities. There is gender disparity in access to digital resources and skills and women certainly pay a dear price, by remaining excluded from economic opportunities.
Globally, more than ten million women have become entrapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with limited or no access to resources necessary to live with dignity. According to, The UN Domestic Deputy Executive Director, Anita Bhatia, “Everything we have worked for, that has taken 25 years could be lost in a year and that the care burden poses a real risk of reverting to 1950s gender stereotypes”. The lockdown, indeed, has increased the gender gap, manifolds.
In the year 2020, the year of extraordinary hardship for mankind, there have been landmark developments in women acquiring centerstage in the world of politics and bureaucracy. A World Bank economist and the former finance minister of Nigeria, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala has been appointed as the first woman Director- General of the World Trade Organisation and the first African to head the multilateral trade body.
A noteworthy mention is of Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States Of America, who is the first woman and also first Afro American, to hold this powerful position. The year 2019 also has its place in history, for having women like Christine Lagarde, to lead European Central Bank, Germany, as its first female chief. She has also served as the first woman Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Washington. The light shines on yet another world leader, the first woman Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who changed the dynamics of politics in Asia – Pacific Region, for her effective Covid Response and Recovery efforts.
This handling of lockdown in New Zealand showcased the prowess of having a woman in power, to lead a nation with compassionate communication of fact based health information in tackling Covid-19 crisis.
However, these breakthroughs do not let majority women claim their space in leadership. For instance, as per UN Women data indicators 2020, women account for less than 25 percent of parliamentarians and a meager 7 percent hold leadership positions, globally. This statistical data reflects the dismal political underrepresentation of women in the highest hierarchy- something that has a significant consequence on the ambitions and aspirations of young women. It is easier to lead by action than by narrative or example.
The nations striving to give reservation to women in Parliaments, do get gender equal cabinets as women head for their political emancipation, challenging cultural ethos and men bastions .Such countries show an increased rate of progress in gender equality indices , in comparison to those, that have nonexistent policies to address the issue of representation or poor implementation of gender favourable policies. On the basis of the current trajectory, gender parity still seems to be a distant goal till 2150.
The highlighted centrality of contribution to policy making and the disproportionate scale of physical, emotional and professional burdens carried by women, are changing the gender perspectives and discourse. On one hand, women are rising up to stand for themselves and in solidarity of each other, Choosing to Challenge the way they are looked at and perceived in society, when they Talk, Think and Act in their daily lives. On the other hand, social media campaigns are led by various civil society groups, global impact bodies like UN Women and UN and organisations, IWD, women based charities and groups.
The #MeToo, to challenge high and mighty in media and politics against sexual exploitation and bring their sexual acts in public domain , #EachforEqual, which asks individuals to challenge stereotypes, take action in whatever way they can and celebrate women’s achievements, #GenerationEquality, a UN women multigenerational campaign brings together people from every race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender from past and present advocates to demand gender equality in this generation. These all hashtags are not only part of IWD 2021 celebrations, but also mark a milestone in Collective Activism to let women and girls grow and evolve in all their diversity and abilities, breaking all the persistent barriers against gender equality.
Gender inclusivity is crucial for a country to prosper. With Challenge comes the Change, and we can Challenge the discrimination, inequality and injustice and Change the pace up for having more gender inclusive policies guided by the UN Agenda for Sustainable development Goals 2030.
Its high time to Choose transformative action and give fair sex ,a fair share in women’s right to political representation, choice to abort and health care facilities, equal sharing of unpaid domestic care and chores right to decision-making in all walks of life, above all, an end to all forms of violence against women and girls. IWD 2021 organisers say “A challenged world is an alert world”.
I #choosetochallenge and support a unified and decisive action in favour of women empowerment. What will you choose to challenge?
la Festa della Donna!
(Ms. Arpu Kumar is a qualified International Human Rights Law Expert and works with a Birmingham, UK based Charity, as Human Rights Influencer)