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Choose to challenge

8 March 2021

Everyone needs to play a role in achieving gender equity

International Women's Day (IWD), marked annually on 8 March, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and to raise awareness of gender bias.

There is still a significant way to go in achieving gender equity.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum predicted that, at current rates of progress, it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap. The 2020-21 Reykjavik Index – that measures whether people think men or women are better suited to leadership positions in certain industries or sectors – also shows that there is very little improvement in perceptions of equality.

Outside the United Nations observance of IWD, the theme for IWD is #ChoosetoChallenge. Change comes from challenge, and everyone has a role to play in calling out gender bias and inequality and helping to forge a gender-equal and inclusive world.

Below, a range of people share how they plan to play their part.

No less worthy

Ultimately, I would choose to challenge the idea that a woman is worth less than a man.

There are a range of measures that I could provide to demonstrate this reality, but with limited space here, I can simply point out that across the globe, women are paid less, killed more (even as foetuses), are more likely to experience violence from an intimate partner or family member, more likely to receive reduced healthcare, retire with less superannuation and financial assets, are more likely to experience workplace discrimination, and are more likely to reduce their working hours to care for children and elderly parents (Australian women still account for 68 per cent of primary carers for older people and people with a disability, and 95 per cent of parental leave is taken by women).

Women are also less likely to find themselves in significant positions of power. 

How can we reconcile this inequality? There are all kinds of justifications for why women are treated unequally. Some theology suggests that women are the ‘same but different’ … and argue that, while women hold the same worth as men, they are not equipped with the same skills and, therefore, are better suited to caring rather than leadership roles. Even if this were true, this still doesn’t explain why we generously commodify the ‘natural skills’ of men and not those ‘caring skills’ of women.

Others argue biology, and assert that men are physically and mentally stronger, and therefore should naturally be seen as the more dominant sex. But surely technology has removed the need for men to hold this domain all to themselves?

Others point to history and argue that, statistically, men are more likely to lead and discover. But surely, we recognise that opportunity and success is directly connected to privilege and rights? How can you demonstrate your ability when you are never given the right means or opportunity to do so, and when your success is dismissed by or miscredited back to men? 

So, let’s assume that a woman is worth the same as a man. How do we go about re-adjusting this unequal assessment of worth? For me, there are two elements: structural and cultural.  

First, we need to tackle the systems and structures that allow for women’s lives to be discounted.

  • The gender pay gap needs to be closed (it has remained stuck at between 15-19 per cent for the past two decades!).
  • Quotas need to be in place to ensure women are equally represented in positions of leadership and power. If that can’t be achieved because there are not enough women with the right qualifications and experience, then structures need to be put in place to ensure women are not denied the opportunities of qualifications and experience. 
  • We need to ensure effective parental leave and affordable childcare is in place to allow for an effective and fair opportunity for women to remain in the workforce. 
  • An assessment of wages needs to be conducted that moves away from treating traditionally ‘male work’ as being paid higher than traditionally ‘female work’. 

Second, we need a massive cultural shift. We have allowed harmful stereotypes to take hold and these assumptions go on to form the basis of our policy and laws. Allowing rigid gender roles increases inequality and violence against women.

Women and girls need to be given the assurance that the opportunities available to men will also be available to women. We create and then embed inequality – directly and indirectly – and we need to be the ones to reshape our community and demonstrate the reality that women hold equal value with men. – Gen Peterson, Salvos pastor and Gender Equity advocate

Forging a gender-equal world

I experience the impact of gender inequality in my own thoughts and self-worth, so this year I pledge to stop apologising for being me. I will choose to exist with strength, grace and dignity; owning my space and my right to speak up in this world. I know that as I become more comfortable in my skin, I give the generations following me permission to be powerful women too. – Jessica Morris, journalist and podcaster

You are enough

I would like to see change in the way that many women perceive of themselves as being ‘not enough’. These feelings and beliefs can come from decades of male and female stereotyping from a young age, from growing up with poor body image due to mass-media stereotyping, or from experiences during childhood and adolescence that have reinforced this unwarranted belief. I will come alongside women, seeking to nurture and encourage them, to speak truth into their lives that they are loved and worthy, just the way they are. – Lauren Martin, editor and community advocate

Free from fear

One of The Salvation Army’s co-founders, William Booth, famously said, “While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight”. To me, this line acknowledges a truth that women and girls experience the world with a particular sorrow because of their sex – as violence, fear and discrimination work to curtail their freedom. I choose to challenge language and ideas that would make women's pain and alienation from personhood seem inevitable. I will use my voice, talents and networks to persevere in bringing God’s truth – that our sisters are meant for whole, mutual community alongside our brothers and that until the day that happens, The Salvation Army’s work is not done. – Rosy Keane, Salvos pastor, New Zealand

Less talk, more action

I am grateful for the progress in equality for women in the world and within the Salvos. I want to see a change from more discussion to more action so the gifts, experience and abilities of women are fully recognised and utilised to fulfil Christ’s mission. 

I plan to continue to be an advocate by encouraging other women and ensuring that women are included, heard and seen in all areas of Salvos mission and ministry. – Julie Campbell, Salvos leader, New Zealand

It’s not funny

I have always felt uncomfortable when people tell sexist jokes but I’ve never really known how to respond. I am now choosing to challenge the joke tellers, to explain that it’s not appropriate and perpetuates harmful culture and abuse of women and girls. I’m not sure what response I will get but I don’t care. These so-called jokes have to stop. – David White, small business owner

The voice of wisdom and opinion

I want to hear and see the wisdom and opinion gain much more airplay and traction. So I will continue to encourage and challenge women to share their wisdom and opinions in every possible forum and assist them wherever I can. – Laurie Robertson, Salvation Army officer (pastor).

Actively choose

Be alert! That’s my key message. So many of life’s issues can creep up on us or be allowed to continue, and we can become immune to them. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is a timely reminder that as individuals, we do have an important role to play – to call out inappropriate behaviour; to challenge the status quo; to be brave and stand up for inequities. Have there been times have we ‘rolled our eyes’ and thought that’s not right, when we should have spoken out?

'Choose to Challenge' is a great theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. It's a call to go and challenge, but it will only gain momen­tum if you and I 'choose to challenge'. – Kelvin Merrett, Salvation Army officer (pastor)

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