A month ago, I met a group of women who are teaching gender equality at higher learning institutions and actively work in organisations to create gender parity.
Among the many questions I asked was how they implement and practice the good values they speak about publicly in their respective lives, and especially at home.
“We are [Ethiopian], and we have certain cultural rules and norms that we cannot deny, as our husbands and society won’t approve of them,” they said in unison with smiles on their faces.
The statement did not just erode my high expectations of them but saddened me to think of the examples that they are setting.
With evidence of widespread prejudice and crimes against women and girls, such sentiments only add fuel to the flames. Both sexes do in fact discriminate against women and girls based on gender, which has had an effect on the persistence of gender inequality and gender-based crimes.
Society continues to misunderstand the differences between gender and sex. Women and girls – both of which are genders and, it should be stressed, not sexes – are at no inherent and natural disadvantage to men and boys that warrant differential treatment. Gender equality does not entail that male and female – sexes that define biological differences – are identical or indistinguishable when it comes to matters such as behavior.
And although gender inequality should not exist, it does not mean differences must be eliminated or that we must have equal gender representation in every field of work or profession.
Gender equality refers to the elimination of barriers that have been put up just for women and girls.
Publicly preaching equal rights will not be enough. It must be manifested in day-to-day life for change to be experienced by individuals and society. Inequality exists in our minds and personal lives; not just in schools or institutions. This remains to be understood and addressed.
Parents hide crimes committed against their children to keep their societal status and to avoid blame. This issue raises the uncomfortable fact that while there is a focus on men beginning to recognise that women are entitled to the same rights and privileges as they are, some women also play an enabling role in their personal lives while at the same time being heard to speak against gender bias.
Parents have the responsibility to raise capable, responsible, accountable, flexible, creative, persistent, inspiring and collaborative children. But they can only bring this to the public if they have walked the talk on the positive virtues they preach to children.
Gender equality can be achieved just by holding everyone to the same standard and by all women and men working together for a better world. The irrational gender bias that women and girls are routinely subjected to can only be eliminated through collaboration and practice.
Gender equality is realising males and females enjoy equal status and value. It is judging a person based on their merit and not viewing them as inferior or superior purely based on their physical attributes.
Rather than merely engaging in events, we should all openly fight gender bias to bring substantial change. We can all practice complementary collaboration by simply recognizing, respecting and embracing the fact that men and women bring different but often highly complementary skills to society.
However, a lack of sincerity can be felt from far away and perpetuates gender parity. It is best to choose the authentic route and be ourselves in the public and at home. We will be surprised how much more receptive others are as a result. Change starts within us, and that can encourage those related to us and the general public to make a difference.
We can all do so much more to lead our lives by example and help foster collaboration to bring a better balance between men and women. Gender equality is less about a power struggle than about enjoying a naturally given right.
When women demand rights, it does not mean objecting to being challenged intellectually. Voicing rights and justice are not the same as silencing men, nor does bringing women to leadership positions based on merit entail men having to step aside. It means there is an opportunity for both genders to use their talents to complement each other.
The key is to have both men and women align behind this mindset and drive improvement collectively. We need to celebrate both genders’ efforts to raise awareness for the issues we all face in order to reach a solution. Collectively, at all levels, it is in our hands to make a valuable and historical difference.
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