Women’s Equality Lets Make it Happen

Make it Happen

As a child I was fortunate to have many positive female role models in my life which never lead me to question or think that my gender would restrict me in what I wanted to do with my life. However as I have grown up and entered my adult life I’ve become conscious of the existing gender inequalities operating in society which impact the lives of women.
In honour of International Women’s Day I write and share this piece with you.
By Danielle Bonner

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Around the world women have diverse and dynamic roles, in our daily lives we have women playing important roles from being mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, to being role models, providers, leaders, workers, carers, inventors, the list is endless. Indeed there are women all around the world making a positive difference, many of whom we will never know their names yet the people around them will feel the benefit of their actions.

Every year on the 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but why do we have or need such a day? A simple answer could be to say because there is no country in the world that has reached gender equality[1], so we need to continue to raise awareness over the issue.

However this leads us to ask the question what is gender inequality and how does it affect women differently? Here I look to unravel this question and explore why the celebration of International Women’s Day is so important.

What is Gender Inequality and how does it affect women?  

I recently saw a comment made about the double standard of gender equality and why there is no International Men’s Day or a drive to get more boys into education like the drive to get more girls into education. Firstly just to note there actually is an IMD it’s on 19th November but it’s just not publicised very well!

However the comment made me think about what ‘Gender Equality’ really is and how does it affect women? I came to the conclusion that ‘Gender Equality’ should be the mutual respect and absolute undiscriminating empowerment of all genders. Gender Equality should be about a person not being scared or restricted in doing something just because of their gender while no person should be prevented from doing something just because of their gender.

In reality however this is not the case, there are many gender inequalities faced and experienced by women on a daily basis. We still live in a world that being born a female automatically ensures that your life will face certain inequalities that you may not have otherwise of faced had you been born a male.  While in some places in our world being born a female you are considered less valuable than being a male.

And in some extreme cases female babies do not even make it into this world because during pregnancy parents discover that the sex of their unborn child is female and decide to end the pregnancy which is known as Female infanticide,[2] or at birth the female baby is killed Femicide[3]

There are many other challenges and forms of inequalities faced by women around the world, here are just a few.

  • Employment- Pay Gaps“Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.”[4]
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities- there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Increased Psychical and Sexual violenceGlobal statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion however live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under representation in political decision-making- Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)[5]
  • Lack of Access to Education1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • Health- Every year, almost 300,000 women lose their life due to preventable complications during pregnancy & childbirth. (Care International)

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With such inequalities continually effecting women’s lives, we must continue to work for gender equality and social change, to ensure that no matter what sex/gender you are, you are considered a valuable member of society, both given and treated with the respect that all human rights grant. We must work together as a society locally and globally to deconstruct all social, structural and cultural norms that allow these gender inequalities to continue.

How is women’s inequality being addressed?

At an international level governments and world organisations have pledged their support to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agreement and framework which sets out 12 key areas of concern and “remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women.”[6]

At a community grassroots level however we also need to start addressing the social attitudes we hold towards women. Women need to be better openly supported and valued at every level of society.

Women’s empowerment and equality will benefit the whole society

So what is IWD and why do we need it?

Let’s be clear international women’ day is not about women vs men or criticising the opposite sex. Rather it is about supporting the roles and acknowledging the achievements of women within our diverse world. It is also because women continue to experience inequality simply because they are women that we take this day to raise awareness and show support for the rights of all women across the world, which helps to bring such inequalities to an end.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with women from around the world, from the local business woman Beba in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, overcoming the effects of conflict to rebuild her family home and turning it into a successful business, the women in Afghanistan working every day and risking their lives in support of ending violence and bringing peace to their country. To the women I work with and meet every day doing valuable work that they often don’t even realise is making such a positive difference for our society.

And while we should support the rights and empowerment of women everyday it is nice that for one day of the year on the 8th March the world unites and collectively comes together to honour women all around the world.  Encouraging women no matter where in the world they are, to be empowered, to realise their full potential and to value the contribution they make to our world.

I strongly believe that the empowerment of and fulfilment of women’s rights will have an overarching positive effect not just for their lives but also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is therefore time we all supported the advancement of women’s equality.

“Remember women of the world you are great and together we can and will overcome Gender inequality”

[1] Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, http://time.com/3735042/gender-equality-un/

[2] Find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml

[3] Find out more at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf

[4] Launch of first major OECD report on gender and education – Thursday 5 March 2015, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/launch-of-first-major-oecd-report-on-gender-and-education.htm

[5] Source see more at http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/

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I won’t be silent

mlk-quote   By Danielle Bonner

In May 2014 I was thrilled to be accepted into a summer school in Kosovo, a country I had longed to visit and see how it was overcoming the effects of conflict. Unfortunately this experience became overshadowed by two incidents of sexual violence towards participants on the programme.

Half way through the programme it came to my knowledge that one of the female participants had been an alleged victim of sexual assault by a perpetrator who was also a programme worker. Days later a second female participant was an alleged victim of sexual assault as she returned to the programme hotel.

When I asked the programme organiser to have a copy of their health and safety policies and challenged them on the handling of the situations I was accused by them of being hostile and aggressive.

Aside from witnessing the trauma experienced by these two victims what was strikingly shocking to me was the lack of due care and support given to these victims (although the programme organisers may dispute this!).

I subsequently decided to leave the summer school early and on my return home myself and a number of other participants wrote a letter to funders and programme guest speakers advising them of our experience and to make them aware to the fact that the programme did not seem to have any health and safety policies for the protection of its participants.

Today I was shocked and disgusted to have received an email from this very same (so called) organisation advising me of their new 2015 programmes.  Going from only running 2 programmes in 2014 to 17 in 2015! I can only pray that they have learnt from their omissions and now have H&S Polices in place and that their staff are skilled and professionally trained on handling potential incidents such as the one that arose during my programme.

So now I write this post because I want to share with others some of the biggest lessons I have learnt from this experience both in terms of selecting exchange learning programme’s and on the issue of sexual violence:

  • Always research an organisation offering summer schools abroad, ask them about their organisational code of conduct and health and safety policies before you apply and especially if this is a fee based programme do not give them any money before you have made checks.
  • Reach out to former participants and inquire about their experience don’t always rely solely on what the organisation says for-example their social media pages and the organisations website.
  • Sexual violence is facilitated through the social attitudes and omissions of both male and female. Therefore the turning of a blind eye to the issue of sexual violence only serves to facilitate its continuation.
  • We need to start challenging social views and start better supporting victims of this crime. Please read my blog piece entitled “Sexual Violence the Unconformable Truth” about the issue of sexual violence following this experience.

Please also feel free to send in any questions you may have on this experience.