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International Women’s Day theme ‘better balance’ points to a lack of it

Sabrina Almeida

Today, March 8, is celebrated across the world as ‘International Women’s Day’. This year’s theme pushes for #BalanceforBetter. Believing that a gender-balanced world benefits all socially as well as economically, we are all encouraged to continue playing a part in making a positive difference for women over the coming year.

As we celebrate the achievements of women on this special day, let’s give some thought to how we can contribute to this vision for equality in our homes, the workplace and society.

The #MeToo Movement has been deemed a watershed moment in the battle for gender equality. Prominent women publicly sharing their experiences of sexual assault and harassment gave many victims the courage to come forward, confront aggressors and stop the injustice. As a result, calls to hotlines for reporting such incidents have increased and there is a decline in the number of cases deemed as ‘baseless’ as well . There have also been improvements in workplace processes to address such issues with a zero-tolerance policy for offenders.

At the same time conscious attempts are being made to raise awareness of the critical need for “consent”. Studies show that both men and women are unclear about what really constitutes consent. And many ladies feel pressured to consent to unwanted sexual activity.

Most important was the clarity that consent can be withdrawn at any time if an individual person becomes uncomfortable or has second thoughts.

Education about consent is believed to have a critical role in preventing sexual assault. As is providing supportive responses to reporters of sexual violence. Especially among college and university students, around half of whom say they have experienced unwanted sexual advances.

However, this does not mean that the problem has been resolved. Gender bias and sexual harassment continue in subtle ways. Many breadwinners may be forced to endure discrimination and unwelcome advances to avoid losing their jobs especially in smaller organizations without a HR department and policies. After all, you can’t complain to the boss about the boss!!! Other victims may be compensated to sweep the matter under the rug. All this can make the perpetrator more careful in their choice of victim, time and place, but it doesn’t stop their predatory advances.

In misogynistic countries like India the problem may be more difficult to solve despite the #MeToo Movement shaking things up there. I was horrified when a friend narrated how colleagues guffawed over a joke about her weight at an executive meeting. None of them thought it was inappropriate until she protested almost in tears. Neither was the offender pulled up. In fact, the department head seemed quite reluctant to take the matter further and attempted to explain the man’s behaviour by saying he was not used to treating women as his equal. Only when she threatened to go to the independent third party appointed by the organization to deal with such matters was a meeting called. Even then the purpose seemed to be keeping the matter under wraps as the company was a large and prominent one. Ironically concern was expressed for what would happen to the man and company if the matter was made public with no thought for the humiliation and injustice the woman suffered.

The fact that we are still talking about gender balance more than a hundred years after the movement for women’s equality began shows that it is a work in ‘slow’ progress. The UN Women’s organization says that current interventions will not even be able to achieve this balance by 2030. By way of example, it points to a growing imbalance and under representation of women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design.

It is believed that the best way forward is to let women help shape the change and movement towards equality while acknowledging and appreciating gender differences. Unfortunately, we find that women who have managed to break through the glass ceiling have been forced to think and act like men. Many contribute to the problem later as they rarely support the cause by smoothing the path for others.

Perhaps we must first change the approach which seems to celebrate women on March 8 and then quickly go back to business as usual! -CINEWS

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