Opinion: International Women’s Day – In Pursuit of Genuine Gender Equality

Image: internationalwomensday.com

By Jessica Stern – executive director of OutRight Action International


The United Nations has been marking International Women’s Day since 1975. It is a day to take stock of the global struggle for gender equality, and focus the world’s attention on the fact that we still, to this day, stand very far from achieving this goal.

It is an important occasion on the road to acceptance of LGBT+ people too.

International Women’s Day, despite what its name implies, is not just about women. At the core of this day is the pursuit of genuine gender equality, and shaking off a system that defines what is or is not acceptable based on arbitrary norms associated with the gender assigned to us at birth.

It is a system that stifles women’s career progression, demonises women who do not want (or cannot) have children, while celebrating toxic masculinity, and sneering at men who may want to stay at home with their kids – a system so deeply ingrained in a gendered binary, that LGBT+ people struggle to fit in at all.

As LGBT+ people, we challenge traditional gender roles and norms in every way possible. Our gender identities, how we express them, whom we love and the relationships and family models we form do not fit within the assigned norms and expectations.

As such, International Women’s Day, is about women, about men, indeed about people of all genders, and about LGBT+ people too, as gender inequality affects every single one of us.

This year’s theme – Each for Equal – is spot on. It captures that gender inequality goes beyond discrimination, lack of access or representation of women, into every realm of life, for everyone. Don’t get me wrong; the fact that to this day women earn on average 80% earned by men, that only 6% of chief executives of global companies are women, that more than one-third of all women experience sexual violence, that only 19 out of 193 UN-recognised countries have a female head of state or government, and only nine have 50% women in the national cabinet, is utterly shocking.

It is also economically nonsensical, as countless studies have shown that greater diversity in leadership is proven to result in economic gain, so it is only right that these disparities are placed in the spotlight on this day.

But these numbers cannot be tackled in isolation – tackling these staggering inequalities requires more than a focus on women, it requires a focus on the system as a whole.

The same system that assigns certain norms and expectations on women, does so on men and LGBT+ people. Society dictates how we should express our gender, what work we should do, whom we should love, what family models we should establish, who should look after children, and who should bring home the big bucks.

It is these deeply ingrained, outdated, arbitrary norms that prevent women’s economic empowerment, discourage men who want to stay at home or pursue ‘feminine’ careers, and lead to not only exclusion, but also efforts to convert or reorient, or even entirely eliminate LGBT+ people.

These norms are so deeply ingrained, in fact, that a movement against gender equality, against sexual and reproductive health and rights, against bodily autonomy, and recognition of the human rights of LGBT+ people – trans people in particular – has been mounting in recent years, both across conservative civil society and states.

It has grown so much that this year – the year marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a landmark international commitment to gender equality – the UN is not opening the document for amendments to reflect a more inclusive and current understanding of gender equality, for fear of not only not meeting the 25-year-old commitments, but of regression.

Efforts to stall, or reverse progress on gender equality, are misguided.

They are based on a perception that there is a finite pie, and ensuring equality for all would result in less for those currently in a position of having more of it, when, in fact, the pie would swell. The more people are able to pursue their dreams, and reach their full potential, the more they can contribute, both financially and otherwise, benefitting society as a whole.

Perhaps if understanding of the fact that gender inequality harms, and gender equality benefits, every single one of us improves, the moment for achieving gender equality will follow.

So, on this International Women’s Day, I urge you to reflect on how gender inequality affects you, regardless of your gender, your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other distinguishing feature. And reflect on how it affects those around you, so that together we can take a step towards #EachforEqual, for genuine gender equality for all (first published by Thomson Reuters Foundation).

-Any views expressed in this opinion piece are the authors own.

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