Meeting the gender gap, engaging meaningfully in gender issues – these have become politically correct utterances for many. Of course, greater awareness of gender issues, particularly those that impact women and children on a large scale, is needed urgently. Eve-teasing, harassment in public transport and sexual abuse are key issues that must be dealt with.
Yet, if each of us sit and think about the greater issues at hand, we realize that the change must come from each of us. It must come from mothers who choose to treat their sons the same way they treat their daughters. It must come from men who must choose to think of women not as sex objects but someone’s sister and someone’s mother. It must come from young women who must choose to achieve success not through the backdoor methods but by qualifying and working hard. It must also come from women themselves choosing not to belittle or envy other women but emulate their success or support those needing it.
What we, as a nation, need in the direction of successfully closing the gender gap is a change of attitudes. Transform the way we look at the dynamics of gender imbalance. It is not always the men but the women themselves who can set the ball rolling – mothers, who can become great role models for their daughters, sons who are proud of the success of their mothers, and fathers, who can take pride in the success of their daughters. Society changes when we change.
The popular media is full of stories that focus on the greatest gender issue of all -violence against women and children, committed freely and often. Yet, only a few cases get highlighted in the media. For all the unreported, unfound cases of abuse, women and children face greater danger than we could ever know. Can the attitude be changed – can opinions be formed afresh that would not allow men to treat every woman who crosses their path as a sex object?
A single parent mother was sharing with me the other day how often she gets ‘approached’ by men with propositions – merely because she happens to be a single parent. Her determined response is to make sure her son grows up with the same regard he has for his mother, for other women. She is right – if a mother teaches a son early on that women are not merely objects to look at or be used but human beings with intellect, things can change.
All the jaw-jaw in the world will not result in a change of opinion – which is desperately needed if we are to meet the gender gap successfully. Unless we make a determined effort to start with each of us, we would have jaw-jawed in vain. Sure, it makes nice copy and ensures headlines but that’s where it ends. Until the next Women’s Day comes around.
True change occurs when each of us discover the power within us to change ourselves, the way we respond to situations that call for a gender balance. Not the kind of ultra feminist agendas such as insisting that women go to frontlines just because they can or women opt for circumstances that somehow, are not cut out for us. Addressing the realistic issues of gender can be worked out by each and every one of us when we respond to the environment around us.
Gender empowerment starts when we choose to buy things from women who support their families with the income they make. When you prefer buying from women engaged in a business, you are empowering her and many others like her. You are addressing a gender imbalance when you encourage a young girl child to study instead of looking for romance on Facebook. Maybe she has no role model and without knowing, you might become her role model. You empower women when you choose to stand against women and girls being abused and groped in public transport. When you find the time to inspire one girl child or a woman wanting guidance, you are playing a role in changing gender dynamics.
Are you able to set aside animosity and competitive envy concerning other women and reach out to them in a way that makes a change? Do it. Are you recruiting as an equal opportunities employer? Are you able to empower a talented woman who can do with help for her own business? You can make the kind of choices that will make a difference.
Society’s moulding of gender roles and assimilations take time to change but can be done – if individuals take over the tasks that everybody expects to be done but nobody would bother taking the initiative to do. If we expect the government to do it or the Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or someone else, it would not happen. This is where we can make the change and we can take the imitative ourselves. Are you in a position to help women who might be in need of it? Then go out there and ask yourself what you can do – you can change things for at least one woman and that could have a far-reaching impact even though you may not know it.
Let’s start with the small changes. For now, that will do.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at email@example.com)