IN RECENT years it has been assumed that the world has been on a path to equality when it comes to women’s rights. The #MeToo movement, the rise of female political leaders, the advancement of reproductive rights, and the seemingly universal outcry over instances of violence against women have garnered the attention of the media, creating the assumption of a tidal wave of progress. How wrong we have been.
According to a new report published this week by the United Nations, progress toward gender equality is slowing. The Human Development Report’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) – a measure of women’s empowerment in health, education and economic status – finds that 91 per cent of men and 86 per cent of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economics, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights. In other words, nine out of ten people have some form of bias.
Additionally, about 50 per cent of men and women interviewed across 75 countries say they think men make better political leaders than women, while more than 40 per cent felt that men made better business executives. Almost 30 per cent of people agree it is justifiable for a man to beat his partner.
This week, many events were held ahead of tomorrow’s observance of International Women’s Day. Today, there will be marches all over the world to bring attention to this issue. But while the UN has long set a goal of gender equality by 2030, even the organisation realises this goal is increasingly difficult to realise.
The reluctance to change suggests the need to rethink the approach. Visibility is important, but change is not just about big headline moments, legal victories and international agreements. We must go beyond what is skin deep. We need to start with our own biases.
The UN is calling for legislation to deal with this matter. But as past experience has shown, particularly in Europe, human rights legislation has often wrought cosmetic, not real, change. Instead of changing culture, the law has entrenched cynical tokenism and a shallow diversity, turning positive-discrimination measures into hallow legal fulfilments that must be checked off.
Rarely do people care about why the law has been framed the way that it has. In fact, the “anti-woke” movement vigorously attacks such laws as sexist, racist or what have you, arguing that those doing the marginalisation are the ones being marginalised. They turn day into night.
The tide of violence against women in this country continues. Rachel Logan, Nicole Hackshaw, Ellena Dial, Joanna Hood – all subject to appalling acts of violence and murder in recent weeks.
We have made strides when it comes to awareness. We’ve also have more women in key decision-making posts.
But, as we march, we must not forget we still have a long way to go.