#EmbraceEquity is this year’s International Women’s Day theme, which takes place on March 8th. The day represents an opportunity to highlight the value of treating people fairly and equally. Treating people equally is not just a one-day thing, nor is it limited to gender inequality. However, it is a day when we can shine a spotlight on gender inequality.
As a country, Ireland performs well in international and European rankings: it ranks seventh in the EU in the European Institute for Gender Equality’s (EIGE) index and scores ahead of the EU’s overall total. However, a government report highlights that many gender norms remain ingrained in Irish society. While reminding people that there is still work to do in Ireland, I want to use this article to highlight the value of International Women’s Day in another part of the world, my homeland India.
A report by UNICEF highlights the issues. “Wherever they live in India, girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day – in textbooks, in movies, in the media, and among the men and women who provide their care and support. Across India, gender inequality results in unequal opportunities, and while it impacts the lives of both genders, statistically, it is girls that are the most disadvantaged.”
There has been a change for the better in recent years. However, it remains true that many women are still fighting and are not given the fundamental rights to make decisions for themselves and their lives. Factors like race, religion, political and social background, awareness of gender biases and many more are responsible for this differentiation.
Growing up, I recall my mother asking if she could return to her teaching profession after having kids. Many people questioned her, ‘why do you want to work? You now have kids to take care of.’ Societal pressure has strengthened this stereotype that women must take care of household duties, and men should work and support their families financially. As a teenager, I’d ask my family,‘ What if there was no male figure in the family? Who’s supposed to look after the finances?’ A mindset still heard today is, ‘If people back in the day could live like this, why do you want to change it?’. Society made rules based on convenience and political strengths. In my view, if people never objected to it, that doesn’t mean it was right.
I have been blessed and fortunate that gender equity has been one of the core values in my house. My parents never differentiated between a son and a daughter regarding household work or freedom for education. They assigned all the chores to us and taught us not just domestic responsibilities but also how things should be in the world. We all went to the same school and were free to decide what we wanted to do in life.
Education has been a crucial area of inequality. Girls were often asked and forced to finish school once they hit 12+ years to either get married or be taught household work. Whereas, boys were allowed to choose for themselves how long they wanted to study.
Historically nobody talked about or gave importance to the mental pressures that a woman could endure. Many women lost their lives because they had no help or one to speak to. I still remember my grandmother once sharing how talking about sanitary requirements to anyone was taboo. They had no access to sanitary products and no toilets in the house. These necessities were considered an embarrassment to ask for because of zero awareness.
I’m proud to say that the awareness of women’s rights in India is now a MUST and no more a WANT. By challenging societal, gender and religious barriers, women are now given equal rights to live their life the way they desire. They have equal professional opportunities like men, schools are open and available for all the kids, but most importantly, women can make decisions for their lives themselves.
However, as UNICEF reports, much work remains to change long-established and deeply embedded thinking. It is why International Women’s Day is such a vital siren call. The celebration of International Women’s Day in India now encourages more men to learn and be fully aware of women and equality. Previous taboo issues are being discussed openly.
Schools, colleges, companies and communities now celebrate International Women’s Day. I recall my brother came to us and mentioned that it was women’s day in school, and he wanted to make cards for his teachers. My mum, who was a professional teacher, had teary eyes because she didn’t get to experience that in her time. In business, people are celebrating International Women’s Day. They are talking about women’s rights and spreading awareness about breast cancer, menopause, and other aspects of a woman’s life.
Companies are also breaking the biggest myth that gender is not a deciding factor in workplace decisions. Performances are speaking louder than genders! It’s emotional for me because I have experienced and listened to many stories where women wanted to achieve so much, not just for themselves but for their families, but they couldn’t. I’m grateful to my family and friends for helping me become a strong woman, one who flew 7,966Km not only to make a better life for herself but also to empower other women. Moving to Ireland was a big decision, and I am so proud that I took it at the right time. It has shaped me into a better human being and a woman who now has a purpose in life, i.e., helping people live better lives!
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