The future is gender equality
“The future isn’t female. It’s equal.” Gender equality is also about overcoming male gender stereotypes. The global journalism platform Fair Planet asked Agata Slota, from Palladium, and Julia Hanne, from Spring Accelerator what gender equality means to them. Read the full interview here.
Working with governments, businesses and investors, Palladium believes that global change will come from merging these worlds and powers together. SPRING is an accelerator working with growth-oriented businesses on innovations that can transform the lives of adolescent girls aged 10-19 living across East Africa and South Asia.
01. What does gender equality mean to you in 2019?
Agata: Gender equality means living in a world free from fear caused by the circumstance of our XY chromosomes. It’s a place where women and girls no longer have to worry what will happen if they try to live their lives the way they want to live them – whether that’s becoming a web developer, aiming for the highest political office, choosing not to have children, or not mimicking male attributes in the workplace in order to be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, today these fears are completely rational. Sexism is rife in the tech sector, male and female political candidates are judged by different standards during elections because of gender stereotypes, famous women without children are regularly asked by the media about their childfree choice while their male counterparts are not, and bosses in the business world still often reward aggressive competition over collaboration. So it’s no surprise fear keeps women back. Gender equality would mean it no longer would.
Julia: Inequality creates struggles for all members of society. Gender equality in 2019 means to me that we can finally welcome billions of women into more active leadership roles in education, business, politics, science, and technology. Or in other words, that every human being has an equal go at life and that there is a fundamental acceptance that society as a whole cannot progress if half of its population is held back. It’s simple: when more women work and go to school, economies grow, countries progress. Gender equality in 2019 also means to me that men are free from masculine stereotypes that require them to be the ‘stronger sex,’ create a mental divide from girls from birth and fundamentally constrain them in their ability to express their emotions for fear of being labelled ‘weak’. These stereotypes perpetuate gender inequality for all. The future isn’t female, it’s equal.
We still have a long way to go. 2.7 billion women are still legally restricted from having the same job choices as men and the labour force participation rate for women aged 25-54 is 63% compared to 94% for men. So far, only six countries in the world provide equal legal work rights to men and women – exposing a big gap between my ideals for gender equality in 2019 and the progress that needs to be made to achieve these.
02. Can you give us an example of positive progress from recent years you see as a benchmark for the future of gender equality?
Agata: An extremely important area of progress towards gender equality is the improved access to modern contraceptives in the world’s 69 lowest-income countries – an increase of about 17% since 2012. A woman’s ability to determine whether and when she will have children is the basis for all women’s empowerment – without this choice, women will always be at a disadvantage.
Unfortunately, today over 200 million women in developing countries still do not have access to modern family planning. Not only does this impact on their ability to fulfil their goals but also on their health.
We need to keep striving to give women greater access to contraception and more decision-making power over family planning. And we need to do this in a way that considers the local culture and norms. The U.K. aid funded and Palladium-managed Maternal, Newborn and Child Health 2 programme, for example, is improving access to family planning in religious and conservative parts of northern Nigeria by discussing the “healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies”, and doing so with both men and women. This kind of nuance and sensitivity are necessary if we are to reach the other 200 million women.
Julia: Rwanda has made some incredible strides that place it ahead of many Western countries, including France and the U.S. for example, that demonstrate that it’s possible to achieve at least some progress in low-income countries and environments where women are often marginalised, and therefore why not in the U.K. or elsewhere also? In 2018, the country was ranked among the world’s top 5 leaders in gender equality, along with Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland, despite also making it onto the UN’s list of the worlds’ 47 least developed countries. Rwanda has also had the highest percentage of female political parliamentarians in the world due to quotas that were put in place after the genocide.
Talking about benchmarks, there’s no way around referencing the #MeToo movement. Moving beyond individual cases, I don’t think that there has ever been a scandal that has caused a similar avalanche of public debates gripping so many sectors across the world, including the development sector, and leading the introduction of new safeguarding policies and laws even if their effectiveness are subject to debate. These debates have shaped the definitions around ‘consent’ and sexual harassment and helped shift the balance of power a bit for sexual abuse victims for generations to come. It has also helped remove the stigma male sexual abuse victims face.
03.Who is a female leader you admire and why?
Agata: Nima Elbagir. Nima is an investigative journalist, currently at CNN, who focuses her reporting on human rights abuses. She’s covered slave auctions, sexual exploitation of female migrants trying to get to Europe, child labour in DRC’s cobalt mines, child marriage in Sudan, the Ebola outbreak, the conflict in Yemen, and more.
Journalism is under threat – money for quality reporting is scarce, the media is under attack by heads of state, and journalists’ lives are increasingly at risk. I admire so many journalists who have the courage to tell the stories that need to be told, often at high personal cost. Nima is one of the great journalists. She leads by example, which is the most laudable form of leadership.
Julia: I’ll go with an answer that may be slightly unusual. I don’t think that one single individual in the public sphere can fully personify an exemplary female leader to me. The most inspiring people I’ve met are away from the public spotlight.
Through my work at SPRING, I’ve met some pretty amazing female entrepreneurs in resource-constrained and male dominated environments who have managed to graduate, come up with a life-changing innovation, set up a business, go to work, employ and empower other women and marginalised communities, and pursue a vision of delivering impact for these people in their countries – every day, against all odds. Either through the power of information in helping women make sexual and reproductive health choices or through access to education and healthcare. One female entrepreneur I recently visited in Bangladesh runs a digital agency, Women in Digital, which trains women to pursue careers in IT. She frequently faced a tirade of abuse and threats from her neighbours and other men in her building for the work that she does, telling her she should go home where she belongs. She eventually had to move offices. And that’s just one example of the many obstacles and social stigma she continuously faces and overcomes. All these women with their untold stories are my role models.
This also includes my mother. She had to work in the fields instead of going to school from when she was a child, came to Germany as an adult, learned German while hardly being able to read and write, and did multiple physically demanding jobs for decades to help raise and support two children through school and university.
Apart from that, there’s been a remarkable rise in strong, diverse, female American politicians that are redefining representation in the country’s political landscape, such as Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez, Kamala Harris and Nancy Pelosi. This is really encouraging irrespective of their political orientation.