"The gains in gender equality are just half the story."
Monday the 8th will be International Women’s Day, but this special occasion for women normally runs the entire month of March.
This year’s theme is Women in Leadership: Achieving and Equal Future in a COVID-19 World. Issues involving women have always been tricky, but the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized those concerns, highlighting the need for freedom from stigma, stereotypes and violence.
To be sure, women across the world and in the Philippines have shown examples of sterling leadership amid the crisis. Some of those that have superbly managed their pandemic response—New Zealand, for instance, or Taiwan, or Germany—are led by women. Here at home, women leaders in the national and local spheres have shown compassionate, decisive and systematic action to prevent the spread of the virus, provide relief to those already affected, and keep the economy afloat despite the effects of the lockdowns.
The excellent work is not limited to those in leadership positions during this health crisis. Across various industries and professions, women have proven that gender barriers should be dismantled. Despite starting from positions of disadvantage, women have successfully overcome biases and stereotypes and charted their own destinies —a far cry from when they anchored their status and fulfillment to what their fathers or partners achieved. They are sources of strength and inspiration to their colleagues and families.
That, however, is just half the story.
Inequality, prejudice and violence remain. With or without the pandemic, women of all ages are imprisoned by age-old mindsets that discount their potential, tone down their voice, and dismiss their contributions. Despite the gains, gaps remain. For example, teenage mothers are left with no choice but to forego education and opportunities. Those suffering from domestic abuse feel compelled to be silent and bear the violence for fear of stigma. Girls, despite showing great academic potential, are not given the chance to pursue a career because their brothers are given priority. Household decisions are made by the male heads of the family, consigning women to the background.
Imagine how much better societies could be if women were accorded opportunities that allowed them to reach their leadership potential in their families, communities, organizations and countries.
Let us be mindful of the gaps that continue to exist, and of the biases—hidden or otherwise—that we continue to have about women. Perhaps the day would come when it is no longer relevant to mark this occasion because the gaps would have been closed. That, however, is a long way from today.