International Women’s Day 2021

For International Women’s Day 2021, Faris AlThibani, an Abodus resident at King’s Square Studio in Bristol, reached out to us to ask if he could share a piece that he has written on gender equality. This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, so there was no question that we’d feature this well-written article on our blog! Read on below to learn more about gender equality and Faris’s personal journey to become an advocate on the topic in today’s society.

This article is aimed to provide a perspective with kindness to foster gender equality. Unicef states that gender equality is “a matter of human rights and is considered a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centred development.” Throughout the last two centuries, countries have achieved great progress in establishing a sustainable environment, and many declarations have been made since the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. (Note: The term ‘discrimination against women’ is a distinction and exclusion made based on sex that has the effect of impairing the recognition and enjoyment by women.)

First off, let’s define gender. Defining gender is not easy, as the term is fluid and covers a wide spectrum. Diversity and inclusion are at the root of this and considering women’s perspectives can open ideas never thought of before.  Recognising gender roles and how they affect our communities is important. It is one reason why feminine behaviours are thought to be associated with women and masculine to men. A signal is often sent to boys about “male” behaviours and ideals, particularly relating to public roles, entitlement, and aggression, while girls receive signals about “female”’ behaviours and ideals relating to household roles, sacrifice, and obedience.

The above is why we must adopt Gender and Development (GAD), a framework to approach gender equality. Three premises are at the centre of GAD. To begin, gender relationships are power relations. Also, gender is a social and cultural construct. Finally, structural changes surrounding gender relations and roles are attainable. This framework is crucial and it provides a hardcover to people by defining the reality of our culture. Adopting this approach is vital when it comes to promoting gender equality, as it will allow us to structure a foundation to change these signals to ones that say we are equal and empowered.

But what is empowerment? The European Institute for Gender Equality defines the empowerment of women as the “process by which women gain power and control over their own lives and acquire the ability to make strategic choices.” Empowerment comes in four distinct approaches: Physical, economic, political and socio-cultural. First, physical empowerment is permitting individuals to decide about sexuality, family planning and even the number of children they have and the spacing between them. Second, economic empowerment is enabling participants access on relevant resources of production, safe and sufficient water, same income for same work and to choose one’s education and the right to receive equal employment opportunities from it. Third, political empowerment is participating in decision-making at executive committees and on national levels. Finally, socio-cultural empowerment is the empowerment of one’s identity and perception by being able to speak out and have their voices heard. All four elements are interrelated, and many groups within universities come together to establish these approaches in the environment. Some universities even offer capacity-building and credentials for gender, development, and humanitarian professionals through gender mainstreaming.

However, there are still concerns that despite these various methods, extensive discrimination against women continues to exist. The Guardian states that, “Nine out of 10 people statistically are thought to have some bias against women.” These gender biases can come in many forms, to include gender-based constraints, gender-based violence, gender blindness and gender socialisation. To begin, gender-based constraints are those that men and women face as a result of their gender.  Next, gender-based violence is a term used for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will that is based on socially ascribed gender. Gender blindness is the failure to recognise that roles and responsibilities of men/boys and women/girls are given to them in specific contexts and backgrounds. Finally, gender socialisation is learning social roles based on sex.

So, how do we prevent gender biases? Aware of what these biases are, we can take note when they occur and concentrate on changing our behaviours to replace them with gender equal behaviours. Ways to prevent biases include gender-responsive programs like gender mainstreaming and conducting gender analysis. Eliminating gender inequality is substantial to the well-being of all, and all of civilisation can benefit greatly if gender is equal and our perception is focused on inclusion. Eliminating discrimination starts with us. If we do not wish to be biased in relationships, then we need to look for the things that trigger our biases and once we find them, take measures to deliver evidence-based programming effectively. All the necessary groups are out there, including those who promote equality and foster human development. However, it is up to us to look for them. To get you started on this preventative journey, visit the UOB Student Inclusion website.

Living this lifestyle of advocating gender equality can be a roller coaster. One day, I realised that so much work needs to be filled by us to make this world a better place. Convinced that empowerment is a great way to promote girls and women for gender equality, I began with myself by building a solid foundation where I can reflect on my decisions and make amends to my thought patterns. My Abodus accommodation is filled with prompts to remind me of my purpose, so that I can empower others and return to my solid foundation when I feel drained.

Who is my inspiration? There are so many role models that represent the values of a people-centred future. One example of a great role model is Malala Yousafzai. Malala won the Nobel peace prize for her efforts against the Taliban. After standing up against the militants trying to enter her village she was shot in her left eye. Malala advocates quality education for all, regardless of sex or background. Her famous quote, “One child, one teacher, one book, can change the world,” was given at a speech in the UN assembly. Another example is Greta Thunberg. Greta has devoted her life to fighting against what can be considered as the most dangerous thing facing humanity in the 21st century: Climate change.

The maximum participation of women such as Malala and Greta in society and businesses will grow economies substantially by innovating, creating and leading industrial sectors, from labs to yoga studios. Women are a fundamental asset to the communities, and the efforts of intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations’ Global Citizen Development Programme is crucial to many women, as many of their publications and frameworks aim to provide evidence-based, gender-responsive strategies into the corporate policy.

In conclusion, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Choose to Challenge. The IWD websites says, “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality,” which is what I hope I have achieved by writing this article for my fellow peers.