Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Shared Planet


 International Women’s Day was celebrated on the 8th of March. Organizations around the world hosted programs showcasing efforts towards achieving gender equality. Cities like New York and London observed the day with marches along main avenues led by actors and activists. To an observer from outer space, it would be concluded that although women do not have equal rights on this planet, everyone seems to agree that they should and is working diligently towards that goal. That, however, would be far from the truth.

For the two weeks following the International Women’s Day, the United Nations is hosting more than 6000 delegates from around the world for its 59th session of the Commission of the Status of Women. These are men and women from around the world, in different capacities, trying desperately to work towards a planet shared equally. But when you ask their opinion on a personal level, their frustration at the futility of their task is evident.

The roadblocks to their efforts are varied--politics, customs, traditions, mind-set, etc.. There were certain common threads that ran through all the conversations. One important aspect is finances! Most, if not all, blamed those in power for not letting the available funds filter through. Another huge hurdle is the safety of those involved in the projects-- both the workers and the targeted demographic are usually at great risk and could not be protected in most cases. In short, there is very little that can be done within the available resources.

One of the panels, which comprised of the Vice President of Zambia and the Foreign Minister of Sweden, among other esteemed guests, were voicing their frustrations at the slow pace of any progress. It was when the panelist from Egypt implored the organizations present to do more that it struck me--this was not a job for governments and organizations. This was also not a situation where, if you threw enough money at it, it would go away. This unfair distribution of assets and tragic inequality can only be fixed by us, the common people and work needs to start at home.

We, as a culture, raise our girls to be wives. That is it! Even if they are allowed a professional education, their future is at the discretion of the husband. We raise our boys to expect subservient wives, to be molded as they choose. We feel that if we raise strong, independent women, they will make bad wives and if we raise boys who are secure enough in their own skin to view their wives as equals, they will make weak husbands. There are no organizations or NGO’s that can reach deep within the psyche of a nation and rewire. This vicious cycle can only be broken at home.

There are a few enlightened voices that are being raised and we are seeing more and more young men and women who are embracing this new reality. They also realize that “together” is so much more productive than “alone”. This “new world order” does not necessarily mean that men and women both work outside the home. It goes much deeper than that.  It is about respect and validation that goes both ways. It is about giving women the right to choose whether they want to work outside the home or within. Whether they want children now or would like to space them out. In essence it allows a woman to be in control of decisions that affect her and ultimately those around her.

This is the most tragic example of losing sight of the forest for the trees. A gender equal world benefits everybody. The world cannot move forward if we hobble and bind one half of the workforce. Women need to be seen as an asset, rather than a liability in all facets of their lives. We need more authors like Ayesha Tariq (The Suppressed Anger of the Pakistani Obedient Daughter) to voice their feeling in a way that hit home with mothers and fathers, with brothers and husbands and sons. We, as people, should take this problem as our own and resolve it in our own home and then watch as it grows and enhances our lives. We cannot delegate that to outside organizations which we can alleviate ourselves. All we need is the desire to better ourselves and those we love and ensure a bright future for both our daughters and our sons.

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