Women empowerment through women’s rights is spoken of and discussed very often today. At the same time, in most Asian societies, we continue to see and hear inconspicuous shame and guilt when men are not the breadwinners of their family or when women get scorned for not keeping the house neat and tidy.
Women empowerment does not exist to hate and discredit men. The purpose of women empowerment has been to increase access to opportunities for women to fully realise their capabilities, uplift and bridge women to livelihood opportunities via economic and social means. Lastly, it seeks to advance the equality of women vis-à-vis men progressively by shining the light on traditional gender roles and endeavour to change existing mindsets with regards to said roles.
Yet, even with women empowerment on the rise, women around the globe still face many challenges today.
“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong…it is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideas.” – Emma Watson
Traditional gendered roles
The Today IG Live – ‘Empowering Women in a Patriarchal Society’ that was held on 26 November 2020 introduced panelist and TODAY journalist Nabilah Awang. Ms Nabilah mentioned that she faces the challenges of traditional gendered roles such as domestic housework. She clocks an equal amount of hours as her husband but after work, she gets a call from her mother about household chores like cooking and cleaning. Fortunately, Ms Nabilah and her husband made an agreement where both parties share equal workload in household chores. But, not every woman is as lucky as her.
Despite men taking up more household responsibilities, women are still doing about 60% more housework. In addition, due to childcare and caregiving, women face an additional barrier to enter the workforce and contribute to the economy. R. Hirschmann, a research expert, collated data of the Singapore labour force participation rate in 2019 and found that women’s participation was 61.1%, in contrast to the 75.4% participation rate of men due to the additional factor of child-giving that women face.
Recognising the importance and value of caregiving also plays a significant part in women’s empowerment. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the CEO of New America, a think tank in the United States, made a great point. “We must come to see care work as work that is every bit as hard, important and rewarding.” She also mentioned that another way is to “raise the prestige of caregiving at home and care careers”. The critical stance here is to value traditional womens’ work as important as mens’ work.
In developing countries, education is another critical challenge faced mostly by girls. The Patriarchy remains prominent in the culture of rural areas and continually feeds the idea that men should wield the power while women occupy a subordinate position in all areas of society. UNESCO estimates that 132 million girls are out of school. Conflict countries, in particular, see more than twice as many girls to be out of school as opposed to non-affected countries. In addition, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Pakistani activist for female education, Malala Yousafzai, said about 20 million girls are at risk of losing their education due to the covid-19 pandemic.
Gender discrimination in workplaces
Earnings inequality is one of the biggest indicators. According to Pew Research, one-in-four working women (25%) say they have earned less than a man who was doing the same job; one-in-twenty working men (5%) say they have earned less than a female counterpart. Additionally, women are often asked about the intentionality to have children during interviews which has no weight on a person’s capability.
In Singapore, it is vastly similar.
In Singapore, men earn 18 percent more than women. Associate Professor Lawrence Loh, director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions & Organisations (CGIO) at the NUS Business School said that there is the need for business leaders to review hiring processes, promotions, training and development policies to ensure that “women with similar skill sets, industry experience and educational qualifications receive wages comparable with their male counterparts”.
Thus, to increase women representation on boards, he suggested hiring, promoting more female leaders, incorporating board training and talent development programs, looking “beyond the traditional network of directors and using external search firms”.
So, how can we truly change this on the ground?
Changing Existing Mindsets: What Happens If We Don’t?
Changing the mindsets of gender roles for both genders is crucial. It has always been conventional wisdom that in a typical family, the man will be the sole breadwinner while the woman stays at home to look after the household. However, this is neither conventional nor wise in this day and age. Indeed, a growing change in mindset is now in demand and it is occurring.
According to a Grant Thornton research of over 5,000 businesses globally – since 2011, women in senior management has risen from 9 percent to 29 percent. Furthermore, after New Zealand’s latest general elections last year, 48 percent of Members of Parliament (MP) are women which is at historic high since women were first granted universal suffrage in 1893. These examples have shown that women are no longer confined to managing the household, that women can and do make great leaders, just like men. Women, too, are competent and proficient in navigating the so-called ‘Men’s World’. This is a great step forward in breaking the gendered stereotypes, from the perspective of females.
However, in order to remove any notion of gendered responsibilities, society must not neglect stepping into the shoes of the males. Just as women should not be confined to being the main contributor in household chores, men too should also not be limited solely to the role of the breadwinner. More work needs to be done in encouraging men to take on the role of caregivers as well as household responsibilities. Besides, it would be a grave injustice to say that men are incapable of taking care of the household or as caregivers.
The story of Bhaskar may be an inspiration for some. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown in India, it has been a period of self-learning for Bhaskar, a Delhi-based strategic communication specialist. Before the pandemic struck, he could not imagine himself taking care of the household alone. However when his wife and son were stuck in Dibrugarh, Assam, because of the lockdown, Bhaskar took it upon himself to manage the household, from cooking to cleaning. He quickly realised that he does have a knack for cooking and has been cooking for his family ever since.
Other than managing the household, men are capable of being great caregivers too. According to Caregiving in the US 2015 Survey, 40 percent of family caregivers of adults are men which equate to 16 million male family caregivers in the United States. The US Census Bureau reported that in 1970, only 2.7 percent of registered nurses were men. However, in 2011, 9.6 percent of registered nurses were men. In other words, there was a 6.9 percent increase in men being registered nurses. This is a positive force towards men taking up jobs that have been traditionally held more by women.
“Both toxic masculinity and toxic feminism have something in common, they do not preach true gender equality.”
It will only be challenging for the world to progress towards genuine gender equality if we do not equally boldly support both males and females to take on more unconventional roles in society. There is no doubt there will be fundamental biological differences between men and women. This, however, should not hinder the progress towards a more equal world..
Women empowerment is vital towards bridging the gap of gender inequality. It is not about pulling men down but pushing women up. The investment in women is critical because there will be the doubling of investments in families and communities. Unfortunately, gendered roles still exist in society and it is critical to have a discourse about it through community conversations, feedback, and co- creating solutions that work off each other’s strengths.
Both genders have a part to play in empowering women and men. For society to progress, we cannot have men ahead with women trailing behind just like how we must never leave any men behind while fighting for women’s rights. It is only when the wider society can begin to eradicate innate gender-biased roles to men and women, can we call ourselves a society of social justice and equality.