Gender Gender

Equality through innovation to break barriers

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
TOMORROW the whole world will be reflecting on the challenge to ‘Think equal, build smart, innovate for change’, in the quest to achieve gender equality by the year 2030.
Marchers, mostly women, will throng the streets in a campaign that the whole world has come to accept as noble because gender inequality and its injustices have proved to have costly consequences on societies and economies of the world.
When men progress and women are left behind, the backwardness of women has a ripple effect on the entire social system because the two genders were meant to co-exist and complement one another in every aspect of human endeavour – be it in the world of work, commerce, politics, education and decision-making, among others.
Likewise, when men dominate the decision-making system, as the case is in the political and economic spheres, the needs of women and children may not be adequately taken into account.
And if the gender divide in economic domains continues to widen in favour of men, it means women will continue to wallow in poverty, and, go on enduring associated negative effects such as low self-esteem, poor access to social services (children inclusive) and, at worst, gender-based violence (GBV) from intimate partners.
This is why this year’s International Women’s Day theme says, “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.”
The United Nations, which coined this theme, explains that it refers to the need to have innovative ways of advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
UN Women elaborates that in order for interventions by state parties to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030 as envisioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to work, we need transformative shifts, integrated approaches and new solutions.
They argue that the current interventions and courses of action are not sufficient to achieve gender parity by 2030.
“Innovative approaches that disrupt ‘business as usual’ are central to removing structural barriers and ensuring that no girl is left behind,” the UN says about tomorrow’s Women’s Day commemoration.
By this approach, they are calling on Zambia and other UN member states to factor into the gender equality campaign, innovation and science and technology because they present immense opportunities for gender parity.
They observe that innovation and technology present a growing gender divide because women are grossly under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The status quo prevents women from breaking even with men, and also from developing and ‘influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society’.
So the challenge for thinking equal, building smart and innovating for change does not just address policy makers, but the women’s movement too.
In other words, it’s not just about what Government can do to advance gender parity, but also what women can do for themselves to remove social barriers and fast-track gender equality.
For example, girl children are being challenged to be assertive and take up sciences, mathematics and ICT subjects with the mindset to make it.
Actually, some of the traditional barriers in the education system are perpetuated by girls and women themselves, because they believe sciences and mathematics are subjects for boys.
Most girls don’t do well in these subjects because they grow up believing that they are not all that intelligent to compete with boys.
This is why women are unrepresented in the engineering, mathematics, banking, aviation and information and communications technology (ICT) domains, among other ‘male spheres’.
And, as a result, coming up with innovative businesses in these fields that could challenge traditional barriers and create role models for the aspiring female pilots, mathematicians, engineers and ICT specialists, is a big challenge.
The ICT sector has actually proved to be a big money-spinner in this era as innovations such as electronic money transfer and different forms of e-commerce on the internet continue to spring up while technology advances.
However, what is worrying is that the digital gender divide has continued to widen, or rather women are lagging behind by far, in economic domains where men are making it big.
Apparently, different stakeholders will need to play their roles to change mindsets of girls in schools and encourage them to aim for the male-dominated fields where people are making real money.
In my view, it’s all about mindsets and nothing like girls are born dull, while boys are naturally intelligent.
Boys do well in school because, among other reasons, they are brought up to think and believe that a man is a breadwinner of the family.
They are taught to work hard in life to take care of their wives and children. So from a young age, they are determined to work hard in life. As a result, men tend to pursue better paying jobs and businesses than women do.
Girls, on the other hand, grow up looking forward to marry a well-to-do man who would provide for them. Surprisingly, even educated women settle for less in life because they look forward to marrying a rich man. I have seen working women who can’t invest, for instance, in real estate – they spend their money on clothes and make-up while waiting for a wealthy Mr Right to marry them.
To a certain extent, the gender divide is perpetuated by our mindsets and traditional barriers that degrade women as less intelligent people compared to men.
This is the reason why most women can’t develop gender-responsive business ideas to challenge the status quo.
It all starts from the socialisation approach at home which is perpetuated in the education system.
Perhaps, what schoolgirls need to see are role models in form of women who have found a niche in male-dominated fields and captains of industry to inspire them that they too could make it if they are determined.
It’s good that the curriculum of education has changed to incorporate ICT.
What we need is to encourage girls to ‘think equal’ as we provide equal opportunities for them to compete with boys in sciences, mathematics and ICT subjects.
The construction of a girls’ technical school by Government in Rufunsa is one of the ways of levelling the playing field in the education system.
Hopefully, Government will come up with more innovative ideas of ensuring that girls are not left behind in educational attainments.
Similarly, innovative women entrepreneurs need empowerment, for example, in form of access to the markets, credit facilities, as well as good infrastructure such as telecommunication systems, internet services, office space and good roads.
There are some hard-working and innovative women out there who are constrained by lack of credit and infrastructure to support their businesses.
It is sad to see such women settling for small businesses or cottage industries that cannot earn them enough money to break free from poverty.
Some women start working in the wee hours until after sunset, yet they cannot afford three square meals for their families, while others can’t provide decent education for their children.
These are some of the women that need empowerment as we push towards Planet 50-50 by 2030.
Wishing you all a fruitful Women’s Day commemoration tomorrow.
Email: Phone: 0211- 221364/227793

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