Today is International Women’s Day, and one of the themes this year is #PressforProgress. While we celebrate the achievements of women on this day, it is also important to stress the importance of continuing the work towards gender parity. By challenging stereotypes, supporting women, extending opportunities to women and campaigning for equality, we can aim to make sure the message of gender parity is being heard by those in power.
When advocating for gender parity, I feel that being able to have open and meaningful conversations about this issue is important and must be part of celebrating International Women’s Day. It is not enough to just celebrate how far women have come since the days of women’s’ suffrage, we need to continue acknowledging how much work there still needs to be done to achieve parity.
In this post, I want to highlight and share how some of the wonderful women in my life are taking part in actions of small activism every day. It is about celebrating everyday women and sharing how they strive for gender parity. For this post, I asked a few of the women I have regular contact some questions about their lives and their experiences as women. While reading some of their answers, I realised that they are making a difference for women in their engagement with their loved ones, friends and colleagues. Small actions and ideas such as these play a massive role in enriching the big global movement for women’s rights. The thoughtful and personal answers to the questions really engaged my thinking and I know there are some tips here that I can carry on and include in my life too.
For brevity, I haven’t included every response to each question, but rather, have tried to summarise answers that features similar themes. My interviewees for this post included (names have been changed):
Mariyam: Student (Age: 20)
Jane: Chef (Age: 32)
Hawwa: Allied Profession (Age: 53)
Alice: Human Rights trainer (Age: 37)
Amina: International development consultant (Age: 35)
Emma: Diplomat (Age:29)
Shifu: Community health worker (Age: 43)
Hilda: Mother (Age: 59)
1. What do you think is your biggest achievement?
I had varying answers for this question, which included a range from successes in their careers, to motherhood and educational achievements.
Shifu said ‘I was the first of my family to attend university and always wanted to work in health/emergency services. Even when I was told l’m not smart enough to study these areas, I decided to try achieving my goals by doing different education pathways which lead me to a fantastic nursing and paramedicine career’.
Mariyam had a similar experience and is now very proud of the fact that she is able to study architecture despite people around her saying this was not a career for a girl. Alice currently works directly in developing human rights and gender parity initiatives and notes how fantastic that she gets to make a career out of working in this field. Amina has worked in over 11 countries and she stated being able to travel, and break into the international community as a practitioner as a big achievement. According to Jane, ‘coming to Australia as a naive 20-year-old to finish studies and getting into the industry of my choice’ was one of her biggest achievements. The difficulties of moving homes, building an independent livelihoods in challenging, and often highly competitive environments, as well as trying to fit-in in a foreign country is no easy feat, and really goes to show these women’s tenacity and courage. Hilda described raising her two children to be reliable and responsible adults, despite the adversities she faced, as one of her biggest achievements.
While I did identify with a lot of the above answers, one that really resonated with me was what Hawwa considered her biggest achievement: self-acceptance. As women, we are constantly measuring ourselves against societal norms and fighting or trying to meet certain expectations. To truly accept ourselves along with our limitations as well as what makes us unique and being a functional and contributing member to society is more than enough. We’re all trying our best. Hawwa puts this beautifully:
“That sounds pretty indulgent but it comes from a place of knowing I am not a ‘Capital A achiever’, being more an Indian than a chief. I can remember my despondency when I first came across the quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that ‘Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people’. Whilst there have been times in my life where I’ve felt the exhilaration of trying to discuss ideas, mostly the discussion has been initiated by someone else (usually male) and my contributions have been lacking in conviction and somewhat patchy in breadth and depth!
By now, however, I’ve come across the wonderful Melbourne based author, Helen Garner, much loved in my book group. Helen makes no apologies for her fascination with the sphere of the personal, the domestic. It seems to me that she legitimises discussion of the self, others, the nature of relationships and the minutiae of everyday lives because these things are fundamental to being human. If we don’t try to understand ourselves and other people, maybe we miss seeing trends in events and can’t generate ideas to try to make our world a better place.
So on a good day, I can ignore that damning voice in my head about being an under achiever and listen to the one that says it’s ok to have as one’s goals being a ‘good enough parent’, a loving partner, a thoughtful daughter, a caring sister, an interested aunt, a kind friend, a welcoming neighbour, a supportive colleague, a helpful therapist, a compassionate citizen of the world and a gun photographer!”
2. How are you going to press for progress in gender parity?
In answering this question, Jane stated maintaining a balanced household where her husband shared the domestic responsibilities without segregating them into gender roles as something she practices. ‘I hope to instil these values in my son so that he grows up as someone who naturally accepts and values gender parity. On a professional level, I always demand same pay and working conditions as my male counterparts.’
One of the many things Amina did was to avoid imposing gender rules on children. ‘I like to encourage people around me to stop using phrases like ‘girls don’t shout’ or ‘boys don’t cry…. What’s wrong with girls raising their voice or raging? Why shouldn’t we let boys express their emotions? Why can’t we let children be children?’
Alice highlighted that she did not stay silent when people make gender stereotypical remarks or assumptions. “One of the most important things we can all do is to make sure the kids around us, in our life, grow up with a sense of gender sensitivity and awareness and self-confidence to be advocates for change.”
A recurring theme was how these women encouraged their friends and children to make choices based on their abilities and not to hesitate if the reason was ‘it’s not for girls’.
Hilda particularly highlighted how she had to encourage her granddaughter as she sometimes hesitated, saying the boys were much better at sports and studies than her.
“I guess she took my advice. She is in the national basketball team now and captain of the school team.”
3. What one piece of advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
“If you are verbally harassed on the road, say something back.”
“Stop caring about what other people think of you. This will save you a lot of heartache in future years because you will not strive so much to be liked”
“I would tell myself to not listen to anyone including yourself that tells you, you can’t do anything or be anything.”
“As a 13 year-old growing in the Maldives I would tell her that I need to take every opportunity I get and run with it!”
“Listen to music and really listen to people.”
“Don’t worry too much about things or your future. When the time is right you’ll know what to do. Trust your gut and don’t let little things give you anxiety.”
“have more self-confidence and go ahead for what I want”
“I believe in you, you’re an incredibly strong and resilient person who is intelligent and wise. Just believe in your ability”
4. Who are your role models? What about them do you admire?
“My most significant role model is my father who has always treated me as his equal and allowed me as a child to do the supposedly-typically male jobs. He was always humble and graceful and showed me how to respect myself and others.” Shifa
“My mum and dad — they didn’t have the chance to finish their education. But they have made it their life mission to ensure that my brother and I have an education and have the opportunities that they never had.” Emma
“My mom — She still has very traditional views that girls should have long hair, behave in a particular way, get married and have kids. But why I see her as my role model is that even though she was brought up to believe all of this, she proved different and raised five kids on her own. She went out and worked when she never went to school herself or had employment before. She showed me, I can be and do anything I wanted regardless of what I’ve been told or what my circumstances are.” Alice
“My mother — making some of her dreams a reality, tackling big tasks for her community, sticking to her beliefs even if it’s been the unpopular position. My aunt — very loving wife and mother, recognising the individual strengths/interests of each of her children and connecting with them. My friend — calmness, persistence in times of struggle, a belief that there are solutions to most of life’s challenges even though they may not be the most obvious ones” Hawwa
“My mom — one of the most strong and amazing women I know and she will always be my role model. She has always been by my side, helping with anything that I found difficult in life. She has taught me how to be strong and patient and kind.” Mariyam
5. What is your favourite movie/TV show/ book with a strong female character?
Reading books written by female authors or watching TV shows/movies that demonstrate a strong female lead and character development is something we can do to support gender parity and demand a more diverse product from these media. The following are some of the participants’ favourite books, movies or tv shows. Put them on your to-read/to-watch lists!
– Period Dramas such as The Crown and Victoria ‘Fascinating accounts of how these women ruled at that time’
– Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. We all love Elizabeth Bennett, who was ahead of her times in her values and ideas. ‘She knew her own self-worth and wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself and her sisters, but also was graceful in admitting when she was wrong. She was intelligent and willing to speak her mind in an era that women typically were quiet and demure.’
– Mad Men. ‘I liked how Peggy Olsen’s character evolved’. In fact, this TV show has multiple strong female characters who come to their own, which is particularly admirable for a show set in the 50s.
– Freedom Writers. ‘It shows how one person can make a difference. It never is easy, but it’s about the passion to do the right thing and to do the best you can to build a better world. And what better way to make the world a better place than to make sure we are leaving behind better people.
– Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
– Baby Boom. ‘Her career suffers as her boss doesn’t believe she can do a good enough job with a baby. She leaves her job and moves to the country and there she builds up her own baby food empire starting off as a home business.’
I’d like to thank Mariyam, Jane, Hawwa, Alice, Amina, Emma, Shifu and Hilda for taking the time to answer these questions, and for sharing their ideas on everyday activism. I’m really proud to know them and grateful to have them in my life. Together, let’s #PressforProgress!