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What a pertinent theme for International Women’s Day 2021!

While penning my thoughts, I am forced to think, ‘Do we still need an International Women’s Day? I sincerely wish for this answer to be negative, but each time it boomerangs as a big YES!

Undoubtedly, there has been a lot of work done in the past couple decades for women and girls’ empowerment; nevertheless, a large part of this vulnerable population continues to fight the daily battle for their survival!

Belonging to the Homo Sapiens species, our ‘Children’ top the list of most lovable things in our lives. We would go to any lengths to protect and provide for them; however, just look around! Is this the kind of society we would want them to grow up in – Biased, Discriminating, Non-inclusive, and Unfair!

The COVID-19 Pandemic has further highlighted the existing fault lines and exposed the harbored stereotypes about gender which shape people’s perception, interaction, and prejudices about women. For a long time, the way women have been portrayed by the media, popular culture, and public officials has led to biases, often unconscious, which results in discrimination.

It is high time for us adults to tweak our approach ASAP! This leaves us with another pressing question, where should we start? Well, where do the children spend most of their time? At Home and at School! Let us begin here then, our own homes, families, and classrooms. Taking one step at a time, busting one prejudice at a time, challenging one stereotype at a time…making gender equality a vital element of all our conversations, practices, policies, and programs – both at home and at school.

Gender Equality: Is it merely a women’s issue?

As an educational leader working with adolescent boys and girls, families, and women of all ages across countries, two things that I can say for sure are, we need to bring up our boys right and that Gender Equality is not just a ‘Women’s Issue’, it is essentially a battle which the whole society, especially the men, should come together to combat!

As much we are filled with vigor and enthusiasm to take up the cause, these movements fade away as the road ahead is thwarted with challenges as creative as those in the online game PUBG!

Therefore, we need to work consistently as a team to remove the obstacles which hinder our dream of an Equitable and Inclusive Society and ensure that the journey is more memorable than miserable!

To bring about the involvement of more people with this campaign, I have come up with this mnemonic to demystify Women Empowerment and Gender Equality: REACH. It gives us 5 Action Areas to tackle. Let us begin this crusade for the sake of our present and future generations of women.

R – Refuting Sexual and Gender Based Violence

It is a fundamental challenge that is deeply rooted in unfair power relationships between men and women. It can be perpetrated anywhere, at home, at school, within communities, in organizations, and at work. It is estimated that one in three women globally have suffered physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, or economic violence in their lifetime, repeatedly at the hands of partners or family members.
Few ways we can challenge this threat to the inherent rights of women:

• Sensitizing our girls and women about their rights.
• Making them aware of the provisions in the law to help the victims.
• Educating them about the safe spaces and organizations where they can report any abuse.

E – Education = Empowerment!

As a matter of fact, education is paramount to achieve upbeat fiscal and societal results. And how can we ensure that girls are not denied the universal right to education just because they are girls?
• Start by developing gender-sensitive learning environments for girls: free of violence, abuse, and bullying.
• Educate boys and men about gender equality by joining them in fostering girls’ and women’s rights.

A – Access to Fewer Economic Opportunities and Resources

In contrast to males, females bear larger loads of unpaid work. Not being allowed to take up a job, unpaid household responsibilities, lack of economic freedom, and no say in decision-making leaves them with fewer assets and resources. We can challenge these gender roles and stereotypes by:
• Providing them vocational training and scholarships.
• Helping them pursue a career of their choice thereby ensuring financial independence.
• Raising our girls with a progressive and global mindset.

C – Control over their own Bodies and Reproductive Choices

As per ‘Girls Not Brides’, 2017 (About Child Marriage), an estimated 15 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage every year – that is 39,000 every day. According to World YWCA, (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), every year, 16 million children are born to adolescent girls (age 15 to 19), accounting for just over one out of every 10 births worldwide.  

Indeed, a big challenge, but for sure can be tamed by:

  • Raising awareness at home, at schools, and in the community on the importance of girls’ rights and gender equality.
  • Supporting girls and women to advocate against child marriages.

H – Health and Well being

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal number 3, namely Good Health and Well-being, has motivated extraordinary improvements worldwide, but there are still many countries struggling to achieve substantial advancement in this domain. To challenge this one, what we need to do is:

  • Ensuring multisectoral, rights-based, and gender-sensitive approaches.
  • Providing Health education and school feeding programs to keep girls and families motivated towards their health and wellbeing.

It has been proved time and again that whenever opportunities are given to women, they have always emerged as successful and even greater agents of positive change, improving the quality and experience of their own life along with that of their families and society at large. Undoubtedly, they have the capability of leading their households, communities, and countries towards growth and prosperity in the 21st century, provided we give them a fair shot!

So, which Action Area would you #ChooseToChallenge?

Ashu John, Founder of the Ahaan Foundation

Ashu John is an avid educator, community leader and edu-preneur who designs and implements education and community outreach programs specializing in the areas of women’s empowerment and gender equality since 2003.

Fueled by her passion to work on social and global issues, she founded The Ahaan Foundation in 2017, a non-profit organization working vigorously towards empowering women, promoting gender equality, and working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Ashu travels and works between India and Canada and has been volunteering in Regina since 2015.

E: john_ashu@ymail.com 

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