Gender equality, as a term, has taken a backseat today amidst all the “-isms” and social media campaigns. Gender encompasses socially-constructed responsibilities and roles appropriate for men and women. Gender issues are not centered around women alone. It also represents the relationship between men and women in society.
What is Gender Equality?
Gender equality is men and women wielding equal rights and access to opportunities and resources. These include decision-making and economic participation. Women constitute half of the world’s population. That women have less access to basic & higher education, less economic participation, less political representation, and higher safety & health risks, is not new knowledge. Women empowerment is an intrinsic aspect of gender equality. It entails raising their power to impact change and enhance their decision-making power. Above all, gender equality is a fundamental human right.
How is Gender Equality Calculated?
Gender equality is a vital factor when it comes to assessing a country’s overall growth. There are various indexes to determine gender equality.
Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI) – The World Economic Forum introduced the GGGI in 2006. It prioritizes the identification of levels of female disadvantage. The essential areas covered under the GGGI are educational attainment, political empowerment, survival rate, health, and economic participation.
Gender Equity Index (GEI) – It ranks countries based on three parameters, economic participation, empowerment, and education. It leaves out the health parameter.
Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) – It is a gender-specific measurement of the Human Development Index. It evaluates parameters such as education, incomes, and expectancy.
Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) – It entails detailed aspects like the number of seats women hold in parliament, the income share of women employees, and the percentage of women in decision-making roles.
Gender equality finds its roots as early as the fifteenth century. Christine de Pizan, in her ‘The Book of the City of Ladies’ (1405), stated that women’s oppression is based on irrational prejudice. From there onwards, the baton of women empowerment and gender equality has been passed down to several hands (both men and women), and to this day, the relay race continues. Let us look at five eminent people who championed gender equality across generations around the globe.
The Ones Who Bore it All
1. Sojourner Truth (c. 1797 – 26 November 1883)
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in 1797. At the age of 29, in 1827, she escaped into freedom with her young daughter. A year later, she won a custody battle against a white man, recovering her son from slavery, becoming the first black woman to do so. An African-American abolitionist, her life represents a constant struggle to fight for and defend gender equality. She advocated for suffrage for black women. Truth earnestly persuaded the Equal Rights Association to include black women in their activism. She believed that if colored women are denied their rights, the colored men will eventually become their masters. If so, things will remain unchanged.
Truth endorsed the radical concept that black women were women too. She delivered a powerful speech titled ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’ at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Her eloquence had a stimulating impact and was vastly talked about in the Civil War period. Also, her dauntless fight against racial inequality was recognized by President Abraham Lincoln, earning her an invitation to the White House in 1864.
2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (15 March 1933 – 18 September 2020)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer of gender equality in the truest sense. Ginsburg began her career as a young lawyer. She fought against discriminatory gender laws. Her approach was that of tact and patience. She advocated reproductive freedom, and was the second woman and first Jewish woman to serve on the court. During her time at Rutgers Law School in 1963, she joined an equal pay campaign upon finding that women were paid less than men. Her efforts paid off when substantial increases were granted to all complainants.
Ginsburg joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that supports civil liberties through litigation. Ruth was also the founding director of the Women’s Rights Project. She won five out of the six discrimination cases during her stint at the ACLU.
Ruth Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion in the United States vs. Virginia case in 1996. She declared that the Virginia Military Institute can no longer be an all-male institution. The lawsuit signified a new era in gender-based equal protection cases. Ginsburg earned the title of “feminist folk hero” throughout the Obama administration, and continues to be a source of outspoken voice for women.
3. Edna Adan Ismail (8 September 1937 -)
Edan Ismail was one of the first Somali women to get a driver’s license, obtain a leadership position in the health system, and become a nurse and midwife. As a health professional, she witnessed the fatality of gender inequality. Somalia records one of the highest maternal deaths in the world, indicating inadequate attention towards women’s health. Adan opened a maternity and teaching hospital in 2002. Here, healthcare workers are trained to guard women’s rights as well as health. She also established a university in 2010 that has nearly 1000 students enrolled for health-related courses.
Ismail has been a pioneer, taking inspiration from her doctor father, who treated her the same as he treated her brothers and male cousins. She was denied a civil service appointment in the 1960s, for which she had to struggle for almost two years, refusing to leave. She was rejected due to her being a woman, and no woman was ever appointed prior to her in such a senior position. Edan Ismail was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2010, in wide recognition of her work.
4. Rose Schneiderman (6 April 1882 – 11 August 1972)
At four feet six inches tall, Rose Schneiderman, a Jewish immigrant with striking red hair, was one of the non-native and working-class women that spoke on behalf of suffrage. In 1907, she founded the Equality League of Self- Supporting Women with Leonora O’Reilly and Harriot Stanton. Schneiderman has held several important positions. She was the President of the Women’s Trade Union League from 1926 to 1950, and the only woman on the National Recovery Administration’s Labor Advisory Board. She also served as the state secretary of labor in New York from 1937 to 1943.
She was a dedicated labor organizer and a former factory worker, who pioneered the needs of working women post-suffrage. Rose fought for relief funds for unemployed female workers during the Great Depression. She also endeavored for Social Security insurance for domestic workers, which took nearly 15 years to be implemented after it was first enacted in 1935. Schneiderman strived for improved labor conditions for parlor workers, laundry workers, and waitresses, the majority of whom consisted of colored women.
5. Raja Ram Mohan Roy (22 May 1772 – 27 September 1833)
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was among the early few men who fought tirelessly for equal rights. He is one of the social reformers and makers of modern India. He set up the Brahmo Samaj in 1828, which is India’s first socio-religious reform movement. Roy campaigned against customs such as polygamy, caste system, child marriage, and Sati. He played a vital role in elevating the social status of women in 19th-century India.
Roy was deeply disturbed and moved at the sight of his sister-in-law committing Sati. He then visited the cremation grounds of Kolkata to persuade women against self-immolation on husband’s pyre, along with writing articles stating that it was not deemed by Hindu scriptures. The annihilation of Sati was a watershed moment in the history of modern India. He was also vocal about the abolition of polygamy, and wanted women to be given the right to education and property inheritance.
The Struggle Continues
There is arduous support for gender equality across the globe. Still, according to 40% of the countries surveyed, it was found out that men should have more rights than women with regard to scarce jobs. Many countries agree that men have more opportunities when it comes to leadership positions. Also, women outnumber men in the paid workforce, yet it is women who do most of the domestic and childcare work.
The Show Must Go On
Gender equity and gender neutrality are the means to achieve gender equality. According to UNICEF, gender equality does not necessitate similar treatment for men and women, but enjoying the same rights and opportunities. In the global context, gender equality obligates the elimination of harmful practices against girls and women, including wartime sexual violence, the gender wage gap, femicide, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex trafficking. The US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris took the stage recently, post her emphatic victory. Amidst a cheering and honking crowd, she proudly said though she is the first woman ever to hold this office, she will not be the last. This alone stands out as a testimony to the modern spirit of gender equality.