Why gender equality is important for us all
Criodán looks at the current national and international statistics on gender equality
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There are five in my family, my parents included. I’m the eldest to a brother and sister. We’ve all been raised in the same household by the same parents for slightly different amounts of time. But we’re very different. We have different humours, enjoy different hobbies and like different foods. These are all normal things to have differences with each other. They’re possibly more genetic than not. We didn’t choose the foods we liked or disliked and nothing about how we were raised would change that.
I never really thought about it, but my brother and I were often dressed in blue, navy and black clothing, whilst my sister was often dressed in bright pink, white and yellow clothes. This is one of the earliest and most obvious segregations of gender in the modern world. It may be an innocent and unconscious act by parents, but it may be one of the earliest examples of gender separation.
Gender equality is Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number five. Set out by the United Nations, the aim of this SDG is to eradicate, reduce and solve some of the major social and economic problems related to gender. Unfortunately, even though men and women are basically the same (besides a few biological differences), women have been subjected to horrendous discrimination in many areas for decades. From voting rights to education, from politics to violence, women have been subjected to mistreatment for generations.
Currently, the population stands at 50.5 % male and 49.5 % female, essentially the exact same. However, for the longest time, men have been in charge of that population. Women were only granted equal voting rights in Ireland in 1922. As of now less than 25% of parliamentarians are female but that’s more than double what it was in 1995 at 11.3%. The fact that equal voting rights for women is something still relatively fresh in our grandparents’ minds is astounding. To not be in charge of your country and it’s running is disgraceful. To have only half the population choose what was best for you. I am thankful for this massive change but it’s a pity it was needed.
Women’s education is another area that has seen slow improvements. Worldwide there has been an increase in gender parity in primary and secondary education. For example, in 1990 in Southern Asia the ratio of girls to boys was 74:100. In 2015 that ratio had changed to 103:100, a significant improvement. Unfortunately, worldwide female secondary school attendance is only at 48%. Education is something near and dear to my heart and it saddens me to think of some people not having the opportunity to learn. Education is a key to success.
Violence is an unfortunate thing which we humans cannot seem to avoid. We’ve been engaged in wars for thousands of years. However, domestic violence is very different. Domestic violence takes place between people who are in a domestic setting e.g. living together, married. In Ireland, females are much more likely to experience severe domestic violence than males – 15% vs 6% respectively. Worldwide, according to the UN, approximately one-third of all females experience some type of physical violence. These statistics are staggering and saddening. It’s difficult for me to imagine this level of violence. I was blissfully ignorant about statistics like this until I attended Safe Ireland Summit in 2018 which focused on domestic and sexual violence in Ireland. That event was very eye opening into the world of inequality, control and dominance
In university I volunteer with a science outreach program called Cell Explorers. The primary aim of the program is to teach children more in-depth science, get them interested in science and hopefully encourage them to pursue a career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics). A secondary aim is to combat some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround science, such as scientists being only white or male. There have been multiple studies on the gender stereotypes of science.
In one study, students between the grades of 2 and 8 (roughly age 7 - 13/14) were asked to draw a “scientist doing science.” The results were staggering. Over half of the students of grade 2 drew males only, whilst those in grades 3-5 and 6-8 drew males only 73% and 75% of the time respectively. In a second study of children between the ages of 7 and 17, when asked to draw how a scientist appeared to them only 14.4% drew females only whilst 62.1% drew males only.
Science is not about stereotypes. Science is about facts, information and discovery of which all genders are equally able to do. There is a big push at the moment to achieve an equal number of men and women in STEM. Whilst I will happily encourage and assure that females can and should pursue careers in STEM, it’s important to keep in mind of the natural gradient of genders – some people will never be interested in specific sectors or careers and we should not necessarily force quotas to level the workforce. Provided both genders are equally encouraged, have access to the proper resources, etc, the natural gradient will find itself.
The Sustainable Development Goals are a great idea by the UN. They pinpoint specific areas in society we have to improve. Ultimately though it is up to each and every one of us to work on them. Without a collective effort, these goals will fail. We have made significant improvements in the past few decades but there is much more to do. The world will be a better place when it is more equal. Equality benefits everyone. Going forward there is one thing that could make this a lot easier. If/when you have your own children just remember – raise people, not genders.