Why International Women’s Day, many might ask – isn’t gender equality already taken care of?
No, not quite, not everywhere, and not for all women, even though the situation has improved. Hidden behind the improvements in education, health and economy, there still exists another, different reality. According to a recent study conducted in the European Union countries, Finland is the second most violent country for women in the EU, Denmark and Sweden in first and third place, respectively. Although the results may partially reflect the differences in awareness, the lower tolerance for violence and minimal barriers for reporting abuse, these results are still eye-opening. If this is what takes place in the Nordic societies, what about the less developed, corrupted, and war-ridden countries where women can’t even have the basic ownership of their own home and body.
Globally, gender and race are the most significant factors generating inequality. These inequalities cut through all areas in life, from basic human rights and poverty rates to the subtle micro-inequities in professional settings. Their importance is evident from the first moments of life - Is it a girl or a boy? How fair or dark is her/his skin? - and they greatly affect the future of the child.
In addition to individual characteristics, a person’s destiny is also shaped by her/his social reference group – does s/he identify with a majority or a minority group. Does s/he belong to the power holders, the priviledged or under-priviledged class, does s/he represent the “norm”, or perhaps a marginalized category in the society? What has been her status inside the family? In many cultures, the individual is, in a sense, handed an unchangeable fate as a birth gift. From there, majority members build a different identity than minority members. Individuals accept and adopt their designated role, and evaluate their rights and opportunities from that angle.
Characteristics of the majority draw advantages like a magnet, often monetary ones, but also less visible forms. Similarly, minority-related disadvantages tend to cumulate. These factors get tangled up, and gradually one aspect cannot be separated from another anymore in analyzing causes and effects. Continued discrimination leaves its mark and in the end, opportunities might be hard to seize, even when they are handed to the person. Inequality in the society shapes the identities and lifestyles for both sides of the play. Equal rights do not guarantee equal opportunities and equal opportunities do not guarantee inclusion, unless people are empowered to take the benefit of them. Thus, ensuring active support, role models, mentors, and coaches to anyone coming from disadvantageous backgrounds is the key to truly leveling the playing ground.