Inspiring inclusion & the hard work of building a gender-equal world
If the arc of the moral universe is long yet bends towards justice, 2023 blighted our collective landscape with challenges that remind us of this uniquely fragile time. War, hunger, severe weather events and increasing polarisation has exacerbated division and overwhelm.
Yet at the same time innumerable acts of love and kindness – that do not make news – continue to bind families, friends, and communities in the human project of purpose, connection and belonging.
Yet what persists, with often enormous and terrible consequences, is a gender-unequal world. Millions of women and girls remain trapped in work that maintains cycles of grinding poverty, systematically denied their basic rights to education and reproductive health, and to live free from violence.
What we seem to quickly forget in times of heightened stress, is how the pursuit of a progressive, gender-equal society, a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination is not only a noble goal – but an imperative.
If inclusion means a world where women and girls can fully express their uniqueness and diversity of strengths, skills, and talents, we are a long way from achieving this – from forging a society that thrives by having unleashed the full potential of women and girls.
In our journey towards inclusion, we must name (and shame) the barriers that have long confined both women and men to predefined roles. Only by actively challenging stereotypes can we begin to build a society that recognises and values the inherent potential within everyone, irrespective of gender.
I have just returned from the slums of Bangalore, India, where women remain in small hovels all day, tending to the basic chores necessary to survive. To witness their strength was extraordinary and inspiring, yet more pervasive was a helplessness – a sense of defeat, a sad knowing in their eyes that their lives were unlikely to ever change.
What skills and talents will these women and girls never bestow on the world, let alone on their immediate communities? What will be forever lost in the grind of poverty, and beliefs relegating women to roles that will never spark in them the possibility of a better tomorrow?
A fully inclusive world begins with education. Children of kindergarten age must be taught to appreciate diversity and respect one another. Gender biases need to be eradicated from textbooks, with curriculums designed to ensure boys and girls are modelled – and have access to – equal opportunities. Education should be a powerful tool for fostering understanding and empathy, mirroring healthy relationships that lays the foundation for the next generation to believe they can, in fact, reach for the stars.
For too many, this is not the case. UNICEF estimates that globally over 129 million girls of school age are not in school.
Full inclusion at work means creating workplaces where talent and competence are the sole determinants of success, where organisations embrace diversity not as a buzzword but a fundamental principle. Equal pay for equal work must become a norm, where ‘glass ceilings’ are relegated to the past, women ascend to leadership positions without barriers of any kind, and employers understand – as a first principle – that diverse workforces bring perspectives, innovation, and resilience.
Full inclusion acknowledges work-life balance for women and men, where parental leave is equally shared. By promoting paternity leave and flexible work arrangements, we begin to dismantle the notion that caregiving is predominantly a woman’s role. This shift not only empowers women in the workforce but encourages men to more actively participate in family life.
Full inclusion necessitates empowering women to assume leadership roles across all sectors, where mentorship programs, leadership training, and networking opportunities are readily available. Representation matters. When women see other women in leadership positions, it inspires confidence and ambition. Breaking gender stereotypes relating to positions of power is crucial in creating a world where everyone has an equal chance to lead.
Legal frameworks that perpetuate gender bias must also be reformed. This includes issues such as men’s violence against women, discrimination in healthcare, barriers to education and economic opportunities. A gender-equal world demands a commitment to dismantling the systemic roots of discrimination.
Ultimately, to truly create inclusive societies, men are required to be allies. Men play a crucial role in challenging toxic masculinity, promoting gender equality in their communities and supporting women’s advancement in all spheres of life. Fostering a culture where men are proud allies, walking alongside women and girls, is crucial.
By envisioning and building a gender-equal, inclusive world, we embark on a transformative journey to forge a future where differences are not just accepted but celebrated – where everyone can thrive and unleash their unique talents on society.
For the women I met in the slums of India, may hopelessness soon become hope, for a far better tomorrow.
Story & images by Jeremy Meltzer