IWD 2023: Are we truly ready to #EmbraceEquity?

Share on WhatsApp Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

I’ll admit it; I’m often guilty of falling down the endless rabbit hole of Instagram Reels, especially during nights when my children are finally asleep and the house once again reverts to being my quiet sanctuary. But every so often, in the midst of the (frequently) mindless and mundane, comes a Reel that manages to shake me out of my doomscrolling stupor.

That was what content creator @cayleecresta’s Reel recently did for me. “What does society expect from women?” she asks.

“Oh, don’t worry- society expects plenty from women.

We’re expected to age gracefully, but never let ourselves go.
Work like we have no children, and parent like we have no job.
They’ll call the stay-at-home mother unfulfilled, but the working mother selfish – all while childless women are considered incomplete.

Go chase that career, but never at the expense of a family.
Think like a man if you want to be successful, but don’t act like one if you want to be liked.
We’re supposed to mother our husbands, but never treat them like children; and put out on demand, but demand respect.

Married and miserable is better than single and happy.
Don’t stay with an abusive man, but never break up your family.
Don’t marry a bum for love, but don’t stay with a successful man for security.
Don’t be dependent on a man for money, but don’t emasculate them by earning more.

They’ll tell us to embrace our sexuality, but have some self-respect.
And to care about our appearance, but stop looking for attention.

Just say no, but let him down easy.
Be aware of your surroundings, but stop being so dramatic!
Practice self-love, but don’t love yourself too much.
Dream BIG, but stay small.

And would you like me to keep going?”

How many of us, as women, have been made to feel this way, at some point or other, in our lives? How many of us sadly know that this list keeps on going? We exist in a world of conflicting messages; one that often urges us to shrink ourselves at the expense of others, to maintain a status quo that hasn’t been designed with us in mind.

Not seen and not heard

I’m in the middle of reading Caroline Criado Perez’s brilliant book, Invisible Women, and her takeaways are both eye-opening and frightening. She shares about the existence of a gender data gap throughout history – one where “the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall”, but when it comes to women, humanity’s other half, “there is often nothing but silence”.

From car and crash test dummy designs based on the weight and height of the average male (no female crash dummies existed until 2011, and to date, no seatbelts have been designed for pregnant women), to standard office temperatures that factored only the metabolic resting rate of the average male (leaving female office workers, with their significantly lower metabolic rates, in the literal cold), women frequently find ourselves sidelined, and often at a cost to our own safety.

Amid rampant conversations about the importance of championing gender equality and fairness, an uncomfortable question still remains. How can we truly progress these concepts when not everyone starts off on the same level playing field? The barriers women face and our specific needs clearly differ from those faced by men in achieving the same goals – and too often, these barriers have failed to be treated differently.

Embracing equity

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #EmbraceEquity, seeks to unpackage this. What indeed is the difference between “equality” and “equity”? And why should it matter?

Source: internationalwomensday.com 

Tamara Makoni, founder of Kazuri Consulting, explains the difference between these concepts through an illustration of two children being offered fruit to abate their hunger.

“You go to the fruit bowl, and you start to pick up two apples to give them to each child. However, you remember at the last moment that one of the children is allergic to apples. Instead, you reach for one apple and one banana, and that way you’re being fair. You still give one piece of fruit to each child, but you’re also being equitable because you’re giving each child a legitimate way of satisfying their hunger,” says Makoni. Rather than giving apples to both, at the risk of the child who is allergic falling ill, you’re “giving them something that is in line with their individual needs, so they can be successful.”

Source: “Addressing Imbalance,” by Tony Ruth for the 2019 Design in Tech Report

Thus, while equality focuses on providing all genders with equal opportunities (such as the right to education), equity forges greater inclusivity in recognising that each person has different circumstances, advantages and disadvantages, and accordingly, has different needs to attain access and opportunities. In acknowledging this, equity serves to allocate the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome (for example, ensuring that female students also have access to safe transportation to enable them to travel without fear of harm or harassment, or putting into place policies that can help to establish safer spaces within schools).

Where does Malaysia stand?

Source: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

In spite of gradual advancements and important inroads that recent (hard-won) victories have paved, there is still a long journey ahead towards bridging the gender gap. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, gender parity is not recovering. The global gender gap was previously estimated to take 99 years to close. Post-pandemic, this figure now stands at 132 years.

Malaysia is currently ranked a dismal 103rd out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum World Gender Gap Index (which assesses countries on how well they distribute opportunities among their male and female population). Despite women making up 50% of our nation’s population, our female labour force participation rates remain one of the lowest in the ASEAN region at 55.6% (as at July 2022), compared to the male labour force participation rate at 82.5%. And for every ringgit a man earns, women earn only 96 sen.

We are still reeling from the adverse impact those lost pandemic years have wrecked on our rights and economic opportunities – the same years that added to the unpaid domestic work and responsibilities many were forced to take on carers, following the closure of schools and childcare centres, while also increasing our exposure to the threat of gender-based violence.  Although the endless lockdowns have since lifted, a myriad of factors, ranging from prevailing gender and cultural norms, to the lack of family support policies and access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), continue to keep many women within their homes and out of the labour force.

What should be done?

Source: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

As our nation begins its uphill climb through post-Covid recovery, the urgency of upholding gender equity cannot be relegated to the background. Towards this end, we echo the key resolutions raised during the Malaysia Women and Girls Forum (MWGF) last year, which seek: 

  • the enhancement of women’s economic equity and economic independence to improve Malaysia’s female labour force participation rate;
  • Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to reduce unplanned pregnancies, allowing girls the right to continue their education and pursue economic opportunities; 
  • greater investment in the care industry, to address unpaid care work that often disproportionately burdens women;
  • law reforms to mandate equal parental leave, shaping how the next generation approaches gender roles in parenting;
  • a change in gender-stereotyping attitudes at home, work and within politics that impede women’s participation in the labour force; and
  • greater gender-responsive budgeting and economic decisions to include the lived realities of marginalised communities and the disabled.

Are we truly ready to #EmbraceEquity? The answer is, not yet; not until we see all these changes (and many more) come to pass. But in the meantime, we must be unafraid to share, speak out, stand up and be seen – refusing to remain invisible any longer.

Happy International Women’s Day, #makchicmumsquad – may you continue to spark conversations wherever you go. 

By Kimberly Lee

From our team of purposeful, multi-faceted mummies. For editorial or general enquiries, email to us at hello@makchic.com.