Today is Women's Day. Let us enjoy everything we have, the parity that has been achieved. Let us appreciate how today, for many women, is different from what it would have been had they lived in the first half of the 20th century.
Does it still make sense to reflect on gender discrimination, on more difficult conditions for women? If I look in the mirror, no. I have not been discriminated against during my career. I performed several leadership roles early in life, at different levels and according to my availability and ability to embrace them. No, the mirror does not tell me that there are problems of female discrimination. But, what if I look a little to the side? What if I look a little further? The mirror also tells me that there is no hunger, I never felt hungry and unable to eat, much less having to do without food to feed those who depend on me. Can I therefore say that there is no hunger in the world?
The points I make below are not the result of any scientific research. Nor have I objectively checked the facts. The following lines are merely the result of a quick search for news in newspapers that I find credible. I have not confirmed sources. Time and skills do not permit it. I leave the challenge, and my thanks in advance to whoever accepts it. Therefore, these are mere semi-reasoned reflections:
- Did you know that there are around 750 million young people and adults all over the planet who do not know how to read or write and that 2 out of 3 are women?
- Did you know that illiteracy increases dependency, thus increasing the risk of violence with little chance of escaping, running the risk of being easier prey for trafficking networks?
- Did you know that human trafficking is one of the most widespread illegal activities in the 21st century and that 70-80% of trafficked humans are women? And that many are destined for sex trade? These reflections could lead us to another discussion: the myths about prostitution, that it increases as a result of free and conscious activity by women, which is the result of their emancipation... This myth is not to be discussed here today.
Did you know that, according to the UN Population Fund's annual report (2020), every day about 33 thousand girls under the age of 18 are forced to marry? Furthermore, an extreme preference for sons over daughters in some countries has fueled sex selection or extreme neglect, resulting in 140 million "missing women" who could have survived in a world without discrimination?
But let us look at less dramatic facts, perhaps closer to us:
- Did you know that in the European Union only 52% of married women or living with partners freely make decisions about sex or contraception?
- Did you know that, on average, women spend twice as many hours on family tasks, compared to their partners, even though both spend the same number of hours on paid work? Yes, probably this is not your case, so, according to mathematics, there will be those who spend much longer time...
And by the way, another reflection:
- Did you know that in the great majority of religions, not to mention in almost all of the most represented in the world, women are prevented from accessing the office of minister of worship? And why worry? Religion has been losing ground in the world!
- Did you know that religion and the principles that govern it, regardless of creed or even will, shape social rules and even consciences? Is it because of this that it has become 'natural' that more organized societies have become increasingly patriarchal? Is that why it has become 'natural' that it is most men who are leading the world? Why is it special news when a woman is chosen for a particular role or award, fortunately more and more, causing some men to feel discriminated against by this growing minority? No, religions cannot be blamed for everything, but in matters of gender discrimination they have their share. And maybe a big one!
And finally, something ironic:
- Did you know that in a G7 country, where women have been gaining some parity (albeit very slowly), there are those who publicly disagree with the possibility of women participating in Board meetings, claiming that, at most, they will be able to do so if they remain silent and so they can 'see the decision-making process'? What country is this? Try to find out.
Happy Women's Day! Let us enjoy the good things in life that our predecessors allow us to do. But let's look beyond the mirror.
PS: note that I used the neutral form in Portuguese - our predecessors. It refers to men and women. In addition to being grammatically correct, it is also correct to say that, in this matter, many men and women have looked and look beyond the mirror.
8 de Marco de 2021,
Ana M Sebastião
Deputy Director of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon
Full Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience
Lead Research Leader at iMM
Note: The author writes this article using the old orthographic agreement