By Rubana Huq
March 09, 2016
Yesterday was the time to tell all our families that our daughters aren't just pretty; they are superbly gifted; our daughters don't “nag”, they pursue; our daughters don't “gossip”, they discuss; our daughters are not “pushy”, they assert; our daughters are not “chatty”, they have a lot to say. I have two daughters of my own who better me everyday and who exceed all targets that I have ever achieved on my own.
I spend 90 percent of my salary on my family, whereas I don't remember the last time my partner bought anything for home. I don't remember being bought anything in the last 10 years and the excuse or the defense is always the same: Everything belongs to you and you can buy anything you want to. That is a standard line that your columnist is defenseless against. True, I earn more than my husband and even truer is that I deserve it. On top of that, if only I billed him for all those unpaid hours when I brought my children up all these years, he would be truly bankrupt.
I wouldn't have had the courage to write all this, had it not been for yesterday, the 8th of March. This one special day when all women gather to celebrate 8th of March in unison, irrespective of the fact that the remaining 364 days of this year will be almost the same, laden with pledges, pregnant with promises and blocked as ever.
When I generally get off planes and walk towards immigration, I walk faster than usual as most of the times, the men beside me outpace me and I can't keep up. In spite of naturally having a faster stride ever since childhood, I lag behind, till today. When I fill immigration forms at airports, I often tempt myself to tick the “M” box instead of the “F”. When I am told that I have worked for 19 years and it's time for me to “rest”, I react, as for me, life is still beginning.
So amidst all this, defining womanhood and its purpose takes a lot of imagination. There's so much data, so many speeches, so many hash tags, so much inspiration . . . all around. In the middle of the “so-many” groups, it's not easy to find one's way through. Over-commitment kills aspirations, especially when they are from the most privileged corners, coming from the most privileged communities. Especially when they are from another species, living in the same planet as women, who are the recipient of less than 24 percent of global wealth, sharing two-third of working hours, spending 90 percent of their income in their own households, being one-third of the global work force.
In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then one year later in 2015, it was estimated that gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133. But thank God for the “Step it Up” campaign in 2016, which targets women to live within the slogan of equality: Planet 50:50 with an aim to attain income parity by 2030.
So, dreams have been advanced; targets have been set and we move on and look forward to the next International Women's Day when further and fresher data will be released in media with newer figures on violence, wage gaps, inequalities et al. But that's how we tick and that's how the world goes, I guess. Even with so many pledges and platforms, we are where we are and progress is what we perceive through the lens of a “man”. In reality, we see through men's eyes, and decide on the benchmark of “propriety” based on men's views. This is not because of men having dictated our lives. This is simply because of all that has happened to our inner psyche as a part of our upbringing, which evolved around how to be a “proper woman.”
Simone de Beauvoir once wrote, “One is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.” In the 1973 edition of The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir endeavoured to tell us that there was a specific difference between a female and being a woman. A female is a physiological construct, whereas womanhood is a cultural one. Gender is what we perceive and sign up for when we get tired of just being a “female”. Gender is what we get conscious of when we read that one out of every seven countries in the world has never had a woman leader and only 63 countries have seen women leaders. Gender parity is something we ponder on when we learn that only the Nordic countries top the glass ceiling index with regard to gender wage gap, which stands at 6.3 percent when the OECD average is 15.5 percent and Japan, Korea and Turkey stand at the lowest rung of the ladder.
In terms of economics, if only we can increase our female workforce participation from 34 percent to 82 percent, we should be able to add 1.8 percent to our GDP. If only we had more CEOs and MDs in Bangladesh, we would not be losing out on 17 percent of GDP. By 2025, US$12 trillion will be added if gender parity can be attained. The whole of South Asia will have an extra 19 percent income if the gender parity hits our region.
How do we increase our income? How do we aim towards income parity? Is it by wearing pink as Narendra Modi did last year or as Mamata Banerjee did last year, leading ten thousand women who walked with her from College Square to Esplanade, causing unforgivable traffic jams? Or should men be wearing women's high heels and complete 'Walk a Mile in Her Shoes' like they did in Bulgaria last year? Celebrating the potential of female power has nothing to do with any of this. But it has everything to do with women who have truly burst the bubble and have made it.
A batch of photo sessions on a specific day does not further agenda. A barrage of protests to spell inequality also does not impact who she could be tomorrow. The real test is to locate, encourage and develop who we see from a distance and mentor them ourselves. And in case we spot a gem, let's celebrate them without any reservation or bias.
For me, March 8 is best defined by Captain Nazia Nusrat Hossain and Captain Shahrina Bintea Anwar, the first women trainee pilots of Bangladesh Army; March 8 is also best demonstrated by the 190 female officers from Bangladesh working in different peacekeeping missions, helping the United Nations towards its goal of having 20 percent women employees in its recruitment process; March 8 is most worthily represented by the three million female workers employed in readymade garment sector constituting 65 percent of the manufacturing sector; and of course, March 8 is all about our daughters growing up to become who we could have become.
Rubana Huq is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.
Source: The Daily Start, Bangladesh
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