Written By Pratichi Satpathy (Grade 8)
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contribution of half its citizens.” – Michelle Obama
Today’s society is one where women are represented and are included like never before. Asia has seen commendable progress in women’s empowerment and gender equality, witnessing a sharp spike in women’s admissions to higher education institutions, women’s involvement in legislatures, and their contributions to diversification and economic growth. Laws across the countries have been made to protect women. However, there is a lot that we don’t see on the surface.
According to a UN Women survey, 55% of women living in Asia have faced violence from their intimate partners at least once in their lifetimes. Domestic violence is a prevalent issue that consists not only of physical violence but also of emotional, sexual, and economic abuse. To make matters worse, victims are often silenced and are subject to blame and criticism from their families.
In Asia and the Pacific, 75% of women have experienced sexual harassment.It is unfortunate that public sexual harassment of women, nicknamed ‘eve-teasing’, is a normalised occurrence, and society blames victims, not perpetrators.
Some Asian cultures state that a girl child is a burden on the family and exhausts the family’s financial resources. This, unfortunately, is enough to justify murder and a violation of the infant’s right to life by performing female infanticide. Women are always seen as economically dependent—on their fathers at birth, husbands in marriage, and sons in old age—which is the primary reason why women in abusive situations do not leave. The fear of being homeless and without money puts many women through abuse daily.
Along with working, women must complete household chores perfectly, being expected to add value to the family both ways. Moreover, they are not well represented in politics. Often, at the helm of affairs are 75-year-old men who have neither insight into nor knowledge of the problems that women face, leading to legislatures being male-centric.
Advancing women’s equality in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region could add $4.5 trillion to their collective annual GDP in 2025. Women’s empowerment is essential to the development of nations all across Asia. There are numerous ways in which the gender gap can be bridged.
First and foremost, for women in violent, abusive situations, working helplines and women’s support cells can save lives. In India, 99.1% of cases of sexual violence go unreported. Having working helplines can enable the women to get the requisite help. Another solution could be having more policewomen on the force. Applications to report crimes without knowledge of the perpetrator could also be developed.
Financial independence gives women the power to leave abusive situations and start life anew with access to funds that they could use to secure their future. Women can be given vocational training to enhance their skills and train them for leadership roles. Support for entrepreneurship and start-ups led by women would also be a great leap.
As regards male-centric laws, a crucial step to take would be to increase female representation in law-making bodies like governments. Having a quota for the number of seats for women in parliaments and government bodies would be of great help.
Furthermore, governments could make laws that protect women from discrimination, violence, and unequal pay. Co-operation between society, NGOs, governments, and international law-making bodies would result in further advocacy, access to resources for women’s empowerment, and much more.
When it comes to managing family and work responsibilities, companies can do a lot to help women, like introducing extended maternity leave, alternate work arrangements like working from home, or flexible working hours for mothers and women with familial responsibilities.
Of course, one must also address the root of the problem: stereotypes and a lack of awareness among the general populace. Teaching young people about gender sensitivity can foster a sense of societal responsibility in them. Additionally, it can instil a sense of positive masculinity and challenge harmful gender norms, thereby making men and boys allies. Media and communication are tools that shape the minds of the public and can be used effectively by women to raise their voices.
It is vital that advocates for women’s empowerment challenge stereotypes and lend a helping hand to those who are struggling. Women cannot be equal to men by bringing other women down, but by lifting them up. To conclude, I would like to quote Maya Angelou: “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.”
Featured Image Courtesy – KnowESG