8 March 2016
Ladies and gentleman
A bet on gender parity as the game change for women and girls is a high risk gamble – playing for stakes far too high, with odds loaded against us.
Gender-based discrimination is a reckless, unfounded, unjust systemic imputation of characteristics and attributes to groups of people who may have nothing more than genitalia in common. It narrows and distorts, hinders and stifles talent, diversity and potential. It seeks to justify a gendered-basis for the distribution of power, opportunity and influence. It paves the way for gender based violence and other human rights abuses. Its intricate confinement of human ability? That’s a complex problem. And as has been said – for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong. Gender discrimination? - This is not simply a matter of changing numbers.
What is so disarmingly, alarming about gender-based discrimination is its intractability and its capacity to shape-shift. Yes, in Rwanda, 60% of lower house parliamentarians are women and still gender based violence afflicts 40% of all women. In Bolivia, 50% of parliamentarians are women and still there persists a severe gender gap in employment. Iceland tops the WEF’s ranking of countries by their respect for gender equality, yet even with a respectable 41% of all parliamentarians women, Iceland still does not have equal pay for equal work. Are we to believe that somehow a 9% increase in women on the floor of Iceland’s parliament will be a game changer for such gender-based discrimination? Seriously? This is never just about the numbers.
For the woman raped by her husband and then denied recourse; for the girl whose childhood is snatched from her by marriage; for the adolescent whose unplanned pregnancy tears apart her ill prepared body and derails her future; for the mother denied access to contraceptives; for the women attacked on a bus – exactly what is the 50 – 50 equation? More boys married as children? More men with unwanted pregnancies? More women more violent to their intimate partners? This is not only about numbers.
These toxic stratifications of the human condition are never just uni-linear - gender-based discrimination intersects deeply with other bigotries about race, disability, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, caste, religion. The gender parity numbers games will never reveal the full story of those inter-sectionalities nor monitor our adherence to that essential truth – that we all are born equal in dignity and rights.
This is not about numbers. The false seduction of the hackneyed assurance that somehow because we measure something, it matters to us more – is yet more evidence that today we are caught up in metric-ocracy not merit-ocracy. The formula for justice for women and girls is not gender parity’s arithmetic but something qualitatively quite different. It needs the deep subversion of those internal maps of patriarchy, and other such bigotries, that we all – women AND men - carry around in our heads. It needs deep qualitative change. And that is why, dear friends, it is called equality not equantity. We cannot afford to be distracted in our struggle for gender equality by the inadequate promise of the gender parity numbers game alone.