SDG 5: Gender Equality
Gender equality means ensuring fairness for all people irrespective of their gender. Men and women, girls and boys should be treated with equal fairness at all times. How does that happen in reality? In many parts of the world, women and girls are not treated equally. Our attitudes and perceptions shape the way we think. So what shapes our perceptions of girls and women?
I was visiting Salvation Army officers in India a few years ago, who had limited English. Their 10‐year‐old daughter who spoke excellent English surprised me. She explained to me that she watched many English speaking programmes and her favourite was ‘America’s Next Top Model’. I wondered how the programme was shaping her mind, especially the way she saw herself, her place and function in this world.
The way women are portrayed in the media, and in our societies, is highly influential on both women’s and men’s attitudes toward women, not just on how they should look but also on how they should be treated.
A report from the International Labour Organisation in 2015 explained the impact of gender discrimination. ‘It’s generally recognised that some of the main obstacles holding women back are gender stereotypes, corporate cultures, difficulties in reconciling work and family responsibilities as well as more subtle forms of gender biases which sometimes exist in educational systems and the workplace.’1 This results in women being paid lower wages and under‐represented in decisionmaking positions.
As a young medical graduate in the mid‐1980s I faced gender discrimination in the workplace. For example, when I applied for posts as a junior doctor I was asked intrusive questions about my personal life that were never asked of men, and the answers affected my chance of being offered a position. However, that was nothing compared to the discrimination my mother and grandmothers faced when they were young women. One grandmother left school when she was only 14 years old – and before then she had hardly attended school. She was the eldest daughter and so even at a very young age it was her role to look after all the other children. Her education had a low priority in the family.
I have always been thankful for the opportunities I have been given, not only in education but in many other spheres of life. However, I recognise that I am one of the privileged. Many women in the world are treated very differently, not just denied opportunities but used and abused by men, and other women, because they are seen as ‘lesser’ beings, and therefore not entitled to care or protection.
Statistics for violence against women, both physical and sexual, not to mention mental and psychological are horrifying. These statistics will only change if perceptions of women are changed. Only when perceptions change will gender equality become a reality.
1 ILO Report: Women In Business And Management: Gaining Momentum, 2015
- At the beginning of the Bible we are told the story of creation and the place of people in the creation. ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground”’ (Genesis 1:27‐28).
- The gospels show us how Jesus treated women. Christ came into the world so that people could have life, and life in all its fullness, not dependent on gender, race, colour or power. ‘As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”’ (Luke 10:38‐42).
The place of women is often seen as being in the home and attending to all the chores involved, including cooking and looking after everyone in the home. Here Jesus very clearly demonstrates that women should be given the same opportunities as the men to learn. He did not join Martha in reprimanding Mary for not being in the kitchen, instead he praised Mary for choosing the better option, to join with the men to listen to his teaching.
- Women and girls who are suffering, being treated as less than their true worth because of their gender.
- Attitudes to change, making it unacceptable to commodify women or men so that all people are recognised as being persons of value.
- Pray that all men and women, girls and boys in the Church will learn to respect one another, to appreciate their difference and recognise how together we can enhance one another, witnessing to the world to the beauty of gender.
Let us all stop and think about our culture – at home, at work, in The Salvation Army, in our communities. Do our attitudes and expectations encourage gender equality? What can we do differently? Here are a few ideas:
- Be aware of what we say when we talk about people who are different to us. We should be careful not to refer to people using derogatory terms about their gender.
- Encourage girls and women to take opportunities for personal development.
- Support women and girls who have been abused and lost their self‐esteem. We should encourage and enable them to build up their confidence in who they are.