Gender equality refers to a state where men and women have equal standing and opportunities. UN Women define gender equality as:
“The equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognising the diversity of different groups of women and men (for example: women belonging to ethnic minorities, lesbian women or women with disabilities). Gender equality is a human rights principle.”
Gender equality does not mean that everyone is the same, but that, regardless of our gender identity, we are equal people.
Around the world, there has been some progress towards achieving equal rights. However, progress has been uneven with some women gaining more rights and opportunities quicker than others because of factors such as sexual orientation, where they live or financial status.
As a result, gender inequality persists. This inequality creates significant barriers for women, men, transgender and non-binary people in achieving their full potential. This is experienced in the home, at work and in the community.
Gender inequality is built into the structures of our society. For example, the pay gap means that women still earn less than men for equal work and the income gap means that women are still more likely to be in lower paid and low skilled jobs. This means that women are not paid fairly and don’t experience fair opportunity. As a result, when a household has to make decisions about who is going to take on caring responsibilities, they are more likely to leave the workplace because it looks like their work has less financial value.
Gender inequality begins at a young age. Wherever you are in the world, society is highly gendered. Often the gender inequality you have experienced might seem invisible because the biases are deeply embedded. Empowering ourselves with real choice and freeing ourselves from social stereotyping and cultural expectations is better for girls, women, boys and men. Young women receive a lot of messages about what is expected of them. For example, physical ‘perfection’ is valued over a sense of adventure. This objectification of women from a young age diminishes how they see their own role and capability. These messages are heard across society and also affect how young boys perceive their role in society. Casual reliance on these stereotypes leads to unconscious bias based on gender.
It is really important to recognise the structural gender inequality that exists and to start challenging these assumptions and stereotypes. The UN talks about applying a ‘gender lens’ to situations to fully understand what is going on:
‘Think of the gender lens as putting on spectacles. Out of one lens you see the participation, needs and realities of women. Out of the other you see the participation, needs and realities of men. Your sight or vision is the combination of what both eye sees.’ – UNESCO (2006).
A gender lens helps to identify where genders are being treated differently and, from there, we can take meaningful steps to achieve gender equality.