Indeed, celebrating women’s achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key to forging a gender equal world. This is one reason why March 8 of every year has been chosen as a date to honour and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. After over a century since inception in 1911, the International Women’s Day which is now observed in every continent of the world also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
People around the world celebrate International Women’s Day in different but unique ways. In some places, women receive flowers and other gifts. In some other countries, leading women arrange talks, performances, and other activities. While in some other places, leading women use the day in staging organised protest against any form of violence or injustice against women and each year, since 1975, the United Nations has sponsored the day by using it to organize events related to a specific women’s rights issue—for example, improving education, political involvement, and equality.
This year’s theme, ‘An equal world is an enabled world’, tagged #EachForEqual seeks to draw attention to the fact that gender inequality isn’t a women’s issue but importantly, an economic issue essential to the growth of nations and communities. According to the chief of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her message for International Women’s Day (IWD) at UN Headquarters on Friday, being celebrated in New York, ahead of the official day, the benefits of gender equality are not just for women and girls, but “for everyone whose lives will be changed by a fairer world”, children inclusive. How do we even talk about gender inequality without talking about it’s effect on children? It is almost impossible.
What Is Gender Equality?
UNICEF states that Gender equality means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections. In essence, gender inequality arises when one gender is seen or perceived as having more rights than the other. But consciously and unconsciously, humans are the drivers of policies and shapers of culture and to a great deal, children adopt their beliefs and doctrines during their childhood stage.
Early childhood, without doubt, is the most important developmental stage of a person’s life. It is the time when social, emotional, and cognitive skills are learned, thereby influencing lifelong learning and wellbeing. When children are restricted and denied access to the resources, opportunities, and services they need to thrive and maximise their full potential, their entire lives are affected. This is why gender inequality, in many communities and nations, is one of the major root causes of children’s poor development in the early years. From their early years, children witness gender inequality in their homes and neighbourhood, even in the media and among those who are responsible for them. We see parents who also assume unequal responsibility for home chores, with mothers also bearing the brunt of housekeeping and caregiving. But do we really know the effects of gender inequality on children?
Gender Inequality and Its consequences on children
In Nigeria for instance, although every child has the right to school education, the ratio of male and female students in public schools especially where the government tries to provide free, compulsory and qualitative education at primary level, shows a significant bias favouring boys, with the rate of disparity being lower in primary schools as compared to secondary schools. This implies that Nigeria seems to have a problem of retention with regard to girls progressing from primary to secondary education. Yet, there persists inequalities in access across all levels of education for girls, for a number of reasons, some of which include societal and cultural expectations, religious beliefs, lack of resources and bias in curricula where some teachers and parents, especially in the Northern parts of the country, tend to perceive some subjects like Mathematics and Engineering are “male” subjects, while girls are predominantly taught Home Economics, and Literary arts.
It is also a proven fact that equal rights and opportunities for girls and boys help all children fulfil their potentials. Inversely, as shared by the World Economic Forum in a report in 2016 that a lack of opportunities as a child can affect someone for the rest of their lives, increasing the risk of economic hardship and unemployment in the future. Imagine a child growing up in a home where only the father goes to work and financially caters for the needs for the house where the mother is only required to keep the home in shape and nurture the child(ren), leaving her with no opportunity for professional growth. Such a child will definitely grow up with little or no value for education. In fact, according to a research by UNICEF, many girls in school receive less than support than their male counterparts to pursue the studies they choose. Such discriminatory teaching methods also produce gender gaps in learning and skills development. As a result, on a global standard, nearly 1 in 4 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are neither employed nor in education or training – compared to 1 in 10 boys.
According to Drawdown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions, girls and women with more access to education would be more aware of the importance of family planning, contributing, for example, to the reduction of population growth and consequently of global warming. The United Nations, highlighting its seventeen (17) Sustainability Development Goals, lists gender equality as the fifth to achieve by 2030, with public policy recommendations to accelerate the plan on a grand scale. But individual actions have an extremely large capacity and potential for change. Experts, however, report that small actions such as exposing children to non-stereotypical characters seen on media channels such as on television, social media, and books, or dividing house chores can redefine behavioural patterns for the present and next generation, thereby broadening women’s access to resources and opportunities.
According to a study on “the influence of parental attitudes and behaviors on children’s attitudes toward gender and household labor in early adulthood” published in 2001 showed that the way adults approach the division of domestic work between boys and girls is directly related to how this work was divided in their families of origin. As a result, children tend to quickly absorb and reproduce traits and behaviours they see and experience daily. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we are again reminded that all our actions have the power to shape and influence the lives of the younger generation who watch us, and as women, we must always believe that there are no limits to what we can achieve than the ones we set for ourselves.