This International Women’s Day, let’s challenge stubborn social norms

This International Women’s Day, let’s challenge stubborn social norms

Every March 8th, people celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) by turning their attention to gender, with particular focus on women’s experiences.

Many will reflect on who holds the most power in workplaces and public life (men), who is disproportionately affected by sexual harassment and gender-based violence (women), and who earns on average 14.1 per cent or $239.40 less per week (women as compared to men in Australia), according to Diversity Council Australia’s 2019 report.

These realities, still true in 2020 despite the progress we’ve made, remind us that gender equality has not been achieved on many measures – not in public, professional or personal life.

Our research found that, at home, Australian women are still doing almost two-thirds of all the care and housework even ten years after the birth or adoption of their first child, and married women with children do more unpaid domestic work than their male partners even when both adults work full-time.

While gender inequalities certainly affect women, they also affect men. Even the seemingly positive stereotype that men make better leaders, actually limits men who want to take on caring roles, as fathers, nurses or childcare workers.

That’s why this International Women’s Day, DCA wants to challenge all gender inequalities, and the stubborn social norms that restrict all of us based on our gender.

Breaking free from narrow gender roles helps men’s mental well-being, improves the parenting experience for children by allowing both men and women to be equally involved in their care, and relieves the pressure on men to be the sole breadwinner in a household.  Gender equality liberates men, too.

If the inequality inherent in gender-based norms does not benefit men (or women) at home or in the workplace, how did we get here? To answer that, we start in childhood. Research shows there is a link between the messages we receive in childhood and the career trajectories we take – before children are even two years old, they are already aware of gender stereotypes.

You can ask parents if they want to raise their sons and daughters differently and most will say no, yet if you follow up with a question about whether parents feel comfortable with their son playing with dolls, they are often not so relaxed.

These stereotypes influence everything from what toys children play with to what subjects they choose at school with life-long impacts on career choices. Stereotypes discourage boys from playing with dolls and expressing their emotions, moving away from jobs like nursing and childcare. When girls are discouraged from playing with ‘masculine’ toys, like building blocks, they miss out on developing the spatial skills linked to mathematics, according to a new DCA infographic based on industry and academic research.

“By age seven, stereotypes are already limiting girls’ career ambitions, so they are less likely than boys to aspire to engineering or science careers,” DCA highlights. As adults, women take on the bulk of unpaid caring and domestic labour while men face societal pressure to support the family financially. What happens at every stage of a man or woman’s life is largely tied to the gender roles that are deeply entrenched in Australia and countries far and wide from as early as childhood.

If we don’t raise boys and girls with a focus on gender equality, why should we expect to have gender equal workplaces when they grow up? In 2020, gender inequality continues to limit the ability of both men and women to be respected and to contribute at work and at home. The more men and women have access to flexible work options, including those outside the gender-based norms such as equal opportunity for parental leave, the more likely they are to share responsibility at home.

In the workplace, men can recruit for gender balance, measure and acknowledge the gender pay gap, challenge other men to stop behaviours, like sexism, that perpetuate inequality, and ensure women have an equal voice in all discussions and meetings, among other actions.

We all have a role to play in what we teach our children and what we want our societies, homes, and workplaces to look like.

Gender equality is about preserving the dignity of every single person. We’ve come a long way since the first IWD more than 100 years ago, but women and men still have a long way to go – together.

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