11 March 2013 | by Josh Levene, Corporate Gender Champion
‘How are you feeling?’ asked the facilitator. At the end of day-long advocacy training, I stood in a large circle with 50 international women from our partner organisation, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).
As we all held hands, I was last to be asked. As I contemplated the question, a host of feelings, not entirely compatible, came to mind. My mouth opened, but only silence emerged.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
‘Josh? How are you feeling?’
Clasping my left hand was a lady in her early eighties - a veteran of women’s rights who has represented YWCA since the founding of the UN. Instrumental in the establishment of CSW in 1956, back then she was campaigning for women’s right to own property, equal pay and equal political participation.
‘I am standing on the shoulders of giants,’ I thought.
Gently holding my right hand was a Mexican woman from another generation entirely. Just in her twenties, only an hour beforehand I watched her on TV, broadcasting live to the UN.
With calmness beyond her years, she followed Ban Ki-Moon and Hilary Clinton to the podium and gave an emotive speech about the issues women face today, including the right to own property, equal pay and equal political participation!
How do I feel? Privileged and a little in awe to be joining them in this cause, but at the same time, I feel frustrated.
Who has the world developed for?
Has nothing substantial changed for women? While the world has developed over the last 60 years, who has it really developed for?
Have we left half the world behind? Has this development been confined to men, but built upon the cheap (often free) labour of women, forgetting their rights, hopes or needs?
And what kind of progress has really happened? What are my rights worth if my empowerment has been built upon the suppression of another?
How do I feel? Ashamed, but also upset and angry - I feel like I need to do something about this. Not out of charity, but out of a desire for this injustice to be righted.
All men need to do something – not just for women, but for men too, for our progress is inextricably linked to women’s.
It’s time for gender justice
However, I also feel that something has changed. The previous day, sat listening to various UN ministers give their opening speeches, I noticed that the rhetoric around gender inequality has changed.
For the first time, they talked of their understanding of the need for a standalone goal which gets to the root of gender inequality – for economic and social change.
I feel the time is right for something significant to happen, for the male-dominated world to commit to a new world of gender equality – to embed women’s issues in every human endeavour.
I feel it’s time for gender justice. I feel hopeful and motivated.