After a year like no other filled with unwelcomed viruses and isolated lockdowns, 2021 is a breath of fresh air with women who are determined to change the course of the entire year for the better.
Ever since the early days of 1992, the fight for a global imperative for gender equality has always at the forefront of many social justice movements. Although the fiery passion for such cause has never taken pause and has always been advocated for, 2020 saw an urgency to push it forward like never before.
Long before coronavirus, there was already pre-existing structural and systematic gender-based oppression that has touched women and girls all over the world. But with daily exposes of the damaging inequalities present at every facet of society which certain socio-economic consequences of the pandemic put to light, it also forced much of the world to acknowledge the inherent discrimination women faced due to sex and gender-biased societal systems in place.
The number of child marriages and births may have risen over the course of the past year, but the societal norms equating a woman’s worth with her ability to be a wife have long since existed well before that. While domestic care-workers have been denied paid sick leave, the economy that undervalues reproductive labour has always been exploiting its convenience. And as government-sanctioned relief packages and stimulus checks do not include refugees or undocumented immigrants, the capitalist system of favouring the rich and powerful have always been normalized in society.
But as we go into this new year, we see and hear names such as Kamala Harris and Jacinda Ardern making headlines every day praising their strategic decision making. With more women in positions of power and the high visibility that comes with it, this year is well on it’s way to recognizing and dismantling previously established societal prejudice aimed to put women down.
There are now more top female leaders than ever before.
In the United States, about a quarter of the legislature is female, no doubt spearheaded by the historical moment of Kamala Harris becoming the first woman Vice President of the country. The Biden-Harris administration cabinet is half female, another unprecedented feat in itself. Towards the end of 2020, the number of women who are CEOs in S&P 500 companies skyrocketed to an all-time high.
Countries that are led by women, such as New Zealand and Moldova, have had significantly fewer COVID-related deaths, a smaller number of days with confirmed deaths, and an overall lower peak in daily deaths. US states that have female governors were also reported to have fewer COVID-related deaths as compared to states led by male governors.
In a recent study, the success of these women leaders has been attributed to their more empathetic, democratic leadership style as compared to traditionally masculine, authoritarian ones used by males.
For long periods in history, most of the world has operated under a patriarchal model and embraced stereotypes that equate leadership roles with males. Men were seen as more assertive, confident while women were expected to be relational, communal. The same traits associated with motherhood than leadership, also enforcing a societal prejudice that confined women to only domestic roles. But recent evidence during the pandemic has shown that a woman’s more empathetic and inclusive touch yields better results during a crisis.
It has been stated that people respond better when they are being heard and their problems are taken into consideration, a leadership tactic most female leaders often take on as opposed to direct confrontation. Their humanistic approach, even during disruptive national catastrophes, has been known to be the exact kind of method that can benefit more people for the better.
Today, even as we are seeing more and more women making waves in the international scene for their various accomplishments, it’s still common to think of such leadership and aggressive decision-making to masculine behaviour. This unconscious gender bias is prevalent in all due to historical traditions and conservative upbringing, and even presents itself to people who consider themselves progressive.
A prime example is New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who was globally praised for her relief efforts during the country’s COVID-19 pandemic. Even as she rose through the ranks naturally, she was still not exempt from subtle microaggressions and sexist remarks.
It is an everyday struggle to unlearn certain conditional upbringing and constantly challenge our beliefs, but women have made substantial progress since 1992. Our mothers and their mothers and foremothers have been fighting for this cause since the dawn of the new age, tirelessly working over centuries to be granted the same freedom and privilege as everyone else.
So much so that we are celebrating our 110th’s International Women’s Day this March 2021. Since its creation in 1911, IWD has become a day to celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics, while the political roots of the day mean strikes and protests are organised to raise awareness of continued inequality.
2020 has put to light the persisting problem of gender inequality and intersecting forms of discrimination.
In 2021, as we see more women take a stand and voice their opinions unabashed, we are well into seeing the year we make impactful changes and embed equality in the law once and for all.