From HeForShe to #EachforEqual: An Intersectional Approach to Advancing Gender Equality
In driving gender equality, who gets left out of the conversation? In 2014, it was men according to UN Women. As the spokesperson of its HeForShe campaign, Emma Watson called on men to advocate for gender equality, as she asked, "How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?" It is important to include men in the movement because gender equality matters to them, too. As she argued, men can be trapped by gender roles and expectations as much as women do. But with their male privilege, they can help women get their voices heard. Their participation can take different forms, be it calling out gender biases at work or sharing parental responsibilities at home.
Finding What Resonates with Everyone
Today the gender gap remains pervasive. To close the global gap, it will take close to 100 years according to the World Economic Forum. In the Asian workplace, women make up around half of the total workforce, but only one third or less of the senior-level positions. With a long way to go before ending inequality, it leaves us questioning – beyond encouraging male allyship – what more can we do to influence change?
The HeForShe campaign is a good step, but there is room for progress. By putting people into binary gender categories, the speech excludes non-binary individuals, such as transgender and intersex people, who often face serious discrimination. Our evolving understanding of gender prompts us to rethink the way we address gender equality. In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation.” To drive meaningful change, we must find a message that resonates with everyone.
Gender is only one of many facets. Race, class, sexual orientation and disability are among the other dimensions that make up our identities and therefore the inequalities we might face. This is where the concept of intersectionality comes into play. Originally used to refer to the gender and racial discrimination faced by black women, intersectionality addresses how different types of discrimination overlap and affect each other. Through an intersectional lens, we can see a more complicated picture of gender inequality.
Add age to the equation for instance. Respecting seniority is integral to many Asian cultures. With a higher job level or a longer term of service, an individual often enjoys the privilege of being regarded as more experienced or more respectable. But age is not necessarily an advantage for women. As patriarchal values place higher expectations on women than on men as caregivers, family responsibilities can hinder their career progression in later years. Adding to the complexity are systemic barriers. For example, in China, mandatory early retirement for women can bias employers against investing in their careers. An intersectional approach allows us to look beyond one key demographic and find ways to improve the lives of those who experience other oppressions such as ageism, racism and transphobia.
#EachforEqual as a Way Forward
Asking the question again in 2020, who gets left out of the conversation on gender equality? The answer is likely more nuanced. This year’s International Women’s Day is themed #EachforEqual, a shift away from not only gender binary but also who represents whom.
The theme exemplifies an intersectional approach to driving gender equality. As allies, we are not defined by our gender or any other dimensions. Each of us might find ourselves in a position of privilege depending on the circumstances. It is up to us to be mindful of these shifting positions. Without this awareness, we can risk excluding ourselves from the conversation. So, as we welcome this year’s International Women’s Day, let’s remember each of us should take responsibility for our biases and behaviours. Through collective action we can contribute to a more gender-equal world.
About the Author: Cora Mok, Programme Manger DIAN, Community Business