How gendered stereotypes still affect women’s empowerment
Aggiornamento: 5 mar 2021
(This article was written for the feminist union called sisteRRiot)
Four years ago a global call to promote actions against poverty, to protect the planet and to make a world a more inclusive and fair place was set up and then adopted by the Un General Assembly: this global call is known as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Through its 17 fundamental goals (SDGs) the Agenda, grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), aims to overcome some of the most wide spread critical issues, from both social and economic perspectives which are very connected each other. This approach should allow the national governments, together with stakeholders and all those involved in improving peace and inclusion, to pursue a common vision: human rights must be the basis and the very essential starting point to drive national countries to their own development.
As far as both global and national data highlights, girls and women in the world are those who are more likely to live in extreme poverty, to suffer from hunger, to experience discrimination and violence, in and out the family (Why gender equality matters across all sdgs, UN 2018). Ending all forms of gender-based inequalities represents a key challenge to reach within the 2030, as declared in Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.
In addition to stop discrimination and violence against women and girls in private and public spheres (the 35% of women between 15-49 years of age experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner), the Agenda addresses the need to remove any social and cultural barriers which prevent the access to education, to sexual and reproductive health, to work and to financial credit too.
The achievement of such fundamentals rights is the premise to express one’s own potential, to live safely and have the means necessary for self-determination. Furthermore, since women represent half of the world’s population, it is clear how the lack of equal opportunities in the above-mentioned aspects of life affects, therefore, the whole society.
As women’s empowerment plays a relevant role across all the SDGs, increasing their access to education and to labor market participation would create, as a result, some positive effects not only to their personal development and independency, but, as a matter of a fact, also to their household economic conditions (Violence against Women and Economic Independence, 2017, Eu Report). For instance, the more women are engaged in paid work the more they will invest their money back in their professional activity and for family’s needs as well, especially those concerning children’s (Why gender equality matters across all SDGS, UN Report, 2018).
In the last decades, girls across OECD countries achieved higher education’s levels, even performing better than boy: the gender gap in education has indeed reversed as 34% of women attained a tertiary education compared to 30% of men (The pursuit of Gender Equality, OECD, 2017). Yet, the gender access at work and the pay gap are both worldwide still pervasive, while the unpaid-work involve women 2.6 times compared to men (SDGs, UN Report, 2018). Increasing women’s participation in labor market is globally crucial under both quantitatively and qualitatively perspective.
Decent work is, in fact, another key goal in 2030 Agenda (SDG8), it aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” (ILO). Because of the long lasting and widespread gender-based inequalities already mentioned, women, more than ever before, do not just need to earn a fair income and be safe in the workplace, they also must get social protection for their families, holding the financial, economic and technology means to fully express themselves and take decisions.
Moreover, decent work is about allowing future plans, feeling the power to stand up for one’s own rights in public and private life, participating in debates, improving leadership both at local and national level.
Despite most of OECD countries implemented the gender balance in corporate and public decision-making positions, mostly through affirmative actions (like gender quota), inequalities do not seem to stop. According to data (OECD, 2017), even at comparable education’s level women and men continue to share social responsibilities unequally, as longstanding gendered representations and social norms hamper women’s career development. Challenges in tackling gender inequality in public and corporate sectors are many and need to be addressed from different sides. As changes in law and policies are essential but still not enough alone to improve women’s leadership, it is necessary to promote a cultural and social norms’ change in order to provide equal opportunities at all levels within the society.
As the contemporary world has become more and more complex and, as a result, societies are living great transformations in their environment, in technology and communication and in relationships as well, so does the labor market and the competences needed for people to match it. If national governments will not undertake farseeing measures in social protection system, the rise both of new kind of jobs, never existed before, and non-standard employment may represent further inequalities for women.For instance, across Europe 46% of self-employed women aged 15-49 cannot get maternity benefits (European Commission, 2015).
Few years ago I started to seek for women who realized themselves by turning their dreams and passions into a real profession. I was interested in exploring, through a gender perspective, how this had become possible for them, what kind of barriers (sexual, gendered, cultural, financial, physical and emotional) did they face, in case, in embracing their goal in life.
By definition self-employed are those who own and work in their own businesses (OECD 2016), and although traditionally was intended as a full-time job, nowadays it takes different forms: from hybrid entrepreneurship (when self-employment is combined with employment, education and/or volunteer work) to freelancers (in this case self-employment carries out project-based work). Despite all of the women I interviewed share the same work condition, that is being self-employed, they are very different by path, background, language, age, nationality and profession too.
Their businesses cover different fields, such graphic and visual arts, ceramic and textile handicraft, restaurant’s entrepreneurship, blogging, education and social science. What comes to light from their shared stories is their courage, determination and strength in following their very deep inner identity, even during some of the most difficult moments they faced in pursuing their career.
In many of the interviews I found similar key dimensions, for example concerning the role of the psychological support from the family and friends. This aspect has a huge impact during the personal growth of girls, especially for their own self-confidence in life.
Pushing and encourage young women to express themselves in reaching their goal is not only crucial for their professional life, but also in their private one, since being independent and therefore empowered helps in building safe and respectful relationships preventing any kind of domestic violence.