By Cecilia Drury (BER S4E)
Women and girls are still globally underrepresented in society. Although things are improving, a 2020 UN report shows that a woefully low percentage of decision- makers, such as CEOs (7%) and parliamentarians (25%), are women. The same under-representation is found across the sciences, journalism, sports and culture.
Almost everyone seems to support gender equality these days, so why is there still so much inequality and why does it matter? It matters because women know best what other women and girls need. If there are only men at the top, women and girls’ needs will not be adequately met.
In my view, it all comes down to practicalities. Women have traditionally been the ones who stay at home to look after children, cook, clean and care for elderly parents. Even in modern countries such as the Netherlands, most childcare and other care is still done by women, except now they do it in addition to their careers. We’ve all seen women rushing around to pick the children up from school, shopping, cooking dinner and, additionally, sometimes looking after grandparents. There are only so many hours in the day, so if the burden of care falls to women, they simply do not have the time or energy to run companies or run for public office.
I discussed this with some of the boys in my class, and the responses were varied but the recurring theme was that they would be thrilled if their dads did not work so much and were at home more. However, many of the boys seemed reluctant to give up their future career for childcare.
Society needs to believe and support that care is a task shared equally between men and women. There may be thousands of women who could and would change the world and make better decisions on how we should run things, but until society supports that men can step in and adapt their careers in the same way as women, there remains a very practical obstacle.
So, what can we do? We need to convey to everyone that care is a shared responsibility and governments could run continuous campaigns to support this. It should be included in the curriculum that care of young and old people is an important part of society and it is very rewarding. To encourage this, teenagers could have to complete a set amount of volunteer hours in elderly care homes, like the community service hours required for the International Baccalaureate. If boys could get the experience of caring early on, it would be less daunting in the future.
If I were a member of government, my first steps would be to actively engage with voters, employers and schools to get their practical support towards building a more equal society where men have the same family role as women.