This year the theme for International Women’s Day is “Break the Bias.” Gender biases – whether conscious or unconscious – are the most persistent threat to women’s social and economic progress, especially in countries of the Global South. The Global Gender Gap Report, 2020, found that at the current rate of progression, we will achieve gender parity in 99.5 years. The 2021 report revised that to 135.6 years.
Some sobering facts from the report:
- It will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics
- It will take another 267.6 years to close the economic participation and opportunity gap.
- Educational Attainment and Health and Survival gap will close in 14.2 years
- At the current pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In all other regions it will take over 100 years to close the gender gap.
- Sub-Saharan Africa will close it in 121.7 years
- Eastern Europe and Central Asia will close it in 134.7 years
- East Asia and the Pacific will close it in 165.1 years
- Middle East and North Africa will close it in 142.4 years
- And South Asia will close it in 195.4 years
- The 2020 report had found women’s participation in the labour market to be stalling. On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men
- There is a 37% wage gap (the ratio of the wage of a woman to that of a man in a similar position) and 51% of income gap
- Women continue to spend an inordinate amount of time on unpaid care work which increased manifold during the pandemic as schools and offices closed – and people were locked inside their homes. Closing of schools, experts have found, to be one of the main causes for women to reduce their labour participation
Gender bias is a challenge that we have not been able to fully address despite various waves of feminism – and one that will perhaps not be fully addressed in our lifetimes; but the work surrounding it must never stop.
Keeping true to our commitment to provide a platform to voices from the Global South, and to mark this day, the Gender and Development team has curated the eight must-read articles from our various issues that map and address biases and discrimination faced by women or those identifying as women, from eight different countries of the Global South, across eight realms, including: leadership, mental health, menstruation, care, labour with focus on sanitation work and sex work, migration, knowledge production, and sexual violence.
Many of these inequalities and discriminations have deepened in the context of the pandemic. The crosscutting theme in these articles is that of resisting age old biases and socio-cultural norms through an assertion of individual and collective agency, albeit in deeply inequitable circumstances that often sustain and perpetuate bias and stigma. These articles support and celebrate the movement building efforts, campaigns and activism by women in fighting against discrimination and violence, and striving for gender justice across the global south.
We have chosen these articles because they question the socio-cultural and political norms that sustain and perpetuate these biases. They also advocate for collective and localized efforts to make a shift, not just in breaking the stigma that surrounds marginalised experiences and identities, but for shaping gender-responsive policies and discourses to make way for an equal and just world for women and girls.
So, here are our editors’ suggestions for essential reading on #IWD2022, all focussing on the key theme of #BreakTheBias
1. Unpacking Bangladesh’s ‘women’s leadership paradox’ through the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2010
This article unpacks the ‘women’s leadership paradox’ through the case of the adoption and implementation of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) (DVPP) Act 2010 of Bangladesh. It looks at two forms of women’s leadership, one at the civil society/women’s movement level and the other at the female elected representatives at the parliament and executive level, and analyses under what circumstances female leadership can play a role in policy adoption. The case of the DVPP Act provides an interesting example of the ‘leadership paradox’ as women in leadership positions (both in the civil society/women’s movement level and the parliamentary and executive level) successfully strategised to gain access to key decision makers and move forward their agenda during the DVPP Act’s adoption. However, this efficiency did not translate into implementation, showing that female leadership did play a role in policy adoption, but they do not have the same strength in policy implementation.
This article looks at women sanitation workers who are working at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Pune city, an epicentre of rising COVID-19 cases in India. Prevailing caste and gendered norms of labour roles render the women doubly vulnerable. Within that context, we investigate how the women sanitation workers self-identify their health risks and needs. We document their internal negotiation of health risks, and their narratives pertaining to chronic health issues and deteriorating mental health arising from COVID-19-related uncertainty. We also probe on how their family roles and obligations intersect with their de-prioritisation of self-care. The investigation reveals narratives of lack of agency at work, invisibilised and endemic mental wellness issues, and neglect of personal well-being at the cost of centring the needs of the family.
Few women have risen to the ranks of heads of state or government worldwide. The low numbers of female presidents and prime ministers in world history have left many untested assumptions about the impact of female leadership on the lives of fellow women. This article builds upon two bodies of work – studies of female presidencies, on the one hand, and on women’s movement-building, particularly in South and South-East Asia, on the other – to focus on the relationship between women leaders and women’s movements. Utilising case studies of national law reform during the presidencies of Corazon Aquino (1986–1992) and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001–2010) in the Philippines and Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001–2004) in Indonesia, and drawing from key informant interviews in both countries, I argue that when women lead, women’s movements employ particular strategies to catalyse the passage of ‘women-friendly’ legislation. Examples of law reform illustrate the power of the female vote to sway presidential decision-making and the flow-on effect of a president who values the participation of fellow women in the government bureaucracy. Yet the relationship between female presidents and the success of movements is neither clear-cut nor linear. Women’s movements face opportunities and limitations under the leadership of women presidents, often having to compromise their agendas to achieve a united front.
While increased attention to menstruation as a significant health issue for women and girls is positive, some menstrual interventions promoted by Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programmes primarily focus on hygiene, infrastructure, and product provision. This focus fails to challenge the social and cultural stigma surrounding menstruation, as well as interconnected issues of gender discrimination, marginalisation, and inequality. We advocate approaching menstruation as a matter of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), which recognises that sexual and reproductive health depends in part upon the realisation of the rights that support it. This requires a holistic approach to menstrual health that includes addressing shame, social stigmas and restrictions, and gender inequality, in addition to providing access to menstrual-friendly toilets.
‘What can the development and aid sectors do differently?’ Based on our experience of developing and running an innovative digital learning programme – originally intended as a distance learning programme for Syrian refugees in the Middle East, but now grown beyond that – this article seeks to address this very question. Inspired by efforts such as the #shiftthepower campaign, as well as our own experiences working with communities and civil society in the Middle East, the Americas, and elsewhere, we chose not to use existing curricula and, instead, decided to transnationally co-create materials based on the Indigenous principles of non-hierarchical, ‘circle’ learning. Given our position as researchers and teachers with roots in Lebanon, Palestine, and Ireland, and working on ‘unceded’ Algonquin territory in Turtle Island/Canada, this was reflective of our commitment to undoing colonial epistemologies and actions on all territories of the earth. Throughout our experience, we endeavoured to resist projectisation and top-down leadership, to develop strong partnerships with mobilisers, researchers, and teachers on the ground in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to shift resources away from Canada and towards the local mobilisers supported. But despite these efforts, we find that the problems with the international aid system still end up as counterpoints to our work. They are present as we pursue funding, work within North Americanstyle educational institutions, deal with the competing pressures of our work environments and our desires for change, and engage mobilisersin-training who have internalised the ‘non-government organisationised’ norms so prevalent in this sector. Our experience emphasises the need for new, decolonial feminist projects to continue to persevere where possible, and the importance of making space for these kinds of approaches. Those of us who work inside spaces where hierarchical power relations are evident and strong have a particular responsibility to push for changes in these spaces.
6. ‘Skeptics’ and ‘believers’: anti-trafficking, sex work, and migrant rights activism in South Africa
Very little is known about activism, as it relates to the issue of migration in South Africa. Yet, migration policy and migration governance are increasingly becoming important to states like South Africa, which, 22 years into democracy, finds itself being home to the second highest number of migrants in Africa. This paper fills this gap by exploring multi-level policies and advocacy experiences of activists working on migration in a post-colonial context of South Africa through the lens of key contestations around the trafficking discourse in South Africa from 2005 to 2018.
7. Exploring experiences of heterosexism and coping strategies among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in Swaziland
Social, cultural, and institutional processes which see heterosexuality as natural and universal discriminate against individuals who differ from this norm. This article draws on interviews with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Swaziland to provide an enhanced understanding of the ways in which heterosexism operates in practice and impacts the sexual rights of LGBT communities in Swaziland, where same-sex practices are criminalised. These narratives show the importance of solidarity and activism in coping strategies to challenge social exclusion, improve lives, and advocate for social changes. These strategies include reframing, navigating interpersonal relationships, and advocacy. We consider key lessons that emerge from our research for policy, programmes, and activism in Swaziland, as well as other lowand middle-income contexts.
Women can face higher risks and more significant burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty than men, exacerbating existing disparities in gender roles, responsibilities, perceptions, and skewed power relations that tend to disadvantage women. Mitigation and adaptation measures are essential not only to increase community resilience to climate change but also to address gender inequalities and achieve a more just and sustainable world. Agroecology is a potential pathway to strengthen agricultural resilience, and to reduce community vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, while building more just social relations and tackling gender inequalities. This article analyses the social, economic, and environmental effects that a gender approach can bring to agroecological adaptation projects, with particular attention to women’s roles in their communities and beyond. The analysis is based on two agroecological projects in Brazil: Adapta Sertão and the Yarang Women’s Movement.
(Written and curated by the G&D Editorial Team. Image source: Burcu Köleli for UN Women (2022)