Alternative career paths

Are we really still debating women’s rights in 2019?

Empowerment of women is one of those topics that is certain to polarise.  Personally, in my head I scream ‘Are you kidding me? It’s 2019, and we are still debating women’s empowerment and rights’. To be truthful I have been heard to scream it out loud as well!

Following International Women’s Day, and, in Australia, an upcoming Federal and NSW State Election my mind has gone to the representation of women in our parliamentary system. There is a fundamental ailment in our society when structurally and socially we do not have gender parity in the voices that govern our laws and our lives. At a recent social event I got into a robust discussion with two other women who were all for empowerment, they just didn’t want quotas, special treatment or positive discrimination measures. That reminded me of how deep-seated our barriers to equality are. Education and evolution have not delivered, and yet active measures are a cause of disquiet with many women worrying that this makes them look second best.

Rawanda didn’t have these qualms. I was privileged enough to be in Rawanda in 2004 during the 10-year anniversary of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi minorities. The horrors they were still unveiling, sat side by side with the amazing decisions being taken to structurally change their society and enable Rawanda to become the country it wanted to be. One of those decisions was to establish a 30% quota for women parliamentary members. That decision has since built on itself. As at 1 December 2018 a staggering 61.3% of elected members were women, making Rawanda the country with the highest representation of elected female parliamentary officials, in the world. Representation in parliament is not a panacea, Rawanda will attest to that. It will not automatically empower women nor automatically give them equal rights. However, it’s a very good start. To truly empower women to achieve to their full potential they must have a full voice in our governance structures.

In case you’re wondering, Australia is 51st on that list. New Zealand is 17th. Federally only 32% of all seats in the Australian Senate and House of Representatives are held by women, and in NSW only 27.4% are.

There is a general consensus that men and women should be treated equally. Most countries around the world have signed treaties that agree to protect the civil and human rights of women and yet women continue to be disproportionately discounted in all areas of life, and continue to face discrimination, exclusion and violence.

In my over 30 years in the workforce and as a HR specialist, I have come to realise that measures that empower women benefit all. Empowering women however, requires planned and purposeful action underpinned by sound and practical policy.  UN Women have developed a set of principles to facilitate Womens’ Empowerment and assist business to ensure that “women’s talents, skills, experience and energies” are respected and included in the conduct of their business. They are a great place to start if you want to ensure that you and your company are actively empowering women and therefore improving our community as a whole.

I encourage you to have the conversations and examine the barriers and the enablers to empowering women. Ask yourself today, how can I purposefully and respectfully take action that empowers women and therefore my community?

Sophia Symeou

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