Women, Follow Your Dreams (IWD 2019)

It was at an aviation expo when she first heard it. It was faint, like a whisper. But she never had an idea what it meant. All she knew was that, a little red plane swished by. It was not after a few years later did she understood. At an air show, just 10 minutes and 300 feet off the ground. Only then did she knew, she was meant to fly. And she did.

Women pilots are nothing new in our modern time. Yet some years ago, it would have been considered strange in a field dominated by men. In the past, women were obligated to do things only a woman they say should do, like child-rearing and household. Then came the war, a time when women started to shine in the workforce.

During the war, women became the keystone of industries men left behind when they joined the battlefield. Jobs once exclusive for men, such as railway guards, bus conductors, postal workers, police, and firefighters , recruited women to fill in the work gaps. Munition factories, which supplied most of the weapons during the war, employed lots of women. These women workers persevered under grueling conditions in these factories with some dying due to poisoning. Sadly, in any form of those previous labors, women were paid less as compared to their male counterparts. When the men came back from war, people thought employers would still keep the women since they had lower wages. Instead, some women workers were retrenched to make way for the men, or in some cases, the women worked along side men but had lower wages. This unfair treatment opened up movements calling for equality in the workforce.

Women Urgently Wanted for the WAAC © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13171).

The 19th and early 20th-century witnessed the growth of feminist movements and in the 1960s, a huge number of women started entering the workforce. But despite these movements, gender inequality is still rampant today.

The Inequalities Women Face Today

Years ago, the popular belief was females should be householders and thus were not allowed to go to school. They were expected to be mothers and housewives so they did not need formal education. Even today this type of thinking exists in many countries. Some even consider that the more educated a woman is, the lesser the chance for her to get married and have children. Other factors like poverty and safety have also become reasons for some girls not to take schooling. These situations contribute to the gender inequality females face even to this day.

In the book We Are Displaced, author Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani woman who, like her father, fought for women’s rights. In 2005, an earthquake in Pakistan killed 73,000 people. This incident gave birth to a male extremists group who thought the earthquake was an omen. This group stigmatized music, dancing, and Western movies. They told women to cover their faces and preached about education for girls being nonreligious.

Many years after the 60s, our present-day workforce is still riddled with gender inequality issues. Some countries have laws preventing women from working in some jobs. A report in inequality.org mentions about female-dominated occupations like childcare and restaurant service occupying the bottom of the U.S. wage pyramid while males controlled the profitable financial industry. In a study conducted where countries were graded on gender equality, the U.S. ranked poorly particularly in the family category of Having Children. Maternity and even paternity leaves in the U.S. are problematic. Still, there are far more worst countries for women, like Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world that forbid women from driving. If you are a woman globetrotter sensitive to issues of gender equality, you should check out the worst countries for women.

Disney Pixar’s “Purl” sums up what gender inequality in the workplace is like.

Calls for Action

The year 1975 was International Women’s Year and in 1977 the UN General Assembly declared March 8 as UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. Our current celebration of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2019) has the theme Think equal, build smart, innovate for change. It aims for women to take part in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Planet 50-50 by 2030 is a UN campaign aiming to achieve gender equality by 2030 through commitments of political leaders on addressing gender gaps and to step up on the work towards full gender equality by year 2030. Recent data though shows this objective is not achievable with the current conditions.

Worldwide, actions are being implemented to improve gender equality. Many policymakers have stepped up. Countries have taken gender equality measures as part of their agenda, with Scandinavians topping the list. In Asia, the Philippines ranked highest on gender equality, and with its recent approval of increased number of maternity leaves, the country’s statistics will probably get better.

But the Planet 50-50 by 2030 objective cannot be achieved by large organizations alone. We as individuals can also take steps to help in the fulfillment of this campaign.

You Be You

Today, only six percent of pilots are women. Kimberly Perkins, founder of non-profit organization Aviation for Humanity, is one of them. She offered 5 ways to combat gender inequality, with one advice topping it all out,

“You be you, don’t change! Don’t try to be one of the guys or feel like you need to alter yourself to fit into the stereotypical persona of a male-dominated field. You can help change the stereotype one original thought at a time.”

Men Should Challenge Gender Inequality

In any working group conversations, one can usually tell if someone or a few men in the team are showing signs of misogyny. In circumstances like these, it would be difficult for a woman alone to defend herself. Men who understand the situation can help address this kind of gender inequality issue.

Juan Gilbert, a computer scientist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, knows the existence of this kind of bias in the workplace and he calls it out.

When he witnesses a female coworker speak up and was then interrupted by a male colleague, he would politely cut off the men and say: “Excuse me, I didn’t get to hear everything she had to say.” If it then happens too often, he would address the issue as a group. He believes some guys do not know gender bias happens and they may be exhibiting it unconsciously. Calling them out makes them ponder what they just did.

Break the Thought “One Is Better Than the Other”

Our own perceptions of what others should be can cloud our own judgment of what is right. Sometimes, classification puts a dent in the equality we are trying to achieve. Believing everyone has a right, be it man or woman, young or old, gay or straight, able or disabled, can help break the perception of “one is better than the other.” Just because someone does not think, act, or look the same way you do, does not mean they are lesser of a being. Always give utmost respect to everyone, especially to the prejudiced.

The Planet 50-50 by 2030 target may not hit the mark. But what is important is we take actions in reaching that goal.

Below is Magdalena Yesil’s book Power Up which gives suggestions on how women can empower themselves in the workplace.

PowerUP

Women, Make Your Mark

Planet 50-50 by 2030 can be achieved rapidly if women in STEM contribute extensively in their field. Even before women strove for equality in the workforce, there are many historical accounts of them who challenged the status quo of old and successfully became part of history. You might find inspiration on some of them:

  • Marie Curie (1867–1934) was a Polish-French physicist and chemist who introduced radioactivity research and was credited for discovering the elements Radium and Polonium. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person and only woman to win it twice. She brought a whole new meaning to the phrase women first.
  • Ada Lovelace (1815–1852) was an English mathematician and writer, known for her work with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. She recognized that the machine had applications beyond mere calculations, while the others including Babbage, focused only on computing capabilities. Aliased by Babbage as the Enchantress of Numbers, she published the first algorithm. Ada Lovelace was regarded to be the first programmer. Imagine, a male-dominated field was actually introduced by a woman.
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920–1958) was an English chemist who was known for her Photo 51, a photograph leading to the structure of the DNA, the double helix.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was an English writer and philosopher. Although her contribution was not in line with STEM, her advocacy was of great importance. She championed education and liberation for women during her time and had notable influence in today’s movements for gender equality.

Our present generation of women can also impart their skills for the benefit of our community. They can carve their names in history books, not just in STEM, but in their own fields of expertise.

Be Proud of Your Own Dreams

Is being a housewife an insignificant dream? Fact is, being a housewife is one occupation a woman should be proud and passionate about. The dream of having a family, which is the basic unit of society, is one remarkable dream. If a dream lends something good to our community then all the more it is important. I once asked a woman what her dreams and goals in life were and she said she wanted to have a sari-sari store for business (a sari-sari store is a type of convenience store, only smaller).

Survey of females who are in favor of being a housewife or being in the workforce.
A Toluna survey of females who were asked if they would rather be housewives or be in the working class.

As long as being a housewife or a sari-sari store owner is your passion then it is okay. What is important is for you to follow your dreams. How do you find out if it is your dream? If at your current state you feel an emptiness and longing, not of someone but of something. If there is a nagging feeling inside of you, a type of calling, listen to it.

That feeling is like a faint whisper, like what Amelia Earhart felt when that little red plane passed her by. When her feet went off the ground, she found her dream, and travelled to the ends of the Earth to fulfil it.

To all women and girls out there, if you have a dream, take the first step to follow that dream (no matter what your circumstances). Change the stigma of gender inequality by being smart and innovative (and believe that you are). Build your dream and make it a goal bigger than you. A goal so big it could affect our society in a positive way. Take inspiration from women who made favorable marks in history. For what if, you might be the next one to solve some of humanity’s greatest problems, if not contribute to it.

So woman, follow your dream, and help make this world a better place.

Check out the Top 10 International Scholarships for Women.

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