I know what you’re thinking. It’s International Women’s Day, and I’m a woman who lives internationally. Clearly, this day was made for me. An overprivileged, underemployed trailing spouse, sitting in my posh high-rise in Seoul and drinking the same coffee the Pope drinks. No really. It’s true. The same coffee. It’s from Brazil and doesn’t have a mermaid in the logo. Talk about a women’s day miracle!
But, the truth is Women’s Day isn’t about women like me. Women’s Day is about women like these.
This photo from three years ago appeared in my Facebook memories today, and I think it’s a great story to share. These women are participating in the first pregnancy club class sponsored by the Foundation for Mother and Child Health in Mumbai. A class that is still going strong today.
Prenatal care is often lacking in India because mothers don’t have the necessary resources to care for themselves. Consequently, they give birth to babies who are already underweight and undernourished. These underweight babies become part of an alarming statistic.
India has the highest rate of child deaths under age five. Half of those deaths are caused by malnutrition.
The goal of the pregnancy club program is to bring a healthy baby into the world and give that baby a fighting chance at life. A chance to beat the statistics. A chance that begins with the mother.
But, healthy babies are only one step in the march toward gender equality. A girl child in India faces discrimination even before she is born. For many couples terminate female pregnancies. When a girl child does arrive into the world, she is underfed physically, emotionally, and mentally. She does not have the same access to education and jobs as her male contemporaries. While great strides have been made, including the recent launch of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao by Prime Minister Modi, gender equality is a long way away.
And, yet, India has done what the U.S. still has not done: elected a woman to its highest office. That could change this year. But, I’m not here to stump for Hillary on the basis of her political record or to take advantage of this day dedicated to women to lay a guilt trip on you that a woman in the White House is long overdue.
No. That’s not what this is about.
Because I think that Hillary should not be judged by her vagina, but by her brains. For in a world with gender equality, Hillary’s gender would be irrelevant. We would judge her by the same standards as her male political rivals. We would use the same words, the same adjectives to describe all of the candidates. But, we don’t do we?
No. We don’t.
That discrimination is a global phenomenon. Recently, the Indian newspaper The Telegraph ran the headline “Aunty National” to describe Smriti Irani, an Indian cabinet minister:
— The Telegraph (@ttindia) February 25, 2016
Irani had made a passionate speech in Parliament the day before. Many saw the headline as sexist, and I was one of them. The headline reduced the value of her speech by invoking the gender-biased stereotype of the agony aunt. She’s the interfering aunty who ladles out free advice to her younger relatives, whether they have requested that advice or not. She wasn’t being judged on the merits of what she said, but rather on the basis of whether she was a woman. If a male politician had said the exact same thing, he would have been judged differently.
That’s gender bias at work, and it needs to stop. In a world with gender equality, men and women are judged by the same standards and have equal access to jobs, healthcare, and the law. The only way to get there is together. With the men.
Yes, I said with the men. For women’s day isn’t just about women. It’s also about the men who support us. But, I’m not talking about financial support. I’m talking about the men who support our common goal of gender equality. We need to start bringing those men onboard the good ship Gender Equality. For too long, we have isolated them from the fight. They were adversaries, not allies. As a result, many of the gains have started a backlash against feminism. Feminists are seen as male-bashing women with axes to grind against their exes.
But, we aren’t that. We love you guys. Really. We do. The UN’s #HeForShe campaign focuses on how to bring men into the conversation and make us equal partners in achieving gender equality. On that note, I want to leave you with this powerful, tear-filled commercial from Ariel Laundry Detergent that encourages men to #ShareTheLoad.