To fight the gap, women must celebrate diversity

By: Buena Bernal

The literature is vast: gender inequality exists.

Anyone who denies, ignores or lives blind to this reality is helping make matters worse.

Let’s get the facts straight.

New data collated by the Alliance 8.7 and released during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017 show women and girls account for 71% of the world’s enslaved. They are 99% of forced labor victims in the commercial sex industry and 84% of victims of forced marriages. [1]

These are the women without whose strength the world is literally empty.

More than a quarter of women worldwide have been victims of physical and/or sexual violence. [2]

These are the women who endure, who survive, and who seek peace.

“One of the most visible, tangible and pervasive manifestations of discrimination is that women across the globe are still being paid less than men for work of equal value,” explained Guy Ryder, International Labor Organization Director-General. [3]

These are the women who could have broken glass ceilings if they were not as disproportionately disadvantaged – from the division of housework and primary care for their children to other preconceived societal expectations – through gender-based devaluation. These, too, are the women who continue to shake the ground despite and sometimes driven by those very barriers.

It is because of this continuing inequality that the women’s movement must continue to thrive.

As early as childhood, girls – their young, impressionable minds – are oftentimes made to think less of themselves by social conditioning. Weaker and too high of a dream, they are told repeatedly.

The moment a girl learns to shed off these misconceptions is to be celebrated.

For Aissa Ereñeta, that moment came even before she knew what feminism was.

Aissa is one of the co-founders of the group Grrrl Gang Manila, which aims to create a safe, non-judgmental space for women based in the Philippines. [4]

“I went to an all-girls Catholic school, and a lot of the things I was told I should be or aspire to just didn’t feel quite right to me. I didn’t understand why there were different standards of behavior for and expectations of girls compared to boys. It felt inherently wrong, and I rejected these ideas,” she explains in an e-interview.

Grrrl Gang Manila came from an idea by milliner Mich Dulce, who then sought help from women within her circle for the group’s founding. Mich and Aissa were schoolmates.

Through Grrrl Gang Manila, Mich and her friends wanted to be feminists by example and wanted “to open the dialogue for feminism and Filipina women’s issues” in “a casual, non-intimidating way.”

The eight-month-old group has organized four meet-ups so far, with discussions all related to feminism.

What makes the group special is the way feminism is made enticing. The group has screened a movie for the benefit of women and girls in the now-liberated southern Philippine city of Marawi. Each beneficiary was provided a menstrual hygiene kit. Marawi was ravaged by half a year of fierce fighting between government troops and a homegrown terror group that previously seized key areas in the city.

An awareness campaign against an order by the Philippines’ top court temporarily halting supposed state subsidy for certain modern contraceptive methods was also launched, among other efforts by Grrrl Gang Manila to highlight the need for a focus on women’s reproductive health.

For the founder, Mich, there is no right or wrong way of being a feminist and of being a man or woman in general.

“I think that that’s the major problem of society – generalizations. You can put people in a box and expect them to come out with cookie cutter types. Each individual is unique,” she tells me in an e-interview.

Mich explains that not fitting in that traditional vibe of being a serious, angry feminist made her insecure for years.

“I’m not articulate or academic in my approach, and it took me being around the other women in Grrrl Gang (GG) to feel more secure about myself,” she says.

Now, she tells other girls of their insecurities: “We can either make it drive us crazy or use it as motivation to do something to make us get past it.”

“When I think about the highlights of my life, they always came about because I had something to prove, mostly to myself – that I can get myself out of a rut or I can be better,” Mich adds.

While it would take time – and Mich even acknowledges this when it comes to overcoming her own insecurities – she urges others to “acknowledge those insecurities,” “feel them out,” and “cry if you have to” but to ultimately “think of the concrete things you can do to better yourself to make you less insecure.”

Lifting each other up instead of giving in to a downward spiral of negativity is a key driver in any movement.

“It’s time to stop judgement within the feminist community,” Mich says. “We are all fighting for the same things.”

Mich says Grrrl Gang Manila is itself “composed of different types of feminists, from feminine and outspoken to political and academic, to quiet and serious, to empathetic and shy.”

“Discrimination and judgement only tears the movement apart and slows us down,” she adds.

The global gender gap has narrowed down compared to decades past, but there is still a long way to go.

To truly fight the gap, women must celebrate choice, liberation and convictions.

The activist Audre Lorde herself exhorts: “In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”

We each as women define what empowers us. If that means being a mother, if that means pursuing a career, if that means modesty in clothing, if that means baring it all, if that means a quiet and relaxed temperament, if that means a rabble-rousing one, that is our choice and we shouldn’t be shamed for it.

We define womanhood in our own terms. That our definitions sometimes clash with society’s or with each other’s isn’t a cause for concern but celebration. We have to – because the world is already lacking in it – demonstrate tolerance and lovingkindness. Through our differences, we should instead strive to develop respect for each other’s lifestyle choices, for one another, and most of all, for ourselves by embracing even our own roughest edges.

We are each our sister’s keeper. We are each our sister’s Women’s Desk. (END)

This article first appeared on Io International.

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