When I was younger, I thought geography alone would create similar views and values in different countries for issues such as gender equality. It wasn’t until I spent two months in Colombia on an AIESEC exchange that I realised how wrong I could be.
We were nine girls from six different cultures - Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia and Australia - working on fighting gender disparity in Colombia through our project. All here for the same purpose, but all with extremely different views on how we each saw that purpose being achieved.
I realised the level of difference after a heated argument on our volunteer ‘Whatsapp’ group. One of the Brazilian girls had taken self defence classes in Brazil and offered to teach the women we were working with, some basic progressions. Almost instantly, our chat was flooded with criticisms, claiming her offer would promote violence. Spanish being her third language, the Brazillian girl struggled to explain her perspective in a way that would open the minds and opinions of the others.
The cultural experiences of these girls explain their reaction. My Colombian friend told me that physical self defence was rarely necessary in Colombia because if you scream for help, the culture is that people will come running from their houses to assists you. The Brazillian girl said the same would never happen where she was from - a woman would have to learn to defend herself until the rest of society changed.
Through the democratic vote of our group, we decided the “correct” path moving forward was to abandon the self defence idea. Originally, I thought that it didn’t matter where we were from, we were fighting the same good fight. However, a issue as large as gender disparity manifests itself so differently country to country, culture to culture. There is no “right” solution or way forward for every nation to follow, only the context which frames how to best contribute.
The effects of gender inequality ranges from child mortality to stifled organisational growth. It is a matter that affects every person, one way or another. Therefore, it requires the participative action of everyone in our society to tackle how gender inequality manifests for our reality. Collective action could mean the difference in eliminating gender disparity in 2186, as predicted by the World Economic forum, or by 2030, the due date for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
What you do is not significant if it is not relevant. What you do is not relevant unless it is significant.
We are currently on a path of incremental growth towards gender equality. With all the resources we have at our disposal, this is not good enough. If we want to make a real, relevant change on gender equality, both men and women of all ages, of all cultures, need to take proactive, bold action towards the issue, however it looks for our reality. And that’s how we can truly fight for women’s rights, the “right” way.