One of the charities I support is Plan (formerly known as Foster Parents Plan) which is an international children’s rights organization fighting poverty. One of their campaigns which I’ve joined is called ‘Because I am a Girl’ – it’s an effort to break the cycle of poverty and gender inequality.
Their 2011 report: “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls" asks the question, "So, what about the boys?" in recognition that men and boys – the fathers, brothers and husbands – must get on board if there is ever going to be gender equality.
Yesterday I was driving back from Kingston late at night and listening to an interview with Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian graphic novelist who wrote Persepolis. She was commenting on the Arab Spring and said that her assessment of a democracy is based upon how women are doing in a given country. She pointed to the deeply entrenched patriarchy in Iran as a reason for her pessimism about imminent political change.
It seems a bit of a no-brainer in some ways that you can’t empower the girls without some buy-in from the boys. But it’s easier said than done. As the report pointed out, gender inequality is not something that can be changed by an act of government – it is often part of culture, tradition and even religion.
Plan International surveyed more than 4,000 12 to 18 year-olds from countries around the world and found that gender stereotypes are deeply entrenched. For example, 65% of participants from India and Rwanda somewhat agreed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together and 43% agreed that there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.
Even in North America, it’s likely no surprise to any parent that things are marketed differently to boys and girls. Princess culture anyone?? I would hope that a survey of Canadian youth wouldn’t have quite the stark results as seen in these numbers from India and Rwanda, and yet the Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that on average, every 6 days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.
Clearly there is still a long way to go – here and around the world.