The 8th of March was International Women’s Day. This year’s theme was “Break the Bias.” Bias
is the use of irrelevant factors into decision making which can unfairly exclude someone from experiences and opportunities for which they are qualified or want, based on gender, religion, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, and other attributes. A few years ago, our company Busara Leadership Partners, whose expertise is to facilitate the development and effectiveness of leaders to achieve their desired goals, conducted research with thirty women Executives and entrepreneurs. All the respondents said their first instinct was to look for another female whether a babysitter, friend, or extended family member as the next choice and, only as the last resort, get their husbands to play a greater role in looking after their children. When I shared these results with the women, they were shocked at their own thought processes. They were not even conscious of their decisions.
Women, as a result, unwittingly entrench the stereotypes that looking after children and doing housework is only or primarily a woman’s job. Biologically, men are not able to carry children, but they can share in the caring for them. Men can certainly participate in the running of their households beyond monetary contributions. Sheryl Sandberg said in her book ‘Lean In,’ “the revolution and a truly equal world would be one where women run half of our countries and companies, and men run half of our homes.”
Part of why women do not push for greater equality in the home-front, is because of their understanding of what makes a good woman, and a good mother, is closely tied to their role in the home. Women suffer from massive guilt. The reality of their lives is that they are wearing many hats. The hours in a day have not increased. However, women still want to put in the equal amount of time and focus on the home front as they do in all the other areas. Their partners, in the majority, do not share the housework and child rearing equally. A woman’s identity is still very much tied to how she is as a mother and wife. That is why there is still a stigma when a woman is not married or does not have children.
When women truly re-define their value as human beings, first, not just as women, beyond the traditional and stereotypical roles, only then will they break the bias. James Baldwin, the American writer, and social critic had the right sentiment when he said: “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.” Women play a role in perpetuating patriarchy. Patriarchy describes the ways that the world is organised by ideas about gender, and in particular, ideas on men and women that distributes unequal power and authority leading to the subjugation, discrimination against and oppression of women. Patriarchy is not only demonstrated in extreme actions like female genital mutilations, honour killings and Gender Based Violence. It is a social construction that is mental, legal, economic, political, and spiritual that achieves the most enduring system of domination. Gender roles and stereotypes are seen as natural and universal. If patriarchy is not tackled, it is almost impossible to break the bias.
Transformation is possible. It starts with women acknowledging that we also play an unwitting role in perpetuating unequal societies. Equality needs constant vigilance. Deeply rooted stereotypes and discrimination against women, even by women, stand in the way of equality. Behaviours and attitudes of women play a role in delaying and in men having equal authority and responsibilities in childrearing and in the home as well as women advancing in institutions outside of the home.
As much as women are encouraged to achieve in areas such as politics, business, science, technology; men must also be encouraged to be more active in childrearing and housework. Not only to help to relieve women, but because these are valued and integral responsibilities of the human experience. The continued segregation of the home as a woman’s territory prolongs traditional gender roles, bias, and sexism. Gandhi said, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, but in being able to remake ourselves.” To break the bias, females need to stop self-sacrificing and not fighting to abolish female monopoly in traditional feminine roles. The question is what women are willing to do or sacrifice to break the bias.