#ChooseToChallenge beyond IWDThought Piece /31 March 2021
The world is in crisis, and it is women who are bearing the brunt of the additional work, economic loss and danger. The pandemic has brought into stark relief the inequalities that have long pushed women back, from unequal pay and distribution of work to gender-based violence. Definitely, we can no longer wait on the world to change—we have to lead in its rehabilitation.
One in four adult Filipinos cited in a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey said that physical violence, followed by sexual and emotional violence, are among the most pressing problems in this pandemic. Similarly, in Vietnam and Indonesia, pandemic lockdowns have led to more women seeking help via domestic violence hotlines. Young women are prominent in the protests in Myanmar, putting their lives at risk. And in my home country, we have faced scandal after scandal centering on allegations of rape and sexual misconduct in Parliament, leading thousands of outraged Australians to march for justice.
Violence against women is a manifestation of gender inequality, and whether it occurs in the home, in our offices, or in our political halls, cannot be tolerated. Workplace harassment is a widespread issue and one critical reason that women’s careers are held back. Leaders, women and men alike, must shape workplace culture so that we are safe from bullying, harassment, and assault. They must model behaviour that is respectful of women and of women’s power. They must enable rather than limit women as changemakers.
As I look back on this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), I am heartened by the women who stood up, spoke out, and even marched in protest of gender-based violence and the issues of toxic culture that have surfaced, not just in Asia-Pacific, but elsewhere in the world. Women have drawn a line and we are holding that line, not just for ourselves, but for our fellow women—because our protest is meant to protect the vulnerable of the present and those who will come long after we have survived this crisis.
If we truly wish to achieve an equal future in a post-COVID-19 world—women must lead. We need women on the ground to share their experience and their wisdom. We need women to hold positions of power, participate in policy discussions, and engineer solutions. We need every powerful woman and male champion to #ChoosetoChallenge the failings we have already identified.
IWD 2021 has shown that regardless of age, background or affiliation, each of us has a voice and we can use that voice to call bad behaviour to account. But for some of us, that is just not safe—this must change. Women should not fear reprisal for telling the truth. In a safe world, women should not have to second-guess how they dress or where and what time of day they choose to go about their business. In an equal and just world, women should not have to fight for a seat at the table.
At Investing in Women, our work with our various partners seeks to empower women—by ensuring that workplaces are fair and free from discrimination or bias, moving capital to where it is most needed so women’s businesses are given equal chance to thrive, and by questioning the conventions that reinforce harmful behaviour. Positioning a gender lens on pressing problems makes a difference; and it is usually the unheard and underserved who are crucial to the shift in mindset.
I thank everyone who has worked with IW and continues to advocate for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. We are supporting and enabling more and new champions to come forward who will create a better and more equal world for everyone.
Dr. Julia Newton-Howes
CEO, Investing in Women