Breaking down the gender barriers faced by women around the globe
In 1967, Katherine Switzer made headlines by becoming the first woman ever to officially enter the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and best-known annual race. At the time, it was believed that women were physiologically incapable of running for the prescribed distance, an excuse that fit in with the ubiquitous notion that women should embrace femininity through domesticity in the home. Instead of allowing the discrimination against women to hold her back, Katherine registered for the race using only her initials for the sole reason that she wanted to run.
She endured a confrontation with the race director who attempted to physically remove her, and countless verbal threats, pushing through to finish the race in a time equivalent to that of a man’s. Years later, she was a catalyst for the addition of the women’s marathon to the Olympics. Because of her decision to run despite the regulations and her efforts towards inclusion, she started a movement and has since become a figurehead for positive global social change, breaking the gender barriers and empowering women across the globe through running.
In any society aspiring to justice and the value the rights of those whom which they serve, equality is critical. Although Katherine’s actions provoked a fundamental change in the rules of sports and strides have been made around the world working towards the elimination of the discrimination against women, the issue is still very relevant today.
As an organization, PCI is committed to promoting gender equality by working to achieve equal health access and development opportunities for the men and women with whom PCI works and serves around the world through the establishment of its Gender Equity Commission. PCI has developed and adapted innovative program models that advance gender equity while maximizing the participation of girls and women, who in most developing societies lack the education and opportunities that are afforded to men.
PCI has made a proactive effort to positively affect the inequalities faced by women by enabling them with the Women Empowered (WE) Initiative. Women Empowered Initiative is a global effort to promote the economic and social empowerment of women through the formation of self-managed and self-sustaining savings groups. This program allows women to divert the pervading power of discrimination and actively bring about change in their lives. Thus, they become powerful agents of economic and societal transformation within their communities.
Types of Discrimination
Recently, efforts have been made to establish a tangible idea of how women fare both socially and economically in comparison to their male counterparts. The facts are alarming. Women currently work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn only 10 percent of the world’s income. In fact, they own less than 1 percent of the world’s property. Across the globe, there is a disproportionate amount of women who lack access to education, quality health care and basic life necessities.
The different forms of discrimination faced by women have in many ways relegated them to a status inferior to that of a man’s. Variations of the following inequities can be found in almost every society around the world.
Discrimination in the workplace
Women experience discrimination in the work force in terms of pay, hiring and promotions. Their earnings are consistently lower than that of a man’s in almost every occupation, regardless of the overall gender domination of that sector of work. They are more susceptible to sexual harassment, with 1 in 4 women claiming that they have experienced some form of unwanted advancement. Strides have certainly been made to improve the work place for women, but their potential still goes largely untapped.
In many countries, laws have been formed to suppress the rights of women from having the same legal rights as men. These unjust laws take away a woman’s right to divorce, to obtain guardianship in the case of divorce, inheritance, protection against child marriage, to drive, and legal protection against sexual or gender-based violence, among other things. In Lebanon, for example, women are unable to seek divorce in the case of physical abuse unless there is an eyewitness to testify on her behalf.
Discrimination against women on a societal level is embedded in everyday life. They are discriminated against based on their weight, height, age, use of societally dictated clothing, level of education and economic status. A woman may not be seen as valuable or worthwhile if she does not fit the collective representation of normal. Abercrombie & Fitch, a U.S. based clothing retailer, has unabashedly excluded plus-sized teenagers from wearing their clothing by only carrying up to size 10 for girls, furthering the misled concept that women need to fit a certain size to fit in.
In light of the array of injustices that female women face, PCI is focused on the importance of investing in the potential of women to change the face of poverty and bring about societal and economic change around the world.
Because of this, many communities have already been affected. Over 6,000 leaders in South Africa have been called to action to promote the end of violence against women. In Liberia, PCI helped increase the enrollment of girls in schools by at least 5%. Over 15,000 women have participated in village-led savings groups in Ethiopia.
Women and men are being empowered all over the world to put a stop to the injustices that they face on a daily basis, but that’s not enough. PCI knows the importance of using a gender lens when connecting issues and programs to facilitate change. Comprehensive approaches are required to not only provide women with more power and self-esteem, but to change the way society responds to the discrimination that they regularly face.