Women can’t achieve equality without you.
Three of the world’s best comic book artists pulled out of the running for a lifetime achievement award at the Angoulême comics festival in France because there was an all-male shortlist of nominees. This triggered another seven artists to pull out, forcing the organizers to add women to the list.
The exclusion of women is not an unusual occurrence and all male panels or “manels” on television, at conferences and major events is common. A powerful video by Emma Watson showed how women are under-represented in many fields and high level meetings. By removing men from photographs of UN Assemblies, TV Shows, Parliament Debates, she showed the striking the difference in gender representation.
A frequently given excuse for the exclusion of women—including at the French comics festival—is that there are few women experts. This is untrue. In fact, the Women in Comics Collective Against Sexism called for a boycott of the comics prize over the “total negation” of the growing number of women in comic-book art. “It all comes back to the disastrous glass ceiling; we’re tolerated, but never allowed top billing,” they wrote.
Despite 185 countries signing the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – Violence Against Women in 1995, after 20 years, globally, only 10 per cent of the members of legislative bodies and a lower percentage of ministerial positions are now held by women.
UN Women states that “socialization and negative stereotyping … reinforces the tendency for political decision-making to remain the domain of men. Likewise, the underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the areas of art, culture, sports, the media, education, religion and the law has prevented women from having a significant impact on many key institutions.”
The less you see women in positions of power and authority, the less relevant and important they are perceived to be, whether it’s in the comics field or national political leadership.
So how do we end this cycle of devaluing women and negating them from key processes and events? One obvious suggestion is for more men to step up and end it, forcing the mainstreaming of gender in all aspects of life.
Just like Daniel Clowes, Joann Sfar and Riad Sattouf walked out of the French comics festival, we need more men willing to give up some of their privileges to do so. Men like Hans Schulz, a vice president at Inter-American Development Bank, who makes sure there is at least one woman on a panel before he agrees to speak on it too and has been encouraging all men to make the same pledge.
We also need men to be aware of the disparities and encourage change, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did recently when he encouraged young women to aspire to “be the nerd” in a STEM field, not just to “date the nerd.” Or like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who ensured his cabinet had equal representation and last month at the annual World Economic Forum, talked about gender equality and how “we shouldn’t be afraid of the word feminist.”
If all–or at least more–men responded that way, then these problems likely would not repeat themselves so many times. We know it is possible, we have each seen firsthand what can happen when men step up for women and girls.
For Esther in Kenya, having been born in a family of four girls and one boy, and in a community where the boy child is valued more than a girl child, my father stepped up, encouraged us and sacrificed everything to ensure that we, including the girls, had a chance in education and that we pursued whatever our hearts dreamed of.
Despite him being looked down by many other men in the community who did not see the reason why he was educating girls, he boldly stepped up and continued to encourage us. He told us he believed in us. Today, I am a scientist. It took the consistent encouragement of my father who believed in gender equality to help my sisters and I become who we are today. Today, many fathers in my community are stepping up on behalf of the women in their lives.
For Elsa in India, during my career I had several male superiors who took it upon themselves to mentor me and encourage me to take on roles that I would have never thought possible. The Chairman of my former company encouraged me to speak up at high level meetings both within the company as well as at the Ministry of Civil Aviation when representing the airline. I will never forget his words, “Don’t be afraid to take a stand and speak up. Know full well that I will support you.”
Those words of encouragement were enough for me to state my opinions in an environment dominated by “senior” “experienced” male colleagues. Thus I was able to successfully move to a senior role of Vice President of a highly strategic department – Network Planning – within the airline, a far cry from my initial entry as a Flight Attendant.
The time is now. We welcome and call upon all men who want to see gender equality to step up in their personal life. We can’t do it without you.
Photo credit: Getty Images