– How Equal Rights links to Better Mental Health for All.
On August 26 1920, women and people of all genders were granted the right to vote in the United States. This is why August 26 was chosen as Women’s Equality Day. The right to vote is one of many rights women are often denied because they are considered inferior to men rather than equal. So on this day, let me tell you a little bit about the importance of gender equality and how it relates to mental health.
When we speak of gender equality, we don’t mean that men and women should be considered the same, because they aren’t. What we mean is that they should have equal opportunities, an equal right to participate in society and an equal access to goods, services and resources. It also means that men and women don’t have to conform to gender norms and they can be who they want to be and act how they want to, regardless of their gender. Women are often the ones targeted by gender inequality, which is why it is important to empower them. But before looking at the benefits of gender equality, let’s look at the consequences of its opposite.
Gender inequality can have different consequences depending on the country in which it takes place, but here are some examples of it: less education for girls and women, a higher rate of illiteracy, a lower health care priority, early and forced marriages, lack of choice in whom girls and women have sex with, gender wage gap, lack of female representation in politics, sex shaming, rape culture and a much lower percentage of women owned properties and businesses.
The fact that women are considered to be lesser than men makes them easier targets, because men will tend to take advantage of them more, often using, abusing and degrading them with little hesitation, only for the sake of their own pleasure. This leads to a lot of women feeling unsafe around men and seeing their security and well-being compromised. It also means that people can get ridiculed for doing things “like a girl”, with a negative connotation. Hearing things like that also contributes to girls and women having lower self-esteem and feeling more self-conscious.
One way to build up equality is through education. Education is important because it leads women to learn more skills and have more knowledge, which leads to more confidence. All these things can help empower women as well as improve their well-being. In some countries, girls have to skip school when they are on their period, because they have no access to female sanitary products and services. Sometimes, they also don’t go to school at all because they have to help take care of the house and family, because it’s too dangerous for them, because it’s forbidden, because it’s not considered important for them to be educated or because only boys can be afforded to go. This makes me so grateful that I live in a country where everyone has an equal chance to go to school and where many women have higher education degrees. I can even say I feel proud of my own engineering degree, and even more so because it’s a field where women are far from being in equal numbers to men. My work and education contribute to my well-being because they make me happy, they give me a purpose and they make me feel like I can do things, great things, useful things.. It brings me financial independence too, which is important to me. I can only assume it brings similar feelings and more to other women, and it makes me sad to know that in many places, girls and women can’t achieve the same.
The fact that periods, of all things, are a reason for girls to miss school makes me really angry. That’s one week a month on average they can’t go to school! It’s 20-25% of the year. Appropriate sanitary products should be a basic necessity for girls! And female sanitary products aren’t always the only thing girls are denied. Sometimes it’s healthcare altogether. The lack of prenatal care, for example, often leads to death during childbirth in developing countries. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, “every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth”, 99% of which happen in developing countries. Outside of maternal mortality, transmittable diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria are also a leading cause of death in females, from childhood to adulthood. Since women in developing countries often have no access to contraception and no say in who they have sex with, 23% of deaths in women of reproductive age are caused by unsafe sex. If genders were considered equals all around the world and women were more educated, a lot of these deaths could be avoided.
All around the world, gender inequality is flagrant when it comes to work. Not only do women work longer hours than men in some countries, they also are more likely to have seasonal, part-time or low-paying jobs and often make less money than men for the same work. While this is frustrating enough on its own, women also do a lot of unpaid work outside of the workplace. They have to take care of children, clean the house, provide food, clothes, care and so on. All of this is extremely tiring, stressful and unfair.
My mom told me something once, and I think I’ll never forget it. She said that what is most frustrating about women’s chores is that they are somewhat invisible. There’s nothing permanent about them. You just do them every day, they disappear, and then you start again the next day. The dishes? There will be more tomorrow. Cooking? Daily chore, gone in an hour. Laundry? A weekly occurrence. Taking care of kids? A daily struggle for years and years. This work becomes so invisible that we often don’t even get thanked for it. No recognition. Meanwhile, men’s work is more physical, more permanent. Fixing the sink, the roof, the car, etc? One time deal. Building a shed? You have a physical proof of it. All these things feel more rewarding because once you’re done, you’re done! And you have a tangible result, a proof that you did something good. What’s difficult mentally about women’s work, and I experience this personally too, is that you can’t really see it. You struggle daily and you get nothing in return. It’s exhausting, and yet you can’t stop because your work is vital. So you keep going, a lifetime of silent struggling. Wouldn’t it be better if men contributed equally? They share the house too, and they have the ability to do these things too. So why shouldn’t they?
Another thing I find annoying is the lack of women in politics. In Canada, we currently have a bit over 25% of women in the Parliament, and that’s apparently a record! One thing I learned while writing this article is that one of the reasons why there aren’t more women in the Parliament is that to be member, you have to select yourself first and a lot of women don’t believe themselves qualified to run for office as much as men do, even if they have the same qualifications. I think this might be one of the reasons why there is a lack of women in all kinds of high placed administrative positions. We simply don’t think we are good enough, even when we are plenty qualified. Another reason why many women opt out of higher paying and more demanding jobs is that they can’t do them, because of their responsibilities at home, mostly children. In this case too, it would help a lot if men took equal part in sharing those responsibilities. It’s their kids too!
Obviously not everything can be covered in this article, because examples of gender inequality could be listed for days. But I think it’s clear that empowering women is vital to reaching gender equality. Women need to know that they are worth as much as men and that they don’t have to deal with all their inappropriate behaviour and sexist traditions. We don’t have to put up with it just because it’s how it always has been. We seriously don’t. I’m starting to notice more men taking care of kids, and more men taking equal part in house chores and cooking, and it makes me very happy.
Gender equality is beneficial to mental health and well-being not only for women, but for men as well. First of all, if women had the same reproductive and healthcare rights as men, they would be healthier altogether. Second of all, if women had more influential and economic power, they would feel stronger and more independent, and that’s a great feeling. It brings safety and stability. Third of all, if men considered women their equal, they would stop abusing us and threatening us so much, which would make us feel safer and less wary of men. It would be one less thing for us to fear and worry about. It would bring us more peace of mind. Also, if chores and other unpaid work like taking care of kids were distributed equally between men and women, we would feel less burdened, less exhausted and we would have more of a chance to reach for higher paying jobs, which can feel more rewarding and empowering.
For men, gender equality would mean that more women could do more typically male jobs like police officers, firefighters, soldiers, etc. If women were considered equal, men wouldn’t feel a need to protect us and provide for us so much. This can be a huge burden too. It’s a lot of weight to carry on one’s shoulders and can lead to a number of other problems like violence and alcohol abuse. Men shouldn’t have to be forced or peer pressured into this protector role.
Another advantage of gender equality would be that men could share their emotions more without feeling ashamed or weak. They wouldn’t be taught that they need to be the strong ones, the independent ones who don’t need anyone else to support them. Men and women can both be strong at times, and need support at other times. Everyone does. Repressing feelings isn’t a sign of strength, but I think men need to be taught and shown that a little more. Because they have feelings too, and they are valid, and they deserve support as well.
So overall, gender equality is something that would benefit everyone in so many ways, and it’s something we need to strive for all over the world. It’s something I truly hope I can see one day.
Until next time,