Selective representation of women is curating the discourse
In many families, gender stereotyping starts at the time of birth, especially for girls. Her future often is already decided for her: her career, education, mobility, expression and marriage.
For instance, when we ask girls and women attending the sexual harassment workshops conducted by my organization Safecity about typical gender stereotypes they face, they tell us their families dictate the career they should have, usually as teachers, nurses, secretaries and general office workers. These are considered “safe”, with limited responsibility at work and not much work-related travel.
A growing number of women are breaking out of the gender-stereotypes, however. The 2011 Census data shows a significant rise in the number of women graduates and post graduates in India in a range of majors including technology. When we look at traditionally male dominated fields like finance and technology, India is a prime example of abundance female leadership in its banking industry whilst 20% of ISRO’s engineers are women and this number continues to grow.
So then, how is it possible that when we have important discussions and debates on news channels and panels at events and conferences, men dominate with usually only a tiny percentage of women contributing their views?
As per the survey conducted by Safecity and SheThePeople in the month of August, out of more than 100 news channels, talk shows, events and conferences, we found that women’s voices were blatantly excluded. Representation of women in news debates and discussions were at 18% whilst at conference panels they were a measly 12%.
Further analysis revealed that despite having prominent women experts available to speak on a variety of topics, a higher percentage of the panelists were women when it involved topics that were women-centric, like sexual violence, crime against women and children or child sexual abuse. In these cases, sometimes the panels were all women. And to be fair they should be, it would be far worse to have a panel of men discussing issues affecting women.
However when it came to politics, sports, finance, business or even technology, the representation of women plummeted. From being close to 40% on “women/child centric subjects” it went down to 12 to 15% on any other topic. Often the panels consisted of all male participants with a token female moderator.
Everybody talks about increasing women’s participation in society and improving diversity in the workforce. These are ineffective if we continue with selective representation of women and curate the discourse which panders to patriarchy and perpetuates it. Women represent 50% of the world’s population yet are constantly, deliberate or unconsciously, kept out of the discussions, debates and decision making tables. Women and men view the world and experience it differently. To exclude their voice would be to lose out on important perspectives and insights.
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.”
You can be the change. Say to no to an all-male panel. Demand equal representation and call out organisers who violate this. If you are a professional knowledgeable woman, list yourself on this crowd map which can be accessed by all organisers.
Gender equality cannot become a reality unless genuine effort is made to break gender stereotypes and create space for women’s representation. It is in our collective interest to have more women represented on panels. We will see more of them, hear more from them, and, over a period of time it will become a norm to have equal representation.