When you hear organisations, Brands, men and women say they are empowering women to achieve their dreams, what does that really mean? In today’s world, “women empowerment and gender equality” have become buzz words. But when we break this down to see what it really means, it falls apart. Take the case of Nike for example. Yes, they have a lot of female brand ambassadors on their team. On the surface, we say, wow! Bravo! They are doing it right, they are empowering women. However, we now know that there was something sinister going on. Their sponsorship does not cover maternity leave. When a female brand ambassador gets pregnant, the payment of her allowances is promptly discontinued.
This policy is unfair and discriminates against women. Women shouldn’t be penalised for being women – getting pregnant and starting a family. Instead, they should be supported throughout their reproductive cycles for the benefit of the society and the organisations they work for. According to this article, “the traditional childbearing years (the late twenties and early thirties) clash with the major career-building years. Men do not share this “baby penalty” at work. For professional women, the more hours they work, the fewer children they are likely to have, according to the 2000 US census. The opposite is true for professional men: the more hours that they work—up to fifty-nine hours a week—the more children they are likely to have.”
The above makes it clear that starting a family affects women differently from a man. Women face challenges different from men in schools and as they move up the career ladder. A recent interview granted by Victoria Azenreka, a female tennis champion, showed that she thought getting pregnant would ruin her career forever. She now campaigns for a better ranking system for female tennis players who have had babies. In the past, I have written about how women shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and motherhood. Instead, women should be protected and supported.
In the same article cited earlier, Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society says “we should be putting in place policies that make sure women have equal pay for the work that they do, to make sure that they don’t hit glass ceilings, that there are family- friendly policies in workplaces, and that we’re not assuming that women are the sole or the major caretakers for children.”
For the sake of clarity, I am going to highlight some questions that should guide policy decisions in schools and organisations:
- Are schools equipped to deal with girls during their monthly cycles? Are there separate toilets for girls? A UNESCO report shows that one in ten girls miss school due to a lack of toilet in schools.
- Do organisations put into consideration women’s monthly cycles when developing leave policies? When a woman can’t work as a result of extreme PMS that affects her health, is she entitled to take time off to take care of herself so it doesn’t affect her productivity?
- Is there a provision for maternity leave? For how long? The WHO recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their children for six months. Organisations should be aware that starting work before the six months are over will completely disrupt this healthy bond between mother and babies? It will also disrupt the milk supply for new mothers.
- At the expiration of the maternity leave, is there any provision for her to regularly take some time off to pump breastmilk for her baby should she decide to? WHO recommends breastfeeding for at least two years. Is there a room dedicated for that purpose?
- Do malls have rooms dedicated for breastfeeding moms?
- Do the organisations give flexibility to women to return back to work part-time or full time?
- Does the maternity leave take into consideration that some babies are born prematurely?
- Is there support for women going through menopause? Is their mental health taken into consideration?
- When a woman is going through only women related issues, is her job protected or she has to constantly worry about career stagnation or worse of all, losing her job?
These are just some basic guidelines to support women in their natural abilities as they school and work. Some days ago, I wrote about being angry with feminists and this is because, they currently have the loudest voice in the room. If they are indeed fighting for the rights of women, they should raise awareness for these issues and demand support with the same vigour they do “gender rights”. Gender equality shouldn’t just be an abstract concept that is invoked during discussions. It should include real issues that affect women and prevent them from attaining parity with men. Organisations should also recognise that supporting women goes beyond getting them on board or hiring them. It’s about supporting them throughout their lives.
Ides Ofune is currently a PhD Student at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on civil society and accountability in improving the quality of education. She is the founder of Desert Bloom Initiative and editor of Desert Bloom Advisory. Ides is very passionate about education and creating an inclusive society. She speaks French and English fluently. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org