By Raakhee Suryaprakash
October 11th is the International Day of the Girl Child. Many of the week’s events have dovetailed into highlighting how we can protect the future of the human race by protecting the girl child. In 2020, for a change more than two women were among the winners of the Nobel Prizes, announced from October 5th onward. The “Educate the girl child” and “Women in STEM” agendas got shots in the arms with Louise Glück winning the Literature Nobel and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Andrea Ghez winning a share of the Nobel prizes for Chemistry and Physics respectively. On a more personal front, with regard to the Nobel Peace Prize winner, I watched the documentary “The Magic of Audrey,” and learnt how food aid during and after the Second World War helped Audrey Hepburn and other children in Holland survive war-time scarcity and escape starvation the night before I watched the Facebook Live announcement that the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had won the Nobel Peace Prize 2020. The same day, just before the Nobel Prize announcements, I re-watched and shared the TED Talk by Dr Katherine Wilkinson on “How Empowering Women and Girls Can Help Stop Global Warming.” The talk highlights how gender equity is the solution to the problem of global warming. By just empowering women farmers, educating girls and assisting girls and women with access to family planning we can achieve tectonic shifts cutting carbon emissions thus checking global warming! Ensuring health, hygiene and nutrition as a priority for children especially girls can save billions in healthcare costs and drastically reduce maternal and infant mortality rates which in turn can improve the developmental status of a nation and its economy.
In a world where gender reveal parties in the capital of capitalism the United States are elaborate enough to start forest fires while gender determination is still a crime in India, the developmental divide between the global North and South is glaring. Yet, gender and gender equality issues are at the heart of both poor people problems and rich people problems! We are in the second decade of the second millennium but gender disparity persists.
To date, there have been only 57 Nobel Women – women Nobel laureates and the gender gap is glaring. In the two decades of the twenty-first century only 28 women were Nobel Prize winners. With 962 individuals and organizations winning the prizes since they were initiated in 1901, the fact that less than 6 per cent of the winners were women is a worrying symptom of the global priorities, for the Nobel Prizes are awarded to contributions of greatest benefit to mankind. It’s a marker of a skewed patriarchal system across board that doesn’t level the playing field.
As India marks the festivals of Navratri and Durga Puja, celebrating the power of Shakti – the divine female, the situation in society, industry and in homes is replete with suppression rather than deification. Gender based violence statistics and details revel a devastating reality of patriarchy that crushes all except cis-het men. Challenged as we are by the effects of COVID-19 on our population and our economy, perhaps it is vital that we use this opportunity to shape a recovery roadmap that bridges the gender divide in all aspects. By empowering women and educating girls we can shape a reality of social justice, gender justice and climate justice. In October as we commemorate the harvest, the girl child (October 11), rural women (October 15), women farmers (In India, October 15 is also National Women Farmer's Day or Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas) and climate action (October 24) among others, the connections are obvious.
Beyond notions of saving the planet is the very real threat posed to the survival of humanity – both the human race and the quality of being humane. The planet will survive but the future of the human race is at risk of many anthropogenic – manmade – disasters. From climate catastrophe through global warming to environmental destruction through deforestation; war, disease, and “manufactured” scarcity of natural resources. Back in 2015 the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda was adopted unanimously by the UN putting care for the environment at the heart of development. Yet, five years on, amidst an unprecedented pandemic that brought nations and economies to a halt we are yet to sincerely prioritize the planet in the 5Ps agenda (People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships) of the SDGs.
As we celebrate the season of Fall in a world challenged by a pandemic in addition to wars, disasters and violence, it is urgent and necessary that we look into ways of bridging the gender gap to reach a more equitable future. “Throughout history, the central role of women in society has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations” and this vital Global Role of Women demonstrates how we can bring prosperity to a larger proportion of our population simply by simplifying the lives of girls and women by empowering them.