Here are some statistics from a UN Report from October 2020:
- ‘A UN report has found more than 80% of both men and women hold gender-biased views against women.
- It found 91% of men and 86% of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality in areas such as politics, economic, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights.
- About 50% of men and women interviewed across 75 countries say they think men make better political leaders than women, while more than 40% felt that men made better business executives.
- And perhaps more concerning, the gender bias against women has actually increased in the last decade.’
These are pretty depressing figures when looked at from a global point of view – 80% of women still hold views of bias AGAINST women?? how appalling! – for example, although the number of girls married off young across the world has fallen, there still remains a huge number of these marriages every year. Similarly in the case of FGM – the rate has come down, but it is still happening in huge numbers. In many developing countries, female executives are more common but are still the exception, and women in politics are not the oddities they used to be but are still in the minority by a long shot. Across the world, even in developed countries, young women, although better educated than men, still earn on average 15% less.
The rights of women in the UK and EU have vastly improved over the last 50 years, due to equality legislation pertaining to the workplace, the economy, and legal rights where there is more-or-less gender equity, and in education there is virtually no difference made between the sexes when it comes to equality of opportunity, although girls are still not encouraged to choose subjects like technology and engineering.
So yes – while progress has been made, it is estimated that true equality of the sexes will not be enjoyed globally for another 100 years – in other words, only a few baby girls alive today will experience it! So the situation could be construed as disappointing to say the least….
However, in this article, I’m choosing instead to celebrate the empowerment of ordinary women, each of whom, through sheer hard work, determination, and bloody-mindedness, have ended up winning true empowerment for themselves – despite the state of inequality in our society and in our families and in our traditions.
Because while equity of opportunity, gender-neutral laws, and equality in education exist, they do very little to ensure that our family traditions and societal norms or expectations see women as equals. Inequality is so ingrained in some societies and families that women don’t even realise they are being discriminated against. I could quote many, many examples from the cases of women who have come to me as a coach, wanting to find out who they truly are, or what they actually want to be, where along their journey we must find and counteract the symptoms which are a result of inequality at home – such as lack of confidence, lack of control over their own reproduction needs, feelings of unworthiness, of being ‘not good enough’, lowering of career expectations and increased likelihood of being victims of domestic abuse.
I celebrate these women, the ones who’ve had difficult lives, being treated as ‘less than’ their brothers, expected to do most of the housework; not encouraged to go into third level education because after all, ‘they’re better to just get married and have babies’; whose jobs if they do have them are part-time and secondary to their husband’s career; who may even have a career but also do the bulk of the housework and childcare as well; who stay for years in unhappy marriages where they are not ALLOWED to have their own opinions, or buy what they want, or decide how they want to live. And yet at some stage these women realise how undervalued they have allowed themselves to be and they come to me as a coach in order to find out who they truly are. Or how they could truly attain their full potential. This is a cause for celebration!
During coaching we have to dismantle the years of unhelpful or damaging beliefs that were learned at the dinner table when they were small. The reasons why they believe they’re ‘not good enough’, ‘don’t deserve any better’, ‘not loveable’, ‘no good at x or y’, ‘won’t ever amount to anything’. Or why on earth they allow themselves to be badmouthed or browbeaten or even abused by people who are meant to love them.
But we do dismantle them, these limiting beliefs, and we change them round for a different way of thinking. All I do is enable a space and a caring place where they can have an insight into their own worth as women, where they can safely try out their new thoughts about their own growing empowerment, and where eventually they can realise who they truly are.
This is what I celebrate! That even despite the odds being stacked against them from birth, despite the fact that they have to run faster, think quicker, study harder, and labour longer, just to be seen by society or employers as being ‘as good as’ men, they still find a way to surpass the odds and beat society at its own game. Changes in attitudes, laws or regulations that move towards a more fair and equal society are brought about, in the main, by women. Individual women who have managed to empower themselves and now want to make sure all girls and women have the same opportunity.
Yes although there has been progress, there are still a surprising number of areas where gender equality is far from sure. However, I remain hopeful. The women who pass through my coaching programmes may have vastly different backgrounds and experiences, but they all have one thing in common – they desire and celebrate their own empowerment.
And here’s the thing – society itself is nothing more than the sum of the individuals within it, so I have hope for an eventually equal society, as more and more individual women seek to reach their full potential, and move forward to empower others along with them.
“Change your mind – change your life!” (Ref. D.Ritchie, QUB, October 2019)
I always say, in my 60-second elevator pitch, that I’m a Life and Executive Coach and I help people change their lives! I say that this change can come about quickly or be a slow burn, and that it can be a series of small changes or a totally transformative process.
All true. I do help people change their lives – every day.
Which means that every day, people like you and me start to transform the lives they lead into something else – something they really want, something that makes them happy to live it, something different from the one they’re living now.
Doesn’t this give you pause for thought? How does it happen? How do they do it? Could YOU do it too? Or is change only for the brave and the strong, or the lucky, or the ones who have the funds to come for coaching?
Well – in my humble opinion anyone can change their lives, at any time. My clients are mainly professional people but they come from all walks of life, they’ve all had different life journeys before they come to me, but the one thing all my clients have in common is the WILL to change. They really, really want it! They’re fed up with feeling sad or unhappy or depressed or scared or anxious or confused or overwhelmed every day of their lives, and they’ve finally decided that enough is enough. They realise that in order for them to be someone they might like, or be proud of, or someone who is more successful, or just happier, they need to change.
In 1854 the philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote : “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”, which was a sad reflection of ordinary people and their working lives at the time, and he went on to say that most of them didn’t even realise that’s what they were doing, or know that there was an alternative.
And ten years ago, when I was living my life of quiet desperation, in an unhappy marriage and unfulfilling job, I couldn’t even imagine that there were alternatives, or if I thought there were, then I associated them with people OTHER than me. How could I change my life? The happiness of the whole family unit and even extended family members depended on me leading the same life, day in and day out, being there for everyone else first, and with no thought for my life or what I wanted.
In my practice now I would say this notion affects nearly every woman I have coached, and not a few men. We all think that we should be there for everyone else, and ignore the fact that we’re people too, and deserve as much or more consideration as anyone!
Well, I was very lucky – the Universe decided to give me a wakeup call one morning in the shape of a huge lorry which crashed into me on the motorway, writing off the car, but somehow not killing me! Someone at the scene told me I’d been spared by divine intervention – “for what purpose?” I scoffed.
“Well, maybe just to live your life’”, said he….
Never a truer word spoken. Because here’s the thing – we’re all here for a purpose, and the purpose is yes – to live your life. Not to just exist, or settle, or live totally for others’ happiness, but to honour ourselves as well. And in order to really live our one and only life, to make it the best one we can, to derive happiness daily from what we’re doing and how we approach living, we have to change.
So how to change? Where to start? When clients come to me, lost or stuck or at a crossroads in their lives, suffering from anxiety, or overwhelmed by fears, not knowing how to get out of the situation or make it better, I ask them a question. I ask them where they think their life experience is taking place? Where do they live? In the past? – lots of people live in the past, ‘if only …x hadn’t happened I’d be happy’. In the future? – many of us live in the future – ‘I’ll be happy when….x happens’.
But in reality – our life experience only takes place in the present. Right now!
Our perception of what’s happening right now is what our life is. Everything else is just thought. Past experiences are just memories. Future plans or worries are just imagination. We live NOW.
And if we become aware of that, if we really understand that, we realise that this is where we have control over our lives – in the present. So any changes we want to make, we can make now. We can choose our attitude to any situation or set of circumstances, in the moment; we can change our behaviour from the habitual reaction to someone’s provocation, to doing something more constructive, more positive. In other words we can respond instead of reacting.
This is the start of changing your life.
There are other stages of course. Many other things we need to do in order to change our unhappy lives for happier, optimistic ones, but we always need to start at the beginning. Like realising we already have innate wisdom, strength and resilience, everything we’d need to make changes in our lives. Or that when we consciously start to live in the present, we realise we can let go of the mistakes and resentments of the past, because they have no relevance now. And when we know we can trust ourselves in the present we realise our worries and fears about the future are totally unfounded – we are capable of dealing with whatever is thrown at us.
Practising this way of thinking brings about huge changes, and the most rewarding is realising that happiness is really just a state of being that comes about when we are true to who we really are, not harping on the past nor fearful of the future, confident in our own innate capabilities, trusting in ourselves and taking control of our responses, and stepping out optimistically to find new opportunities!
Change is within everyone’s grasp, and because life is change, we’ll be changing every day of our lives. So decide what your best life would look like, strive to achieve it every day in some small way, take control of the moment, look for opportunities, and really LIVE your life. We only get one go – this is not a dress rehearsal! And life just continues to unfold around us….
But remember this: every morning, when you lift your head off the pillow, you have everything you need.
‘Definition: the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities’.
Equality usually means equality of opportunity and protection under the law, disregarding race, religion, age, ability, and of course GENDER; for example, the right to a fair trial, to vote, to use government services and the right to an education. There are a number of areas in which equality is taken for granted in this country but in the rest of the world there remain dreadful violations.
Of course equality does not mean absolute equality in all spheres – it means basic equality of human rights for everyone, and thereafter, equality of opportunity, so you can fulfill your own potential whatever way you like. The spheres of human interaction where we need to see equality for a fair society are the following:
Social equality – implies freedom.
Political and economic equality
Equality of opportunity and education.
However, for female empowerment to grow there needs to be complete –
It has been shown time and again in developing countries that gender equality empowers women, which in turn encourages productivity and economic growth. This is necessary if we want to have peaceful societies, and achieve our full human potential and sustainable development. Gender equality also implies a society in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life.
Of course more than this – gender equality is a fundamental human right! ‘All women are entitled to live in dignity and in freedom from discrimination and from fear.’ Gender equality is acknowledged as being a key goal on the agendas of many countries. Yet discrimination against women and girls – including gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices, reproductive health inequities, and economic discrimination – remains the most pervasive and persistent form of inequality across the world.
Across the world
According to a report by a global think tank in Autumn 2020, ‘Women in developed countries are now more educated than men, but are not properly represented in politics or in the top ranks of business, and yes, they still earn less’.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have reported figures from Canada, Japan, Norway and Australia, pointing to the conclusion that young women on average earn almost 15 percent less than men, even though they are more educated. Part of this problem is to do with the careers that women choose to go into – eg. one where there is no male equivalent; or having to stall careers after childbirth due to inflexible work policies; or taking part-time work; as well as workplace discrimination against women eg having to work later hours to be part of senior management, which women generally can’t do if they have children. All of these are key factors that prevent women from earning the same as men. Other barriers to achieving gender equality, apart from work-related issues, are things such as unequal parental duties, ingrained social stereotypes, and the unwillingness of women to be more political in the workplace and out.
Across the developing world, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate, despite many agreements confirming their human rights; also they usually have less access than men to medical care, credit, property ownership, or employment; and they are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
However, there has been some progress over the last few decades – more girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in government and holding higher positions in business, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality.
Despite these gains, many challenges remain: women are still usually underrepresented at all levels of political leadership, discriminatory laws are still in existence, and worst of all – 1 in 5 women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 report experiencing physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner within a 12-month period.
In developed countries
In developed countries like UK we still see evidence of discriminatory behaviour and gender stereotyping in the workplace, although the incidences are decreasing as our younger women, having been brought up in less traditional home settings, and exposed to gender-equal education to a greater extent, are less tolerant of abusive work situations.
However, the limited progress that we’ve seen could well be reversed by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on women’s rights and gender equality! It seems that the outbreak has exacerbated existing inequalities in the spheres of health, the economy, security and social protection.
As usual, women as carers have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of the pandemic and lockdown – as frontline healthcare workers, and as unpaid carers at home; their home working roles have increased enormously with school closures and the needs of elderly relatives. Added to that, the economic fallout has hit women harder as their jobs tend to be in more insecure labour markets, with part-time working, so they are at a higher risk of falling into poverty.
Unfortunately the pandemic has also led to a steep increase in the number of cases of domestic violence against women – lockdown has meant being trapped at home with their abusers, and having to fight to access limited services to help. Childline, NSPCC, Women’s Aid and other abuse charities have all noted a sharp increase in the need for their services.
As a Life Coach
I’m very aware of gender inequalities in general through my own and my female friends’ experiences in life, but in coaching, the ramifications of this become glaringly obvious, and it’s not just affecting things in the workplace.
For every one of my male clients who has been belittled or stunted by a domineering parent growing up, there have been 10 women who have been brought up believing they are second-class compared to their male siblings, and who believe totally that their job as a woman is to put men first. I’ve coached successful businesswomen who run their own companies and manage male and female employees with no problem, who then go home and are afraid to even voice their own opinions. One client in her late forties who was a single parent, was still cooking lunch and dinner for her elderly father and older brother EVERY DAY. When, during coaching, she tried to break out of this situation and have some balance in her life, she was criticised by her father for not being a good and dutiful daughter. Unfortunately my client’s mindset was such that she still thought of it as her duty AS A WOMAN to look after the males in her family!
The inherent gender inequality of many Irish homes is learned at Mammy’s knee!
Inequality beliefs like these are programmed into women as children, and it is very tough to turn those beliefs around later, as they morph into lack of confidence, lack of control over their own reproduction needs, feelings of unworthiness, of being ‘not good enough’, lowering of career expectations and increased likelihood of being victims of domestic abuse. Last but not least, girls brought up in a home where females are routinely treated as servants, or where girls’ academic achievements are not encouraged or prized, tend to make up a large proportion of teenage single mothers. Not hard to understand why!
Society however is gradually changing. Along with legal equality encompassing anti-discrimination, and equality of opportunity in education, gender equality is becoming more realistically attainable – at least in the West. Today’s generation of young people do not expect anything less. It remains for employers to keep up and stop only paying lip service to the notion of equal pay, and become more flexible where career breaks and family needs are concerned. Ironically in this respect (if no other) Covid-19 has maybe done women a favour, forcing employers to take notice of how to make flexible working achievable in the future. It remains to be seen whether employers will rise to the challenge.
In a virtual meeting of the UN general Assembly in October 2020, after a discussion of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action – the most comprehensive roadmap for women and girls’ empowerment – more than 100 countries signed up to concrete actions to advance female empowerment and gender equality.
This is very encouraging, and our 5-yr olds today will be exposed to the notion of gender equality in education at least, if not quite so strongly in other areas. For example in media and advertising, not many companies buck the trend and show men in domestic scenarios, cooking, cleaning etc., while in general pretty young women are still used to sell everything from health drinks to cars, but there are signs that this is changing.
In general I can see that female empowerment through achieving gender equality is increasing. Our anti-discrimination laws are being used frequently by women challenging the status quo of unequal pay and discriminatory behaviour in the workplace…and more and more cases are being won.
Still, I long for the day when women clients will present with the problem of trying to reach an exciting business goal, instead of the issue of whether they deserve to have a goal in the first place!
Doreen Ritchie 31/01/21
MSc.,BSc.(hons), TEFL, QQI6.
(A QUESTION OF) GOALS
Goals, goals, goals! We’re always setting goals! For our businesses, for our self-development, for our mental wellbeing, our nutrition, exercise, relationships, education, the list goes on! Every time we go online, someone is telling us we need to set goals for this or that (or if we’re working from home, we have goals set by our bosses so that we don’t slack and laze about!)
We’re told if we behave and set all these goals and of course, achieve them, then we’ll progress and everything will be great – we’ll be better people; we’ll be healthier, less stressed, more successful; or we’ll be better parents, managers, lovers; we’ll make better use of our time and we’ll “grow”.
Now in some cases these are all true, and of course setting goals isn’t bad for us – there are lots of advantages to being goal-oriented.
- Goals provide a sense of direction or focus
- They give a sense of personal satisfaction if we achieve them
- Goals help to maintain motivation, especially during a setback
- They allow people to prioritise changes during uncertainty
- We can use them to set a realistic timeline for accomplishment
- They can provide a better understanding of our expectations.
Also, when setting goals in business, or even in our personal lives, we can use a management tool such as SMART to see if our goals are – Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time related. This can show us how achievable our goal is before we set it.
And human neurology is set up with natural goal-seeking abilities. We have innumerable nested sequences in our neurology that we’re not even aware of, where there is a goal-oriented sequence that the action takes, e.g. taking a sip of tea. We have an embodied understanding of how to do this, but no conscious awareness of orchestrating it.
So here’s the thing, when we’re thinking about setting goals for ourselves, we need to decide which to set, not because they’re on trend, or because we’re being bombarded by ads trying to sell various “be successful” programmes, but because they are something we really want to achieve.
As a Coach I advise my clients to really think about what is actually important to them before they decide on a goal. Ideally they should have an insight about what direction they want to go in, called ‘strategic intuition’, and this should be totally in tune with a person’s core values. Our core values are sometimes easy to discover during coaching, but more often than not, they will be revealed as a surprise – because we don’t usually give time to thinking about what is really important to us at a fundamental level. And yet, unless core values are explored, we can’t be sure that any goal we set will be right for us, because truly being happy involves living your life in conjunction with what you truly believe.
Another thing I would advise against is setting ‘toxic’ goals. You know the ones, they start with “when …. then I’ll be happy’, for example – ‘When I lose 3 stones, then I’ll begin to connect with people.’ Or ‘When I make the first £200,000, then I’ll be able to take a break’ or ‘I’ll be happy when….I retire, get a better job, get a new girlfriend, buy a bigger house’ etc.
All of these goals mean you are deferring your happiness and your life experience to some future date when something may or may not have happened! Please stop doing this to yourselves! The time to be happy is now – because now is where we live; we only have the present moment. Everything else is just thought!
So when you’re thinking about goals I would say – hold goals lightly, because life just unfolds. You have no idea what will happen on your journey. Also please remember – goals are made up, they’re just thought; just an imagined narrative you’re telling yourself about the future.
And so the good thing is you can change them at any time to goals that are closer to your heart, nearer to what you really want, in line with who you really are!
Doreen Ritchie, MSc.,BSC.(Hons), TEFL, QQI6. 26/02/21