Opinion: Gender equality is not just a fight for women

Men must join the fight
Men must join the fight Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: On International Women's Day, I'm proud of the progress we have made both in New Zealand and on a global scale.

But we can and must do more.

Already, we have seen unprecedented global movement for women's rights, equality and justice.

Global marches and campaigns including #MeToo and #TimesUp were taken up throughout the world on issues ranging from sexual harassment and femicide, to equal pay and women's political representation.

This change that many women, including myself, are calling for should be supported by everyone. It’s not just for women - its change that will benefit everyone.

This week, an Iranian woman who publicly removed her veil in protest against Iran’s compulsory headscarf law was sentenced to two years in prison.

It is difficult to imagine something like that happening in New Zealand, but even in our forward-thinking country, women are experiencing extremes on a different level.

Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo, women are coming forward with their stories of sexual assault and harassment, and it shows that we too have a long way to go.

These movements are having an impact on our country and everyday lives. I feel both sad and hopeful as the essence of change slowly spills into New Zealand workplaces, homes, industries - and hopefully our hearts and minds.

I will come clean and say I used to have a pessimistic view about having children.

When I was a young girl, I didn't know that it was possible to be both a mother and be career driven. I wanted to be taken seriously in my chosen field but believed a woman would be expected to stay home once she had children.

And I was fearful - of bringing a child into a world I so badly wanted to protect them from. The thought of sexual harassment, sexism and inequality plagued me. I did not want to risk or subject my future children to any of it.

I have since learned that anything is possible when people are willing to change their perspective and the cultural norms around them.

To all the girls still growing up and to woman in the workplace or education - the time is now! Don’t be afraid to strive for more and speak up in every circumstance.  

It is possible to be a mother and have a career. Just look at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

For the mothers and fathers – teach your sons to respect and value women. Lead young men on a path that will see them come alongside the cause of gender equality, not fighting against it.

To the men who read this - be a symbol for gender equality. Be a role model for your children. Be part of the change and join the conversation. Equality is not just an issue for one gender. We are in this together.

More than 100 years on from women being given the right to vote, let's keep moving forwards.

Eleisha Foon is a reporter for the AM Show