International Women's Day Featured

Balance for better, not just today but all year round.

by Sara Kaufman 07 March 2019

It’s all about balance. Balancing work and family life, balancing duties and leisure (where leisure also stands for cultural and educational activities), gender balance and, more literally, keeping your balance when you’re struggling to get to the office in time after having slept a total amount of twenty minutes last night because your child is teething, like myself. 

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I was taught in school that Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8th to remember a group of female workers who died in a factory during the industrial revolution. Only a few years ago I learned this was false: Women’s Day originates from a socialist congress held in Stuttgart in 1907, when women’s right to vote and the female condition in general were discussed amongst other matters. Women who claimed their rights more than a century ago have conveniently been converted into martyrs inside a factory. Today women no longer wish to be and to be perceived as martyrs. If Women’s Day used to be the day in which girls received some (stinky) mimosas and had a night out with their friends, compensating all the hard work that they did throughout the year, today they’d much rather do something for themselves in terms of social rights and know that men –at least the decent ones- are ready to back them up. This year there are several calls to action, inviting women (and men) to reflect on gender inequality and do something about it. First of all, a huge international strike, during which all women are invited to abstain from work – be it a paid office job or an unpaid job as family caregiver - for a full day. Such a large-scale event is extremely empowering, as well as allowing all women from all over the world to feel united as one: no matter which are your specific reasons, as a woman you can be part of a massive group which has your interests at heart. Naturally the invite is extended to men as well since, as Gloria Steinem (world-renowned feminist and activist) once explained, "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights".

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About keeping your balance while going to work after a night spent at your teething child’s besides, this is clearly only one of the multiple reasons which might lead a woman to “lose her balance”: violence, sexism, a lack of social security, less opportunities then men, patriarchal politics… Gender unbalance is a fact and it is time to face it. The 2019 #BalanceforBetter campaign provides a unified direction to guide continuous collective action. It is not a women’s issue, but a collective one and the responsibility for driving a gender-balanced world is shared. Everyone is invited to post on social media their #BalanceforBetter pose – with their hands out. Once again, the empowering chance to feel part of a group, to be involved with something so important as our future as individuals and not just as women.

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If we look at the bright side of things, we could all cheer for the fact that these issues are finally being considered as such. Until not long ago, for example, balancing a family and a career was not remotely being discussed, by rights it wasn’t even considered a matter. Although women did work, they either stopped bang the moment they got pregnant or - if they couldn’t – they delegated the care of their kids to a multiple variety of nurses, religious authorities, nannies, neighbours etc. To be fair, men also did not get many chances to balance work and family: parenting simply wasn’t something in which they were supposed to be involved, besides the occasional show of authority. So yes, things have changed and for the better. But is it enough? How many women are still forced to chose between having kids and having a career? And what does the life of those women who chose to have both look like? I can tell from personal experience: an exhausting, messy, emotional, roller coaster. An endless struggle between what you want to do and your non-existent rights. On the other hand, though, what exactly am I doing wrong? What are we doing wrong? We have a child and, at the same time, we work and pay taxes. Why is this still so complicated in 2019? On top of this, I am one of those lucky women who has a partner which does his fair share: a man who considers housework among his duties and who is happy to care for our child at any given time (sometimes better than I do, proving the fact that childcare is not necessarily just a woman’s thing). My partner also happens to be the only father I know who took a long parental leave to look after our child when I went back to work. If more and more men are starting to claim the right to be involved in their children’s upbringing, including changing diapers, how many men are actually willing to take time of work in order to do this? Moreover, how many of them would actually consider giving up their job to do it fulltime? 

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Unsurprisingly, parenthood is still one of the main causes of the gender gap. Women will eventually have a child, won’t they? So why hire them in the first place? Why should they be managers? Why should they manage men? And, above all, why should they be paid like men? Even if they do come back to work after maternity leave they will most certainly be much too involved with their kids to work properly. No need to say that this is ridiculous. First of all, not every woman is going to be a mother and assuming that she will just because she has a womb is already sexist. Second of all the natural consequences of such a widespread decision like becoming a mother should be all about giving women the best conditions to balance (here it goes again) childcare and career, but this somehow sounds inconvenient for most companies and for most countries, so inconvenient that virtually cutting half of the world from the payroll sounds more doable. What if women got paid the same as men in order to be able to afford a babysitter if they did chose to have a baby? What if parental leave was compulsory also for men in order to give them a real chance to experience their kids, and women exactly the same opportunities as their male counterparts? Is it really impossible because of economical/social reasons or has it perhaps got to do with preconceptions?

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Balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive. Everyone has a part to play - all the time, everywhere. This year, for International Women’s Day, join forces with the rest of the world, and celebrate a more balanced future for everyone.

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