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Jakarta Post

Men should stand up against gender inequality, for love

  • Kharishar Kahfi
    Kharishar Kahfi

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, March 11, 2020   /   07:56 am
Men should stand up against gender inequality, for love Women activists from various organizations held a long march in the Thamrin area, Jakarta, Sunday, 8/3/2020. They demanded that the government resolve cases of violence against women, cancel the draft laws that were discriminatory, not gender related, violate rights, and pass bills on eliminating sexual violence. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

People often like to share their personal stories with me, including a woman in her mid-50s.

More than once she has conveyed her life story about how she always wanted to restart her career after giving birth to her first son.

“I told my husband that I always wanted to work, even just as an office employee in Jakarta,” she told me. “However, he always said, ‘Why do you want to work? Will your paycheck be enough for you to buy your lipstick?’”

She resumed her story by saying that since then, she had become a stay-at-home mother, “who takes care of her two sons and helps them to succeed later in their lives.”

That woman is, in fact, my mother. 

A change in favor of women is possible. As my father grows older, it seems that he is eventually realizing that women like my mother also have wishes to pursue their own dreams and passions. 

My father now does his best to support his wife to become a well-known shoemaker! On his days off he sometimes takes her to a neighboring town for a hand crochet workshop. 

Read also: In ASEAN, gender equality still very much a 'tick-the-box' issue

As Democratic Party politician Elizabeth Warren put it, “the doors of opportunity” did not open for my mother simply because men did not allow them to.

My mother’s story breaks my heart. I believe women should have the equal opportunity to live their lives as they wish, like men.

Many young people today say, “I’m happy as long as you are happy.” While I do not see myself as a feminist, the term has inspired me to take part in the fight to break open the doors of opportunity to allow my beloved women to feel happy and to flourish as they wish.

And I believe it is never too late for me, as well as other boys and men, to join this fight.

According to the latest estimates by the World Bank, in 2018 females made up about 47 percent of the world’s total population; meaning, around 3.7 billion women and girls live on the planet.

Many face similar struggles in shaping their own lives and futures, blocked by those doors of opportunity that will not open up for them.

Things might be brighter now compared to previous eras, although improvements are still urgently needed. In the workforce, the World Bank and the International Labor Organization reported in 2018 that around 48 percent of women worked in various sectors. 

While the number looks fairly good, the figure has actually dropped from 51 percent in 2005. In Indonesia, women’s workforce participation has stagnated in the last two decades at around 50 percent, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS).

Furthermore, women are still constrained from holding corporate middle- to top-level positions. According to 2018 data from the McKinsey Global Institute, Indonesia is among the countries with the lowest ratio of women to men in managerial level positions and higher, with only 30 women holding positions of power to every 100 men.

I still do not understand why men, who dominate office workplaces, are still afraid to appoint women to top positions, when increased women leadership can only have a good influence on fellow workers. 

For example, The Jakarta Post’s newsroom is comprised of more women than men, with more women in the top positions. 

While we are expected to do our best, my female superiors always care about our well-being. For example, they remind us not to work during our holidays, for our physical and mental health. That, I suppose, is rare in newsrooms around the world, let alone in Indonesia.

Read also: Catalyzing change for gender equality

With more awareness of inequality, there has never been a better time for men to stand side by side with women to break open those doors of opportunity together.

The fight actually starts with us men admitting we are more privileged than our female counterparts. After that, comes the hardest part: giving up some privileges to allow women to have chances to flourish.

Changes will be impossible if men never give up their privileges for women’s sake. In the workplace, for example, men should start sharing workshop and training opportunities with their women coworkers, to better enable a level playing field for skill improvement and promotion.

I might be a hypocrite to suggest this step, as I still want to use those privileges for my personal development. But I am trying my best to help my female coworkers gain equal opportunities.

Contrary to many accusations, women having successful careers do  not seem to cause families to break apart, as shown by my female superiors at the Post. Their children seem to be just like those of other families with stay-at-home moms; maybe their husbands don’t demand to be “served” by their wives, as our traditions demand, and are willing to do domestic chores.

I love my mother, and am romantically involved with a hard-working and inspiring woman, whom I see as my partner. My mother might not be around when the global movement for gender equality and equity succeeds. However, it is not too late for me to join in breaking down those barriers, as it would be the utmost expressions of love for these two women.

This is because happiness brought about by equality is not only about what the women we love should do with their lives, but also about what we men can do to help them live a fulfilling and happy life.