Topic A: Take your seat at the table – women in the professional sphere
The fight for equal rights of women has been going on for centuries, but now it has come to a crucial plateau. Even though the status of women today is much improved in comparison to the past, and debates on gender roles and real equity are more prominent than ever, there is a persistent and seemingly unbridgeable gap between men and women in the workforce. Statistics show that the percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies has dropped to 4% in 2016 – only 21 of the 500 companies are led by women. Additionally, the participation of women in high politics has only reached about 23% on a global level, with large differences between specific countries.
The challenges women face in the professional sphere cannot be considered in a vacuum from those in the private realm. The deeply rooted gender inequality within families and nurture processes, within culture attitudes about ‘gender roles’, and within psychological mechanisms of prejudice serves to hold women back from assuming an equal role in society. Along with the artificially constructed leadership ambition gap, women who are ambitious are generally perceived as ‘bossy’, ‘arrogant’, ‘cold’ or ‘too focused on their career’. Their voices and opinions also tend to be neglected, as they are deemed unqualified in comparison to men. As a consequence, many women shy away from opportunities even when they are offered a seat at the table.
All of these external and internal factors are interwoven into the complex web, that is keeping the emancipation process of women from taking off. The time has come that we tackle gender inequality from a different angle. We must shift the narrative away from the question of how society and men should treat women and focus on the initiative of women themselves – on questions of self-reinforcement and self-empowerment.
A seat at the table cannot be given. It should be taken.
Topic B: India – the critical link between women’s empowerment and ending violence against women
With more than 34.000 officially reported cases of rape in 2015, India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. The violent status-quo with regard to women in India is unfortunately an ongoing issue, having been condemned by the United Nations and local activists in the past. Only a few years ago, the widely-reported gang rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in the Bangalore region prompted a strong international reaction and several protests took place to fight for better protection for women against sexual violence.
Five years later, not much has changed. Rape might be illegal in India but this does not include marital rape. As former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: “laws are necessary but are not enough”. Demonstrating in the streets is only the first step. It is pointless, she explains, to protest during the day and continue to serve your sons before your daughters at the dinner table. This only perpetuates the inequality system.
The issue of violence has deeper roots. Gender inequality, the sentiment of impunity, objectification of women, the cast system, wide-spread delays in the legal process, high legal fees and familial discouragement of incident reporting are only a few facets of the problem. Laws may change relatively easily, but mind-sets will not change overnight. Only structural changes in the familial and social spheres, coupled with safety measures, combatting impunity and enforcing the existing laws have the potential to improve the situation.
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