YourVoice+Achieving True Gender Equality

Gisela Hansen, clinical psychologist, speaks of the YourVoice+ initiative launched by Dianova to highlights the many obstacles that prevent women’s access to equality

Gender equality

“At an early age you are already very clear on what is expected of you as a girl or a boy and what happens if you transgress the established norms: social penalty”. Gisela Hansen

Gisela Hansen, clinical psychologist, works in the area of gender and substance use in Dianova Spain. In addition, she is a researcher at the PSICOCLISA group of the Autonomous University of Barcelona which stresses the need for a gender perspective in the treatment of substance use disorders

What is the objective of YourVoice+?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has a vision of gender equality: a vision of a world “in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.”

The international campaign YourVoice+ has aimed to create a space for expression through social networks; to give visibility to opinions of individuals, institutions and companies alike, on the barriers which impede women from accessing education, equal pay, and better work and training opportunities, with the aim of highlighting the need for progress towards the 2030 Agenda’s vision for true gender equality.

Women who lead Spanish companies, such as Megan Kenna, Secretary General of Professional Women’s Network PWN Barcelona; Laura Fernandez, CEO and Co-founder of; Emily Holgate, Founder of Utterly Events & Smiling Barracuda; and Maria Arribas, CEO and Founder of getHERtalent have participated in the campaign, offering their opinions on the main barriers they have encountered in achieving equality of opportunity in the workplace and gender-balanced leadership.

They have also participated in promoting the campaign among Spanish institutions, such as the Network of companies with distinctive “Equality in Business” (Red DIE), and Portuguese institutions, such as the National Network of Social Responsibility in Organizations and the Forum of Organizations for Equality.

How does Dianova propose to address this situation?

Women’s empowerment is a prerequisite for comprehensive and sustainable national development. Women and girls make up half of the global population, and their access to quality education and participation in the labor market are closely linked to economic, social and cultural development. Read the full position paper

Since 2014, Dianova has been involved in the UN Women’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), organizing parallel events and presenting written statements to the Economic and Social Council of the UN on important issues, such as the “empowerment of rural women and girls”, “gender-based violence”, “autonomy for women”, “the feminization of poverty”, “the empowerment of women and girls through education”, among others.

This advocacy work has reminded decision-makers that gender-equality laws must be complied with and has allowed us to create alliances with the public and private sector, to involve women and girls in educational programs which can provide a path towards their empowerment.

The programs and projects developed by the Dianova Network’s members also highlight the need to act to promote autonomy for women on all levels. For example, the initiative “Prevention of School Violence” implemented by Dianova in Chile, in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior, seeks to improve coexistence in schools. The “Health and Wellbeing Networks for Adolescents, Youths and Their Families” project developed by Dianova in Nicaragua, with financial support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), aims, amongst other objectives, to reduce adolescent pregnancy. In Togo, the Association of Youth Committed to Humanitarian Action (known by its French acronym AJEAH) is developing an awareness program to promote the fight against the sexual exploitation of children. The Association of Women Active for the Protection of the Environment (known by its French acronym FAPE) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is developing a project aimed at reducing the number of early marriages and supporting women to achieve financial independence.

In Spain, where Dianova works in the field of Social Action, we publish a twice-yearly magazine, INFONOVA, about addictions, for national and international distribution. They 35th issue is just out, and is dedicated to Gender and addictions, with information from different fields to better understand the relation between these two concepts, and to contribute to education in the gender values needed in health and social care.

What are the main barriers to equality?

Gender barriers are the limitations, difficulties or obstacles that women perceive and/or experience in the process of vocational decision-making, access to employment, retention or promotion.

There are different types of barrier, and these interact, hindering true equality for women in the occupational and educational spheres. To provide some clarification, we can talk about behavioral barriers. In other words, those behaviors that perpetuate the traditional roles caused by processes of socialization and a patriarchal system; barriers linked to the social construct of gender, which will be demanded by the multiple roles and tasks assigned on the basis of gender, which are difficult (very difficult) to combine and which limit women’s use of their time. Also, the social and cultural barriers arising in response to the negative attitudes and low expectations concerning women in business and certain professional areas in particular; the assumption that they should perform other functions at the reproductive rather than productive level; the restrictions of access to certain employment sectors; the lack of family support; and even caregiving responsibilities.

Moreover, it is necessary to highlight educational barriers. On a global level, the greater incidence of female illiteracy persists, and education in patriarchal values transmits the constant (and perverse) message to girls that they have a natural inclination for caregiving. At the same time, this is an undervalued task and job orientation, skewed along gender lines (as is the case for STEM occupations and occupations in the field of carework).

The current scenario is the result of all of the above, combined with the fact that there are less occupational opportunities for women’s career development, the phenomenon of vertical and horizontal segregation, and the glass ceiling.

Time management also discriminates; women continue to assume the double working day as a solution to family logistics. The work-home dilemma results in high levels of stress and mental load, with direct consequences on women’s physical and mental health. Adult women are one of the biggest groups at risk of work-related exclusion.

Age is considered a barrier to professional development, specifically in terms of labor integration, or reintegration, and this difficulty is accentuated in the case of women. The overload of family tasks and responsibilities experienced by this group, combined with insufficient social services, multiplies inequality compared with the adult male group (Magdalena Suárez, 2004).

The temporary or permanent abandonment of profession to dedicate time to the home and motherhood should also be highlighted. This results in women having less economic resources and greater financial dependency, which limits personal decision-making in certain areas, not to mention the right, or lack of, to tiny pensions.

The feminization of poverty is another determining characteristic of our current situation. In the light of the precarious working conditions for women; temporality; higher incidence of unemployment; the economic divide in terms of salary; and discrimination in reaching positions of responsibility, let’s remember that poverty has a woman’s face.

Gender stereotypes

Models of masculinity or femininity are visible from a very early age, in both the family and educational environments enabling the construction of gender barriers

How do you feel that gender is addressed in the education system?

During the process of socialization, girls and boys assimilate the cultural trends of the societal context, conforming to gender identity and assuming the values, norms and behaviors that correspond to feminine or masculine characteristics, as marked by cultural patterns.

In other words, at an early age you are already very clear on what is expected of you as a girl or a boy, and what happens if you transgress the established norm: the social penalty. It is also true that transgression is not the same in both directions. If a girl plays football, she is strong, or if she dresses up as Spiderman it might be funny, although she will also be classed as atypical. Conversely, if a boy plays with dolls and dresses up as Elsa from Frozen, will it be as entertaining in the eyes of his family? In the boy’s case, it represents slipping a rung on the social ladder or a loss of privileges.

Models of masculinity or femininity are visible from a very early age, from nursery school, in both the family and educational environments. These cause the construction of gender barriers, which will subsequently affect the personal and professional development of girls and women. These models are rigid, restrictive, and have a negative impact on both girls and boys. Girls are attributed a natural talent for caring, tenderness and emotion, whilst determination, logic and guarding emotions, or at least not over-verbalizing their feelings, are attributed to boys. Both gender stereotypes are toxic. What happens is those things attributed to masculinity at some point provoke violence and the maintenance of privilege through the oppression of women.

The family is the primary environment in which gender differences become evident, and different expectations of masculine and feminine figures are reflected. Equally, the school acts as a fundamental element in the creation of gender identity, which encourages the perpetuation of traditional roles. It is a source of transmission of cultural values that maintain the permanency of boys’ and girls’ social difference; a context in which they are encouraged to fulfil their respective roles and not to disappoint social expectations.

Thanks to the rise of the feminist movement, which brought to the table the bases on which to construct a more equal society, questions of gender are heard in the corridors of schools and educational centers, although there is still a long way to go in day-to-day issues, for example: Educating boys in new masculinities; making them see that another model of a man, who relates emotionally and has caring responsibilities, is possible (and healthier); empowering girls to participate in decision-making, to be able to identify with strength and the characteristics typically attributed to boys, and that this is not a bad thing; including non-sexist language from daily chores to the design of materials designed; and putting aside the idea that the masculine neutral does not have any effect, given that it disregards half of the population. Moreover, it is necessary to consider lesson content through the filter of “violet glasses” (a reference to Gemma Lienas book on feminism and equality, meaning from a critical perspective on gender) and see if this is contributing to the perpetuation of sexist roles.

The education system is at a very early stage in terms of gender equality; significant curriculum content is needed to generate gender-consciousness, a critical spirit, and to produce substantial changes. Training the teaching body in gender perspectives is necessary, but this training should be experiential, allowing us to truly revise our attitude and how we can collaborate for change from our position. In the education system, there is a focus on the topic of gender-based violence, which causes great social alarm, but it escapes us that in the textbooks there are no female referents, they make up just a very small percentage; that at the end of year performances we differentiate the girls’ costumes from the boys’, just as we do for the characters they play; that football monopolizes 90% of the playground at break-time and the rest is relegated to the kids who don’t go in for that trend, and so on.

More and more women are reaching job positions directly, yet the glass ceiling still exists. How can it be avoided?

There is a direct link between the glass ceiling and the development of certain vital phases in women’s lives, as is the case with maternity. The patriarchal system survives, as although it is socially accepted that a woman is in paid employment, it seems that her project in life should include maternity and/or marriage, and that when the little ones arrive, it should be the mother who stays at home to raise them.

If this is not the case, certain gender stereotypes act negatively; making her understand that she did not successfully achieve the role of woman, wife and mother assigned to her by society, or a sense of guilt will emerge, for taking time away from the family in favor of her work. You are criticized if you don’t have children as you “are past your prime”, or if you “choose to stay at home to raise a family because “you are not very ambitious”. It seems that women’s decision-making is open to criticism in all areas.

The topic of “choosing” to care for the family is in quotation marks, as it is a trap disguised as a choice. Short maternity leaves, the wage gap, poor reconciliation policies, and the social pressure of caregiving responsibilities that fall to women, result in phenomena such as that 90% of requests for leave of absence and reduction of working hours are made by women, with the impact on working life that this brings.

To break the glass ceiling, the involvement of all parties is needed. We have to push for effective reconciliation measures so that maternity stops being a cause of career stagnation, or even abandonment, just as we should promote quotas in executive boards and decision-making posts; fair maternity and paternity leave, which allow joint responsibility in parenting, centered on the child’s needs; more flexible working days, removing unproductive time; incentives for gender diversity in businesses; and education on the change of traditional roles.

Where does the key to achieving true gender equality lie, in terms of education? Who does this responsibility fall on?

Male and female experts believe that the measures which should reverse this problem are mainly related to education in values; placing the responsibility not only on the family and educational institutions but also on businesses and the State. Therefore, it begins within the family, which is where vicarious learning takes place, learning through observation. If the family wishes to transmit these values of equality, the day-to-day set-up and everyday life must set an example of the equal distribution of housework, not perpetuate sexist roles or gender mandates. In other words, not imposing toys, types of clothing and narratives concerning the biological sex of the child.

Rather, conveying that there are alternative and varied models of men and women to those we are taught, and identifying female referents, filtered through the images they see and the stories they read. Today we can find literature for all ages from publishers who are turning traditional stories around, or proposing new stories that communicate to boys and girls that there are other ways of being and that these are fine too.

In terms of the educational and community sphere, schools also have a responsibility. As we have stated, the content they convey should be conceived from a gender perspective (currently only 7.5% of scientific and cultural referents that appear in Secondary Education textbooks are women). They should use non-sexist language; not perpetuate gender stereotypes in their activities and content; use inclusive discourse; carry out experiential training on gender perspectives; review and revise the content they transmit; not divide activities, costumes, and educational talks by the biological sex of the student body; and also import the good practice which is beginning to be carried out in numerous educational centers, which are already reworking the concept of equality in schools.

In regard to businesses and the State: real reconciliation measures; quotas; paternity/maternity leave that allows joint responsibility in productive and reproductive tasks; the protection of childhood and single parent families with real measures and aid, to guarantee equality of opportunity from a human rights perspective, are needed, given that true equality is a public health issue.

The gender gap in the STEM fields is very wide, why don’t girls opt for these subjects?

The reason for this phenomenon is quite clear: the type of socialization (what is expected of you according to your biological sex) that boys and girls experience continues to determine their inclination for one type of professional training over another. Their family environment, marketing and advertisement, social models, and the education that boys and girls receive, end up permeating gender self-esteem, and as a consequence, limiting decision-making in relation to training and profession. The female gender is associated with tasks which require emotional proximity and empathy (caregiving), and the masculine is linked to logic and reason, whereby the STEM fields match those masculine characteristics which live in the popular consciousness.

Thanks to recent studies, we know that boys and girls of around 6 years old aspire to the same professional careers, but at 13 they have already succumbed to gender stereotypes. The situation is cross-cutting in all countries and is not associated with the degree of development. Currently, women are underrepresented in the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Only 29% of researchers on a global level are women (UNESCO, 2014).

In the 2000-2010 period, the quota of women in traditionally masculine positions was reduced by 2 points (UN, 2015) and less than 4% of CEOs in the 500 most important companies globally are women (UN, 2015).

For more women to enter fields such as science and technology, a fundamental change in mentality is required; work legislating and creating measures which promote the participation and harnessing of female talent in these areas, as well as crediting companies that have staffing quotas, plans for equality and effective reconciliation measures.

Educational institutions have the responsibility and obligation to contribute; through positive action in training, reflection and dissemination, considered in their plans for equality, and by uprooting those unfair, unequal and exclusionary prejudices and stereotypes because, lets not forget, gender equality is, above all, a question of social justice. Initiatives such as, Inspiring Girls,, Girls in Tech and so on, work to make visible feminine referents in STEM areas, to and inspire future generations to make decisions on their education, throwing off the bias of gender mandates.