Do women have to wait until they're 81 to be CEO?
Just days before the International Women's Day, the United Nations Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka shared yet another mind blowing reality: If a girl is born today, at this very moment, she will have to wait to be an 81-year old grandmother before she could have the same chance as that of a man to be a chief executive officer of a company.
In addition, she will have to wait until she's 50 years old to have an equal chance to lead a country.
As absurd as it may sound, this is the possible scenario each girl will be facing as soon as they leave the safety and comfort of their homes and their schools.
I just want to paint a clearer picture of what's out there.
In developing countries like the Philippines, adult literacy rate is 75% and 86% for women and men, respectively. The global average is 80% for female and 89% for male. Here we see a gender gap not only in developing countries but in the global average as well.
In the political arena, according to UN Women, the global average of the percentage of women in parliament doubled in the last 20 years. However, this only translates into 22% of women in parliament today. In terms of employment, the world's women who are in paid wages and salary employment increased from 40% in the 1990s to at least 50% today. This is with a caveat – women earn 10-30% less than men for the same work. Though this is based on a study of only 83 countries, this speaks a lot about the employment situation of women. Additionally, 25 women CEOs lead Fortune 500 companies today compared to only 1 in 1998.
Political leadership has improved in the Philippines, hasn't it? Seventy-nine of the 292 representatives in the Lower House are women. This translates to 27% of seats held by female representatives. In the Upper House, 6 out of the 24 senators are women, which means 25% of the members of senate are women.
Compare with the global target of 50-50 by 2030, there is still a lot of work to be done, one of which is to encourage young women to be leaders.
In 2014, 1.73 million young women are enrolled in colleges and universities. These young women who graduated last year constitute 53% of the college graduates.
In 2013, 5.75 million women ages 15-30 are in the workforce, 12.5% of women ages 15-29 own a house, 8.3% own a land, and 17,259 are living/working overseas. Meanwhile, there are roughly 8.2 million young women registered voters.
What does all the figures mean? It simply means, in terms of quantity, each young woman matters. This is an important step in valuing women's potentials. Start with recognizing their number.
Remember, in the struggle for gender equality, women are not alone.
Part of a future
Among the 1.73 million college and university students, I believe I am not the only one concerned with gender inequality. Despite the number of people working on achieving equality, it doesn't mean that others are not needed anymore.
What I suggest is for everyone to work together, work in teams to be able to achieve your goal. Be surrounded by people who inspire and motivate you to be better, by people who share the same passion in service and by people who believe in the principles you believe in.
We are fortunate we enjoy the status and freedom we have today. Use that to help others see what we can see, feel what we feel, and listen to what we can hear.
I can say that the progress in narrowing the gender gap in education, health, political leadership, economic status, human rights, and in every important aspect of life should not be set aside. Women have worked hard for us to be in a relatively comfortable and free place and position.
These are the Filipino women who step up for gender equality, from former Miriam College President Patricia Licuanan, Professor Aurora De Dios, Ambassador Rosario Manalo, Peace Presidential Adviser Teresita Deles to Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani. We should remember their faces and names because they were the women who dared to speak up of the invisible at a time when women's rights and freedom were limited.
Now women gained so much compared to what they have 20 years ago. We should not take this for granted. Do not settle for less if you know you deserve more. Let us work for gender equality and be part of the first generation who could probably achieve gender parity and gender equality.
Situating the LGBT
I further challenge you to work not just for women's rights but also for all rights, and that includes the rights of LGBTs.
In 1995, Hilary Clinton said that women's rights are human rights. Recently, she was quoted for saying "gay rights are human rights" and I proudly agree.
LGBT rights are not special rights as what others would argue but instead they are human rights vehemently denied to members of the LGBT community. Therefore, leaders must broaden their understanding of gender equality to include all genders. When we start working towards equality, do not marginalize nor set others aside. Be inclusive, open and respectful.
As an ally of the women's movement, I encourage you to support your LGBT friends, family, classmates, teachers, and neighbors by being our ally.
Homosexuality is not a mental illness nor a deviant behavior. It is a normal sexual variation and identity. If you think homosexuality is a sin, I respect your belief. But this does not give you the right to deprive us of our rights. If you think being transgender is going against the natural, I sincerely respect your opinion. But again, such opinion does not permit you to discriminate us.
The only solution to hate is love, the only cure to discrimination is openness and knowledge. As leaders, you have the ability to influence policy and society.
Gender as an asset
Ever since I started school, I knew others considered me different. Sometimes, it would hurt because others would treat me as if I had some kind of communicable disease or something. But most of the time, I considered being different an asset.
My gender expression was what made me stand out of a crowd. My teachers and classmates often remembered me because I had a trademark, my walk and how I talk. This gave me the confidence to continue and even to work harder.
My gender, my being unique, helped me pursue my goals and vision. Because of this life situation, I was conditioned to always take a different path, no matter how hard it may be. My coping mechanism was not to simply belong or be part of the 'in' things, but instead my strategy was to create new things out of those 'in' things.
This is why I don't mind being left behind, because in my world I am not being left behind, I am taking a different and a more advance path.
This is what I want to share to you, don't just conform to what others expect of you or dictate to you. Try to be unique, define your own leadership and remember that your gender might play an important role along the way. - Rappler.com
Ko Rej is the founder and director of LEAP of the Youth, a youth-serving organization in Marikina City.
Graphic from Shutterstock.