#41 Target #5 Gender equality – something to be caught not taught

Image of UN goal 5
Image by United Nations

This Consequences Blog #41 is focusing on Target 5 of the Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) – Gender Equity, which has a strong emphasis on empowering women and girls. There is mass information regarding equality issues for women whether it be the ‘glass ceiling’ of pay scales in the corporate sector or the human trafficking issues raised by civil society or cases of gender bullying reported across public sector services such as the armed forces. None of these issues are singularly sector aligned nor are they exhaustive or aligned solely to geographic specific locations across the world.

Due to mass information around these inequality issues I am left asking a simple question – with all this available information and knowledge in existence why does gender inequality continue?

As a woman I feel well positioned and obliged to add my own opinions to find answers to this question.

To begin my exploration I noted a similarity of gender inequality with the competition paradox that I had deeply explored during my recent PhD research. Although my research was focused on the relationship tensions between top down policy influences on decision making at the local level there are similarities that can be described as a power imbalance.

To endeavor to answer the question around the predominance of gender inequality I have considered the issue of a power imbalance across the three important spheres of the ecosystem; economics; social; environmental

In economics the power imbalance and paradox of competition can be described where measures that are taken offer a competitive advantage but at the same time can lead to a nullification of any advantage. For example the expansion of retail trading hours and increased salary payments when set against dispersed shopping behaviour by consumers results in less profits thus a negative result from an economic perspective. In such examples the benefit measure is at an imbalance or a competing paradox. The consumer will find benefits in the increased shopping hours. The employee will find benefit in increased pay or may find inconvenience in the work hours. The employer will only find benefits if profits are increasing.

Extending the consideration to a social setting issues of power imbalance and particularly the competition paradox are at risk of taking away the focus from what is important. For example increasing activity that does not assist in fulfilling the particular vision or mission in hand will simply become a distraction. Even for social purpose organisations that are structured to drive gender equality the shift from purpose can actually become the problem. In cases where the focus of the organization gets lost in some form of power imbalance whether it be at Board Executive or staff level the organization becomes at risk of taking the point of focus away from the wicked issue at hand and into a priority that focuses on organization needs instead. An example of this in action is entrenched silo working with an emphasized competition paradox. I liken this to a beauty pageant mindset where the only people missing out are those being the end users. In this scenario there are no winners and the qualities of the social setting become reduced as results distorted.

In an environmental setting the power imbalance and competition paradox become most evident when financial gain becomes the key driver. Inequalities exist where risks of natural resources being depleted or damaged beyond return become less of a priority than financial gain. Much of this behaviour is riddled with short termism leaving generations of the future lumbered with responsibilities of these negative trending trajectories. Topics of power between the sexes will become further complex and are already being overtaken by debates around AI (Artificial Intelligence) and whether robots should have civic rights!

My enquiries have helped me become even more convinced that gender inequality is just one of many imbalances of power. This is where the Sustainability Development Goals play an extremely important role. Issues such as gender equality are now relevant at both an international and domestic level – the first time ever in the history of human kind! The reason is quite unfortunate as it means issues such as gender equality and the other 16 themes can no longer be ignored. Gender equality is now part of a shared world’s remit and by 2030 wouldn’t it be great that there was no need for this dialogue.

These thoughts lead me to think that maybe part of the answer to my question could be that in the 21st century the topic of gender equality is something to be ‘caught not taught’. At risk at drawing a very long and slightly unconnected bow I use the phrase ‘social licence’ to explain.

‘Imagine an intangible, unwritten and non-legally binding social contract whereby the community gives industry the right to conduct its business.’

I have drawn the long bow from a recent article why horse-racing in Australia needs a social licence to operate. In this Consequences Blog #41 I have no intentions of entering the debate around horse racing or equate this topic to gender equality issues but I do like the idea that something quite traditional can be extended.

This leads me to thinking what would a social licence around the Global Goal #5 and gender equality need to look like. The future begins with those who are going to create it and I fully endorse the recent survey completed by Plan and their survey on Australian Girls views on gender equality. The Dream Gap is a national survey of girls aged 10-to-17 years old. Plan international are working around the world to help make girls truly visible.

As part of the reports conclusion three very doable ‘caught’ recommendations have been proposed:

  1. Remove gendered school uniforms
  2. Ban sexist advertising and media
  3. Fight the workplace gender gap

If I go back to my original question why with such heightened awareness the issue of gender inequalities and power imbalances still exist I propose that the solution must be in everyday approaches. This is what I mean by using the phrase ‘caught’ behaviour being part of everyday actions. Instead of relying on the traditional ‘taught’ behaviours that often reinforce the same or behaviours, which, are no longer, fit for purpose.

By taking action on the three recommendations the ripple behaviour changes that would follow may simply be enough for this next generation of women to be finding this debate no longer a necessary one to have!

In this I find the topic of gender equality not only doable but as United Nations Goodwill ambassador Emma Watson in her #heshe launch clearly stated this is everyone’s action. It is in this ‘caught’ action that I see strong similarities and alignment with diffusing power imbalances and the competition paradox.

To this end my conclusion to my question is changing time calls for changing actions – gender equality will continue its slow progress unless actions are taken to shift the balance – let’s avoid creating another ‘taught’ competition paradox.




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