Women shackled by stereotypes, gender imbalance in decision making


A team of three businesspeople working together on a project. [Getty Images]


Another Mother’s Day is here, and there is not much to write home about on how we treat women in homes, workplaces and pretty much everywhere else.

It is the 21st century; we have talked about this for hundreds of years.

Some communities still hold the belief that women belong in the kitchen, and in positions other than those in which key decisions are made.

In workplaces, many women continue to suffer damaging stereotypes, one of the reasons that muffle their progress.

With the crucial role they play in society, women continue to lose out, especially in positions considered key in organisations.

The Economic Survey 2022 says women this year are expected to account for 79.7 per cent of the total number of caregivers. They handle most family responsibilities.

“Women who receive the benefits from the programme (Hunger Safety Net Programme) on behalf of the households are expected to increase by 75.3 per cent from 81,570 in 2020-21 to 142,967 in 2021-22 while their male counterparts are expected to increase by 36.2 per cent from 52,152 in 2020-21 to 71,057 in 2021-22,” the survey says.

“It is expected that in 2021-22, females receiving the benefits on behalf of households will account for 66.8 per cent of the total recipients.”

These are women who are in charge of households, doing everything for families; they are breadwinners. Still, their representation in places where key decisions are made is small.

Even in Kenya, despite the constitution requiring more equitable representation, women continue to suffer neglect, mostly driven by baseless stereotypes.

“In most key decision-making positions in the public sector, the two-third constitutional threshold on gender was not met,” says the Economic Survey.

“Positions in the executive where this was achieved was by Cabinet secretaries (33.3 per cent), chief executive officers of Constitutional Commissions (46.7 per cent), assistant county commissioners (34.7 per cent) and county executive committee members (33.3 per cent).”

A 2020 report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Empowering Women at Work - Company Policies and Practices for Gender Equality, identified the most crucial steps that needed to be taken to promote women in the workplace.

“The European Commission has adopted a Gender Equality Strategy 2020-25, which focuses on: ending gender-based violence, challenging gender stereotypes, closing gender gaps in the labour market, achieving equal participation across different sectors of the economy, addressing the gender pay and pension gaps, and closing the gender care gap and achieving gender balance in decision-making and in politics,” the report said.

In spite of this, many societies continue to treat women as if they are inferior beings.

It is the progression of stereotypes that has seen many women languish in poverty, with successive generations keen to hold onto beliefs that demean the roles and abilities of women.

ILO pointed out that stereotypes in advertisements had also affected women, placing them solidly in a zone that was limiting their growth.

“(The world should be committed) to end harmful gender-based stereotypes in advertising and outreach materials. An unstereotyped world is no longer only a social imperative, but a business one,” it said.

“Advertisements which portray women respectfully as progressive and modern, authentic and multi-dimensional helps advance gender equality, while improving customer perception and brand reputation.” 

The demon of sexual harassment also means that women continue to be mishandled at work, further complicating the battle to extricate them from tentacles of subjugation.

“Sexual harassment results in an unsafe and hostile work environment undermines equality at work and reinforces stereotypes about women’s abilities and aspirations,” the ILO report said.

Placing men in all the key decision-making roles also reinforces some stereotypes about women; that they cannot handle some of the responsibilities as men do.

This can only be eliminated by making sure that there is a balance in gender representation. “A male-dominated and hierarchical workplace culture poses risks, as do female-dominated occupations with gender stereotypical roles of care and service, in which women are viewed as subservient,” ILO said.

“Taking steps to increase gender diversity at all levels and address unequal power balances would help to reduce this vulnerability. These efforts will also involve engaging men as allies in proactive measures for equal gender representation.” 

An absence of women in some professions is likely to enhance stereotypes against them, ILO found, saying that women should be encouraged to take up opportunities in businesses the society might perceive to be a domain of men.

“The relative absence of women in jobs in these transformative fields may also risk perpetuating gender stereotypes.

“Therefore, government policies should encourage women to enter STEM fields and support them in developing skills sets and preparedness for success in this field, in particular focusing on reskilling programmes,” the report said.

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