The Canadian Human Rights Museum looks like a giant warrior helmet. Knowing women have been fighting for gender parity, I can’t think of a better place to consider the question of gender balance as I stand basking in the bright sunlight at the top of the museum’s glass-enclosed sphere.
My bird’s eye view of Winnipeg and “The Forks” area, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet, was an important battleground for Canada’s Indigenous and Aboriginal people. The landscape is a sharp contrast to the giant machinery inside the museum, where massive wheels used to operate the central elevator whisk visitors up to the 8th floor lookout. The top floor is called the Tower of Hope to symbolize the progress achieved in the human rights journey from darkness to light.
Despite the global advancements that women have made towards greater gender parity, I believe we’re at a proverbial “fork in the road.” New technological opportunities and more advanced communication systems have created broader and deeper ways for us to access and promote equality. The ability to re-imagine and navigate the complex labyrinth of our relationships, inter-connectivity and global strategies has never been more transparent and more personal.
Global issues like human overpopulation, food scarcity, dwindling natural resources and the ramifications of other complex issues like climate change and global warfare pose exponential threats to our survival. Frankly, we no longer have the luxury of gender discrimination if we want to find real solutions to these difficult problems.
In the pursuit of gender balance, we are stuck on the goal of achieving 50/50 parity among men and women. While quotas aren’t inherently bad, they’re implementation is complicated and slow to effect change. These difficulties are manifest in America’s continuous attempts to introduce Equal Rights Amendment legislation to guarantee women’s rights and protections by law. This is a prime example of the walls that persist. It’s been nearly 100 years and we’ve yet to get it passed with little hope in sight. This failure is in sharp contrast to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms from 1982. It is the most visible part of the Canadian Constitution that enshrines individual rights and freedoms including gender equality and Aboriginal rights.
It’s time to re-frame the 50/50 paradigm and set our sights on the bigger picture – the daunting issues of our modern age and how our shared talents and benefits present the best argument for building gender balance. I believe couple therapy is the best answer for creating a new discussion with innovative solutions for difficult problems. This type of therapy provides an interesting metaphor for how to re-frame the gender balance issue.
In therapy sessions, qualified therapists and experts quoted in World Psychology agree that most couples seek help because their relationship lacks a desired 50/50 status. Essentially, one or both partners want to change the other’s behavior and believe that if each half could contribute a 50% effort, problems would be resolved. But this approach is never successful because it assumes that fixing one side will improve the overall relationship. Therapists agree this is a faulty assumption.
Anyone with experience in a relationship understands this cure-all is naive. It’s helpful to know where each party stands – their perceptions and assumptions about what’s not working. The elephant in the room is that there are actually three parties in the relationship, not two. This third party is the overall needs of the relationship itself, and that’s the place to start.
Just ask Emmy-nominated filmmaker and founder of “The Webby Awards,” Tiffany Shlain, and her team behind “Let it Ripple Film Studio.” Shlain isn’t a marriage therapist, but her documentary film, “50/50 of Women + Power,” provides an ideal “shrink tank” for analyzing how to foster gender balance by focusing on global prosperity. You can click here to watch the YouTube: https://youtu.be/1zg_8lGAtjI.
Shlain argues that a gender-balanced world in all sectors provides optimal benefits across politics, culture, home, identity and economy. But it’s her focus on the shared outcomes that hits home. Shlain is encouraging people and organizations around the world to do three things on May 10th : share her 20 minute film “50/50”, participate in a 24 hour livecast Q & A, and engage in discussions supported by the free guides provided online at: Www.50-50Day.org The film is translated in six languages (Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi and Portuguese) and the
“Getting to 50/50” chart provides a detailed breakdown of stated goals. Focusing on these stated outcomes provides a fresh perspective on gender imbalances and a positive way to motivate change.
The film walks us through a long line of historical women from Hatshepsut in Egypt 1478 B.C. to 20th century Presidents and Prime Ministers, showcasing the many periods where women ruled and influenced the course of history. Their effect on social progress is inspiring and even surprising, as most women interviewed on the street by Shlain had never heard of these accomplished women. Many of them have been wiped from the history books usually written by men, but their legacy continues to empower the voices of women who have followed after them.
The earliest societies around many parts of the world were egalitarian and respected the rights of all genders. In some, women dominated as rulers, shamans and powerful leaders. This was apparent in the Basket Theater of the Canadian Human Rights Museum, where visitors have an opportunity to sit under a huge screen. Stories of Canada’s Indigenous people and their spiritual connection to the earth is dependent on women who serve their people in positions of power and authority.
While there have been waves of gender balance round the world, Shlain admits that real social change takes time. Her effort to unite people in common pursuits that help solve social issues steps outside gender confines and makes good sense. It’s a refreshing approach that celebrates the abundance of women and the purpose of WomanScape. Clips like that of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answering a reporter’s question about why he had made the first gender-balanced federal cabinet, make a dramatic statement that have nothing to do with numbers. Trudeau’s simple response, “Because it’s 2015,” captivated the world and helped to suggest gender balance was just common sense.
When Trudeau appointed Jody Wilson-Raybould, a lawyer and former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, as the new attorney general and justice minister, he also moved the dial beyond gender quotas and binaries to cultural outcomes. Ms. Wilson-Raybould is the first aboriginal person to hold the post. Power is about progress, success, compassion and leadership, and having diversity of thought, experience, and skillsets will bring a better measure of successful problem solving.
As I walked back down through the museum exhibits, running my hands across the smooth surface of the alabaster handrails that connect the various galleries, I hope the word “women” will eventually be erased from all discussions about human rights. Without a gender distinction, we can focus on the word “human” and rights will just be about people.
Until that happens, the world will continue to struggle with slow improvements in gender balance. Our efforts to solve the escalating tensions and issues that threaten our global security will lag behind, unless women and men work together. Until then, people like the women in Cameroon who produce 80% of the food will lose their land to male relatives, who control all of the land rights when a father or husband dies. If women’s rights were protected here, families wouldn’t be left in poverty and household incomes would increase. This cumulative effect would inevitably help to reduce the staggering hunger faced by more than 100 million starving people in our world.