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Gender equality begins at home

Gender equality begins at home

Gender inequality has been a pervasive issue across the world for centuries, and Nepal is no exception. While significant strides have been made in recent years to empower women in the professional world, there remains a glaring disconnect between advocating for gender equality in public spaces and the reality of gender roles within home. Nepal, like many other societies, faces a paradox where women who advocate for gender equality at work often find themselves subjected to traditional gender roles at home. This dichotomy not only undermines their efforts but also perpetuates the cycle of gender inequality. Women continue to face societal pressures to conform to traditional gender norms, despite their achievements in various professional spheres. It is high time we align our actions with our words and truly address gender inequality at its core.

In recent years, Nepal has witnessed an encouraging shift toward gender equality in professional environments. Female participation in panels and conferences has increased, enabling diverse perspectives that were once underrepresented. The appointment of female leaders in organizations has increased, marking progress toward breaking the glass ceiling and providing women with opportunities to lead and thrive in previously male-dominated sectors. Furthermore, the rise of gender specialists and activists has led to more discussions around gender dynamics in the workplace, raising awareness of the issues women face and creating spaces to dismantle patriarchal systems. This has led to a more inclusive environment where women can voice their concerns and aspirations freely.

The importance of fostering gender equality at home cannot be overstated. Charity begins at home, so does gender equality. If women themselves are not treated equally within their families, it sends mixed signals and perpetuates a culture where equality is merely a façade. The burden of managing both a successful career and fulfilling traditional roles can be overwhelming for women, and it hinders their ability to fully participate in public life.

Though social norms may be evolving, many married women, even those who have achieved success in their careers find themselves facing societal expectations to be the ‘ideal wife,’ ‘obedient daughter-in-law,’ and ‘dutiful mother.’ Being unmarried by choice is also a challenge for women who become the focus of gossip and sexual harassment. These ingrained expectations place a heavy burden on women, potentially stifling their personal growth and perpetuating the cycle of gender inequality. But men too face pressure to marry and though they enjoy more freedom the pressure of being the breadwinner can also stifle their personal ambitions.

Many women who feel empowered and confident, advocating for themselves and fellow women, face a reality where traditional gender norms dominate their domestic life when they return home. This dissonance between their professional and personal lives reflects the underlying issue we need to address: Gender equality must be an all-encompassing ideology rather than just a professional front.

It is time to bridge the gap between advocating for gender equality in public and private spheres. Encouraging female participation in the professional world is just the beginning. To truly practice what we preach, we need to address the root causes of gender inequality, which are often deeply embedded in cultural norms and beliefs.#

To challenge traditional gender roles, education and awareness are vital. How can girls develop confidence in schools or boys change their behavior, when patriarchal and stereotypical messages continue to be disseminated?  By definition, patriarchy is a system where powerful older men control women as well as younger men (sons, brothers, men from lower castes). Overcoming these challenges involves not only revising textbooks to eliminate gender biases but also implementing comprehensive awareness programs that promote gender equality in schools. By incorporating inclusive education strategies and instilling a sense of empowerment, schools can play a pivotal role in nurturing the self-confidence of girls and help boys develop a different masculinity, paving the way for a more egalitarian and empowered generation.

Breaking away from traditional gender roles starts within the family. Parents should encourage their children, regardless of gender, to pursue their passions and interests. It is challenging for girls to pursue their dreams, when they are subjected to humiliating practices like chaupadi, which is prevalent in Western Nepal, but also practiced in milder forms in urban middle class in Kathmandu.

Both men and women should be encouraged to take equal responsibility for domestic duties and childcare. This division of household chores based on availability rather than gender is a progressive step toward achieving true gender equality at home. Why do girls help their mothers in household chores when boys play sports in the street? Why do women prepare breakfast in the morning, while men indulge in fitness and sports at the same time? When men share the responsibilities of running a household, women can focus on their professional aspirations without compromising their personal lives. This not only empowers women, sets an example for the next generation, but also helps fathers and husbands to challenge ingrained gender norms. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Men must be active allies in the fight for equality. By challenging toxic masculinity and supporting gender equality initiatives, men can help reshape societal norms and create a more inclusive environment for everyone.

Nepal has made commendable progress in promoting gender equality in the professional world, with more women breaking barriers and assuming leadership roles. Despite positive changes in professional settings, it is essential to acknowledge that progress remains incomplete if women's identity in the household continues to be limited by constraining gender norms. However, for true gender equality to be achieved, we must challenge the traditional gender roles that persist within our own homes. By educating and empowering both men and women to break free from restrictive norms, we can ensure that our actions align with our words and build a more equitable and inclusive society for all. It is only when women and men experience gender equality within their homes that the fight for gender equality in the professional world gains true momentum. Only when we practice what we preach, both in public and private spheres, will we achieve the lasting change we aspire to see in the world. This consistency in practice is necessary to break free from the cycle of inequality and foster a society where everyone is empowered to achieve their full potential, irrespective of their gender.