Editor’s Note: Team Evident is primarily composed of women, and gender equality is a cause that is near and dear to our hearts. This post contains the reflections of Evident Project Manager Vic Diesta, who attended and was inspired by the #Women2020 Summit at Samsung Hall, SM Aura, on March 5, 2020.
Dreams and ambitions are two things that have always defined me. I always planned my life out, always had alternatives to my primary choices, and so I’ve always had an answer when I’m asked about my dreams and ambitions.
But I realized that as a woman, knowing what you want to do and being able to confidently talk about it is a privilege. This realization came when I heard Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles (Director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies) talk about how poor women often only dream for their families and not for themselves, and that they find it difficult to talk about what their individual dreams are.
At #Women2020 Summit, Dr. Nathalie Africa-Verceles (Director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies), shares how deeply rooted gender roles and norms affect poor women’s ambitions. Photo source: SPARK Philippines (Source)
Dr. Verceles mentioned that whenever she visits women in far-flung communities, she would always ask: ”Ano ho mga pangarap niyo sa buhay?” (“What are your aspirations in life?”). And the women would be quick to answer that they dream of getting their children through college, improving their relationship with their husband, and so on—all dreams for their family, and not for themselves. Whenever Dr. Verceles changed her question to: “Ano pong mga pangarap ninyo na para sa sarili ninyo lamang?” (“What are your aspirations for yourself?”), the women always struggled to answer.
A study conducted by US-based Psychiatrist Ana Fels revealed that although women can casually talk about a diverse range of topics, their energy decreases significantly when talking about ambition.
To begin with, women are uncomfortable calling themselves “ambitious” because for them, this “implies egotism, selfishness, self-aggrandizement, or the manipulative use of others for one’s own ends.” Similar to Dr. Africa-Verceles’ insight, Dr. Fels observed that women would often provide ambiguous and vague answers when asked about their dreams.
Interestingly, Dr. Fels also found that these women who provided indecisive answers about their ambitions turned out to have much clearer ambitions when they were significantly younger. More specifically, Dr. Fels found that their childhood dreams were grand, limitless, and unapologetic compared to the ones that they have now.
Clearly, there’s a gap there. Now, the question is: What made them feel that they can’t dream as boldly as they used to?Dr. Fels says there are two main reasons:
- When women dream boldly, society doesn’t give them enough moral and structural support.
- When they grow older, society allows them to be ambitious, if and only if they’ve already satisfied their family’s needs. This bias that we have against women seems so natural and intrinsically developed that we don’t even question it anymore. We either expect them to be great at handling their families (which means abandoning or downsizing career opportunities), or be great at work but still be great at everything else—like being great at everything is their sole responsibility.
What can we do to help women dream big again?
Encouraging young girls to dream and pursue it is great, and there’s no denying that women now have more opportunities to fulfill their dreams. Yet, these are not enough. Improving legal and workplace policies while also addressing harmful gender norms need to take place so these dreams can materialize. Here are some some steps we can take:
- Stop assigning genders to subject areas. Gender should never be a consideration in the fields that children prefer to pursue, whether it be in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, Arts, or Social Sciences. We need more projects that encourage and enable young girls to pursue the careers they desire without gender discrimination—like our very own STEMPower Our Girls project, which aimed to keep young girls interested in pursuing careers in STEM.
- Give equal pay for men and women doing similar jobs and having similar levels of professional experience. Globally, men still earn significantly more than their female counterparts. If they’re doing the same jobs and have the same professional experience, then there should be no reason the former is paid more than the latter.
- Enable women-friendly workplace policies at all levels. From hiring to retirement, women’s unique needs should be reflected in government and workplace policies to help them continue striving in their careers even if they start their own families.
The gender gap between men and women may have decreased among children to young adults, as the youth now have better chances of studying and landing a job. But it has now moved to a later part of their lives — the part where they are middle-aged adults struggling to maintain a career while trying to fit into society’s definition of what a “good” mother is.
It is at this time that we should start asking ourselves: If we’re allowing women and girls to gain access to opportunities previously unavailable to them without lightening the burden of their responsibilities in the household, are we really empowering them? Or are we just giving them a false sense of empowerment?
If we are to genuinely support women, we should make sure they have an enabling environment not only at work, but also in their homes, because while women are undoubtedly capable of excelling in both areas, they can only do so with the right support.
Photos by SPARK Philippines