International Women’s Day 2022 is ambitious in calling for a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotyping and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equal, and inclusive, where difference is valued and celebrated. It also calls for collective action in forging women’s equality and breaking the bias. To be upfront, based on my lived experience as a black woman, I cannot even imagine this kind of existence. However, I feel a first step in promoting gender equality is recognising and respecting how intersectionality defines us all as individuals. I say this because attitudes towards race significantly increases the challenges facing women of colour. The alarming plight of women of colour fleeing the conflict in Ukraine is just one example.
As women, we can and must do better in promoting gender equality, but I feel this requires setting the right example within our own gender group. Whilst aspiring to a gender equal world, the inequalities amongst women; where these stem from and how they can be tackled should be a primary consideration. Progress can only be achieved by acquiring the prerequisite knowledge to feel less discomfort and more enlightened when dealing with inequality.
To gain a better insight into the relationship dynamics between women of colour and white women, I suggest White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad. Personally, I found this book illuminating. Living While Black by Guilaine Kinouani, is very accessible in discussing the deeply damaging impact of institutional racism. The systematic devaluation of women of colour which deepens inequality is something I have personally encountered in the workplace. Ain’t I a Woman by Bell Hooks, digs deeper into the history of certain narratives and perceptions about black women which contribute to conscious and unconscious biases. This is an intense, but necessary book for those interested in understanding the root causes of their behaviours and attitudes towards women of colour. Hood Feminism: Notes for the women white feminist forgot by Mikki Kendall also articulates these issues well. These are just a few books I read in the last year, but my point is that with the extensive body of literature available, there is no excuse for ignorance.
Fundamentally, women of colour normally struggle to attract empathy and compassion from others, let alone equality, because they are considered capable of coping with the worst possible treatment. Mental, physical and emotional stresses are largely downplayed or ignored. But women of colour do have agency to decide what they are prepared to tolerate from others and have found effective ways to support and encourage each other in defending their rights and dignity in both personal and professional spaces. On this basis, I was able to fight back and win my Employment Tribunal case against racial discrimination in the workplace. Demanding accountability is where gender equality starts for many women of colour.
Women of colour are naturally progressive agents and transformational leaders. They are not static, but are continuously evolving to overcome various barriers and aggressions that come their way. They care less about what others think about them and more about what they think of themselves. Women of colour are doing the work and for many of us the only way is up… But some others are lagging far behind in this agenda, because they are not prepared to educate themselves about the negative impacts of the biases and inequalities they profess to care about and indeed their own actions in deepening such inequalities. Quite frankly, I am tired of performative gestures and uninformed conversations about promoting gender equality. This agenda requires a psychological deep dive and commitment to certain actions on an individual basis. Breaking the bias must lift all women, not just some, to create better pathways for future generations to achieve the gender equal existence that some of us today cannot even imagine.