Gender parity or gender equity is central to the mission of Good Shepherd Sisters. Although our founder, St Mary Euphrasia, lived in the early 19th Century within a patriarchal church and society and without an understanding of gender justice as we know it, her words and writings show a woman grounded in teachings of equal respect for women and men.
As a Good Shepherd Sister I have always had a concern for young women whom society rejected or deemed at risk. More often than not these young women were victims of sexual and social exploitation. Our aim was to provide love and security and a path forward. When I was younger I too was blind to the fact that females were considered less than males. When studying in Boston, US (85-87) I became conscious of the patriarchy. When I returned to Australia my work focused on empowering females, surviving family violence and sexual abuse.
Gender parity remains important because male remains the norm. While not as pronounced as in some other parts of the world it still impacts upon females in ways that make it harder for women’s voice to be heard, for women to succeed, for women’s achievements to be recognized. The male norm is evident in the language we use e.g. female cricket player: woman doctor: women’s sport: female professor: woman priest. (the use of the adjective depicts the person as different from the norm.
In Australia, 45.6% of the total labour force are women yet on average women working F/T earn 17.8% less than men. 13.5% of directors in the ASX are women. The glass ceiling remains.
Gender injustice is far worse on a global scale. Women with limited resources have to work from an early age, have the highest number of children, earn the smallest amount of money and retire later from the labour market.
Each year at least 2 million girls between 5 and 10 years of age are sold and bought as sexual slaves. Every 2 hours a women is stalked, stoned, strangled or burnt alive to “save” the honour of the family. Every 7 minutes a woman is beaten or suffers psychological or physical aggression from her partner.
These statistics can be overwhelming. However, I’m a great believer in the concept of critical mass.
That is, when enough individuals change attitudes or behaviour, a tipping point is reached and change generates its own momentum.
It’s the one extra snowflake that causes the branch to bend under the weight of snow. It’s the one drop of water that makes a waterfall. However, neither the snowflake nor the water drop would have had any impact if there had not been millions there before them.
The work we do in building individual worth and dignity is like the snow falling – it does not make a lot of noise, it may not seem weighty but over time it is very powerful.
A new generation is learning that all people are created equal and deserve equal rights. Young people are learning that bullying, homophobia and sex-based harassment are violent behaviours with no respect for the person. One of the legacies of St Mary Euphrasia is that when we are dealing with disadvantage/ exploitation/injustice we need to take the long view. Working for gender parity means being there for the long haul.