System change is critical for gender equality and equity: IWD 2023

Every year there is a theme for international women’s Day, this year the UN’s theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” and International Women’s Day’s theme is “Embrace Equity”. Both themes are for more access and control of women to resources. While both these themes and previous years’ themes are crucial for women’s empowerment and gender equality, what is crucial is “Systems Change[1]”. We are always reminded that Women’s Day was established to commemorate women’s labor movement protests.

Recently I have been reading articles on how women in leadership positions are leaving their jobs in huge numbers. One of those studies was by Women of Influence’s The Tallest Poppy 2023 study where they interviewed 4,710 respondents – mostly women – across 103 countries, conducted between Jan. 9 and Feb. 10, 2023, and found nearly nine in 10 (86.6 percent) working women have experienced “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – where people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down because of their achievements or success. and McKinsey & Company’s study on Women in the Workplace which is a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America termed the large exodus of women in a leadership positions as “The Great Breakup”.

The study conducted by Prof. Soledad Prillaman, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Stanford University showed that in Nepal while comparing women candidates between recent local and federal election, 82% of women candidates are found to be opting out of politics. She attributed this to the scarcity of financial and knowledge resources, and limited networking opportunities.

What is evident is that focusing on women’s leadership and empowerment is not sufficient for sustained systems change. Without systems change, there is a lot of pressure on individuals to make changes which can lead to frustrations and burnout. Therefore, institutional change and addressing gender issues in the governance of every level of the institution is critical for sustained gender equality and equity. Simultaneously, self-realization and reflection of individual behavior for gender equality and equity are necessary. Women’s leadership and empowerment is necessary but not sufficient for gender equality and equity. System Change is essential.

[1] According to Catalyst2030, system change is confronting the root causes of issues (rather than symptoms) by transforming structures, customs, mindsets, power dynamics, and policies, and by strengthening collective power through the active collaboration of diverse people and organizations.

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