International Women’s Day 2021: #ChooseToChallenge

Hello woman! Wishing you a Happy International Women’s Day and hope you’re being celebrated in your own special way.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChoosetoChallenge, calling all women to challenge the inequality and gender bias that bind us.

Yet this year comes with its new set of physical and mental challenges, as the COVID-19 pandemic celebrates its 1-year birthday.

While the fight for equality takes a backseat, women have borne the brunt of the challenges COVID-19 has swung our way.

Women: Why is COVID-19 pandemic so hard?

For the working mother, the nightmare never ends while struggling to balance working from home with caring for their children as schools and daycares remained closed for months, leading to a higher rate of burnout. The designated stereotypical role of “women as sole caretakers” hasn’t sided favourably on working women either.

With job insecurity staring the working class dead in the eye, gender-based exploitation is highly likely with the cavernous wage gap compounding on pay cuts most employees have been subject to over the past year. Women seeking employment are also faced with heightened discrimination by being turned down or given a lower-paying position based on their gender.

Staying home doesn’t necessarily mean staying safe either when you’re stuck with an abusive partner or family member. Based on data gathered from the Women and Family Development Ministry and NGOs, the Talian Kasih hotline observed a 57% increase in distress calls up to 26th March 2020. Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) also saw a 14% spike in calls from March 18 to 31.

The inability to leave home and seek help gave abusers a vantage point to mentally, physically, and emotionally abuse female victims.

This deadly spike in domestic violence is not exclusive to Malaysia but multiple countries around the world, with the UN’s policy brief recording an upwards of 25% increase in countries with reporting systems.

For frontline workers who are mothers, living in constant fear of infecting their family at home has become a norm, especially those in healthcare. This includes female home service providers on our platform working on-site during the pandemic while continuously being faced with the subtle discrimination of “you’re a woman, what are you doing in this line of work?”

One perspective that now goes unnoticed is that the lack of foot traffic in public areas then due to WFH mandates opens the door wider for sexual harassment and assault towards women going to work.

Harassment cases aren’t as easy to report to local authorities as one would think. Women driving through roadblocks have reported cases of harassment by police officers themselves, some contacted via Whatsapp without consent after asking for their phone numbers (by law, you are not required to provide your contact number when stopped at a roadblock), while others have been asked to lift their blouse to avoid getting slapped with fines.

Women have even taken to social media to express their outrage against the justice system’s failure to protect and respect women. Since then, countless others have come forward with their stories but may not have been officially reported.

Just last April, police inspector Hazrul Hizham Ghazali was charged for abuse of power, rape, and outrage of modesty by abducting and raping two Mongolian women who were stopped at a roadblock in a nearby hotel. The case is still ongoing as one of the victim’s plans to file action soon.

Women still standing

Amidst all these additional obstacles on top of existing gender discrimination still strongly prevalent in society, women have continued to pull through and move forward. They have chosen to challenge every day.

An analysis conducted by 2 professors of economics, Uma Kambhapati and Supriya Garikipati, found that female-led countries handled the pandemic better than male-led administrations. Findings included that not only were virus infection rates significantly lower but fatality rates as well.

Leaders listed include New Zealand’s Jacinda Adern, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen.

It’s no news women in power received heavy yet baseless criticism throughout their tenure for being female, yet these women still remained standing and challenging. The same resilience can be seen in every woman challenging their situations, however big or small.

The fantastic news is that women and girls coming out of this pandemic are inevitably built with the hardiness and grit to navigate through hard times simply out of experience, as one of the many downtrodden communities rendered vulnerable by the pandemic.

They will choose to challenge every time.

Here at Recommend.my, we strongly believe in gender equality regardless of rank, race, or any other factor. Equal rights in the workplace is a value we’ve instilled at the heart of this company, which in turn has brought us to great heights.

Each year on International Women’s Day, the world celebrates old and new achievements by women, especially politically or socially historical ones. But this year, we laud ALL our women who continue to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it’s the achievement of standing against systemic odds, standing against violence and harassment, or standing at all, we’ll celebrate all the same.

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