AWARENESS RAISING- FIRST STEP IN MAKING CHANGES

Picture: ©pexels.com 

by Paola Petrac 

There is a surprising fact about women in journalism that has been proven over the years which says that women actually predominate in media studies (64%) yet constitute only 40% of media employees and 34% of media managers (Ndlovu & Nyamweda, 2016). As a communication science student, you witness this paradox in everyday life. Our department has shown a significantly bigger number of female students in comparison to the number of male colleagues: in year 2016/2017 the number of women studying communication science was as high as 73,6% (Schlögl, Schopf & Bukowska, 2018) . High number of female students is shown to be the case in other studies too. The number of female students on University of Vienna in total is also higher (63,1%) than the number of male students (36,9%). These statistics raise a number of questions such as questions about leader positions, why are they mainly taken by men and what happens to all of those qualified female students that could take a high position just as easily. Many of those questions don’t have an answer or cannot be completely answered. Such statistics can be really discouraging for female students making them question their own abilities and capabilities. In the end, big questions such as “Is it all worth it?” can arise. The fact that the statistics have not drastically (or haven’t at all) changed over the years makes it even more important and urgent to discuss, research and make some changes regarding differences between genders. One of the first steps in making changes is raising awareness about the problem. Many studies before, including the work of my colleagues and myself during this semester show a lack of awareness in society.  

During this semester, my colleagues and myself were confronted with the concept of gender mainstreaming and how is it imbedded in our society. Specifically, we did an action research on what are the main goals of the City of Vienna regarding gender equality and gender mainstreaming, what are the methods used to accomplish those goals and is the City successful in reaching those goals. We first did an observation of the two areas of the City, Neubaugasse and Aspern-Seestadt, where the projects and methods concerning gender mainstreaming were done. We then did an interview with Dipl. Ing. Eva Kail, who initiated most of the gender planning projects in Vienna and is internationally renowned gender and planning expert. At last, we went out to the mentioned areas and interviewed the ones who should profit the most from the changes done by the City, the people. What we found out is that, yes, the City is clearly doing a great job in complementing gender mainstreaming in the urban planning and has therefore been pioneering ‘gender mainstreaming’ for nearly 30 years. But the aspect we found to be missing or should be worked on more in the future is actually the awareness of the citizens. People are (mostly) aware that there are some changes happening around them, but are not aware of the importance of those changes.  

So why is gender awareness raising important? Equality between women and men is one of the founding values of every democratic society. According to European Institute for Gender Equality, gender awareness raising is actually “providing reliable and accessible information to build a better understanding of gender equality as a core value of democratic societies”. Raising awareness about this problem is crucial for implementing a gender perspective into policies concerning aspects of different everyday lives of women and man. For example, the City of Vienna is doing a great job in using methods in urban planning based on different needs of genders. In that way, the City tries to e.g. reduce the number of so-called “Angsträume “, parts of the city that are dark, not sorounded by apartments and therefore cause the feeling of discomfort and fear. Gender awareness raising is an attempt to create a general understanding of such gender-related challenges. Gender-related challenges are surrounding us and are proven to be true and consistent over the decades.  

One of those proven challenges is also the gender pay gap. First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and Commissioner Věra Jourová said: „Gender equality, including equal pay for men and women, is one of the EU’s founding values. But it is still far from a reality. For the past years, the gender pay gap has basically refused to budge.” They came to conclusion that this would mean that women work two months a year for free in comparison to men, which is shocking, almost unbelievable to be happening in todays’ society. But it also shows the importance of the problem. Furthermore, there is proof of discrimination of women in working environment when they decide to take on a role of a mother. The report ‘‘Childcare: What Young Woman Want’’, shows some shocking findings about UK mothers aged 18-30: 40 per cent said they had been asked how being a mother affects their ability to work & one in three said requests to work flexible hours were turned down by their boss. What shows the depth of the problem the most is a shocking finding that one in four working mothers skip meals every day to make ends meet. All these situations most women face make the equal pay seem like a distant dream. 

Raising awareness of such problems of (in)equality can lead to change in attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that reinforce inequalities between genders. In that way, we can conclude that awareness will lead to some changes in society. Taking into consideration proven evidence of gender inequality over the years, it is needless to say that the change is more than welcomed. 

To conclude, gender inequality has been over a long period of time and unfortunately still is a part of society. It is so firmly embedded in every aspect of today’s society that we’re sometimes completely unaware of it. Until the moment it affects us in one way or another. But why would we wait for that moment and let the inequality affect other people around us and the prosperity of our society in general when we are capable of change. The first step in making change is raising awareness. Luckily (more or less), there is enough aspects of gender inequality surrounding us to be aware of. The example of City of Vienna shows us how implementing awareness of gender perspective in policy-making process can have a long-term impact on society and can make the society more aware which would ultimately lead to some social changes. Such examples encourage us to have more hope for change in the future just like Debbie Sterling said in her TED talk Inspiring the next generation of female engineers: “ I don’t fit in (in such male dominated area), but I believe our little girls will!” 


References

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