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The balancing act: to be better, we must do better for women

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International Women’s Day 2019 is celebrated March 8 every year, a focal point in the movement for women’s rights

After being shot by a Taleban gunman for attending school when she was only 15, Malala Yousafzai became one of the world’s most famous young activists for her fight for girls’ rights to education. In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Celebrated for her relentless resolve and bravery in the face of terror and sexism, Yousafzai is proof of the power, courage, wisdom and tenacity of young women.

In her memoir, I Am Malala, Yousafzai wrote: “I raise up my voice — not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard ... we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

We are the women of the Progressive Labour Party Women’s Caucus. Together we celebrate International Women’s Day by submitting our views on doing better for women, carrying on from this year’s theme, #BalanceForBetter.

#BalanceForEqualPay (PLP deputy chairwoman Lauren Hayward-Bell)

“Bermuda’s Gender Wage Gap: The Ugly Truth”.

On the surface, it appears that Bermuda has accomplished something that very few jurisdictions have been able to do — eliminate its gender wage gap.

Despite decades-long efforts to eradicate the gender wage gap, the International Labour Organisation 2018-19 Global Wage Report estimates that on average, women earn 20 per cent less than men globally.

In contrast to this global trend, Bermuda’s 2016 Population and Housing Census Report revealed that the annual median income of women was $66,496 in comparison with $64,283 for men. Before we collectively congratulate ourselves, an ugly truth is revealed when we delve deeper into these statistics.

According to the 2016 Census, the median income for black women was $61,792 and $82,970 for white women. Many point to education as the possible explanation for this income disparity. However, the facts reveal that this race-based wage gap exists irrespective of educational qualifications.

To illustrate this, the 2016 Census reports that the median income of black women with a bachelor’s degree is $80,372 while white women with a bachelor’s degree earn $95,753.

There also exists a marked wage gap between Bermudian women and non-Bermudian women. The 2016 Census highlights that Bermudian women’s median annual income was $64,862 while non-Bermudian women had a median annual income of $78,462.

Too often the feminist movement has left women of colour behind with many white women remaining silent on the issue of race-based gender wage disparity.

White women have been justifiably accused of choosing their whiteness over their collective responsibility to both womanhood and their fellow sisters. It is time for collective action: we can no longer afford to be silent while other women work for less.

#BalanceForWomenInPolitics (Tinée Furbert)

“It is not easy being a woman anywhere. Moreover, for women leaders, the obstacles are greater, the demands are greater, the barriers are greater and the double standards are greater”— Benazir Bhutto

Politics is honourable and essential work; sometimes women risk it all. There are assumptions that women are here to take care of the home and the babies, and are often seen as sex symbols while the men take charge of the nation.

This assumption has been proven wrong time and time again as women rise up all across the globe politically, in the boardrooms, organisations, unions, churches and in the workplace.

As I reflect on this International Women’s Day theme, “Balance for Better”, I am reminded of my attendance at the 60th National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Washington, where leaders all over the world of different nationalities, religions and political perspectives united through the power of prayer.

There was a special women’s gathering that I was invited to, in which women were speaking to their journeys in politics.

There were many stories of trauma shared: a political leader tragically losing her sons, a wife of a political leader who was a radio commentator who bravely spoke up about domestic violence against women, herself being targeted and raped.

It reminded me that women in high places don’t escape the inequalities of the world. Women politicians continue to be shamed and silenced when speaking publicly about the inequality they experience.

We are reminded by Jacqueline Rose that “everyday sexism, domestic violence, so-called ‘honour’ killings, FGM, rape as a war crime and assaults on women in search of education are more visible today than ever before.”

Politics should matter for all women and it is important for the advancement of women that we continue to step up to acknowledge those imbalances.

We have 36 seats in the House of Assembly and only eight of them are held by women. There are 11 seats in the Senate and only four of them are held by women.

Let’s aim for 50:50 by 2030; balance is better.

#BalanceOfSexes (Davida Morris)

The balance we seek to create between the sexes and in our societies may seem impossible. While it may be felt that balance and equity is ideal, the reality is that a balance between the sexes has occurred, albeit a very, very, long time ago.

In Ancient Egypt, men and women were considered equal under the law and in society. Women could own and sell land, marry and divorce, own businesses and hold positions of power. Their positions were not an affront to masculinity; it simply was.

With the fall of the Egyptian civilisation came the subjugation of women. However, despite this subjugated place, the spirit of women was not broken. As nature seeks to restore and maintain balance, we as humans are no different.

Over time women have fought to achieve a balance that was once had. From the ability to be educated, to the right to vote, to the freedom to work in the career of her choosing, women have fought to create balance in the world and we continue to do so.

Today the fight for balance continues as women fight for control of their bodies. To not be seen as objects for the pleasure of men, but for who they are — beings who think, aspire and work hard just like they do. Balance is a necessity. It will allow for the truest expression of creativity in the world.

If we are not fighting against each other, then we are working with one another for the benefit of us all. Achieving balance is the highest expression of our humanity. It shows our ability to live as equals unafraid of one another. Isn’t that worth fighting for? Can we allow ourselves to achieve it?

#BalanceInTheBoardroom (Kim Wilkerson)

Despite the overwhelming evidence that gender-diverse boards are more effective, there is still a dearth of women in the boardrooms of corporate America and in the boardrooms in Bermuda companies.

I recognise that many readers may still need to be convinced on the case for balance in the boardroom, so I will lay out some well-researched facts.

The ground-breaking studies by Catalyst found that corporations with women on their boards deliver higher return on equity for shareholders (53 per cent higher), deliver hugely increased sales revenue (42 per cent higher), and have been proven to be better at critical analysis and creative thinking, making for overall better effectiveness than all-male boards.

The original Catalyst study of 2008 identified female board representation at about 16 per cent.

In 2018, the PwC report of S&P 500 companies put that number at 22 per cent. No doubt, there has been progress, but in light of the impact of women on the bottom line, why is progress towards parity in the boardroom moving at a snail’s pace?

One answer, also borne out in research from PwC, is that male board chairmen, nomination committee chairmen and CEOs overwhelming choose other males and people that they know already in the C-suite.

In Bermuda, we often hear the response that there are not enough “qualified” women in the pipeline.

Let’s face it, many of us women, black women in particular, are not present in the C-suite.

We are, however, operating successfully and brilliantly in that level beneath the proverbial glass ceiling, heading lines of business, building business plans, managing large teams and executing on strategy.

So there is no issue with the pipeline; it’s more an issue of intention.

Companies must be intentional about moving towards more female representation in the boardroom, and be prepared to be accountable. This means that they will need to look in other places for talent, beneath that glass ceiling, perhaps, and be open to measurement on progress.

#BalanceForIncreasedSisterhood (Women’s Caucus chairwoman Alexa Lightbourne)

We recognise that the fight for our voices to be heard, for a seat around the table, and to shatter the glass ceiling, requires an unwavering pursuit. But we know, little by little, that we have made progress and will continue to make progress.

We are the PLP Women’s Caucus, guided by our mission to empower, educate and be advocates for women.

These women are our sisters, our neighbours, our friends, our mentors and our leaders. We lift them up and celebrate them on this day.

Through writing, our voices will be heard!

Lauren Hayward-Bell
Tinée Furbert
Davida Morris (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Kim Wilkerson
Alexa Lightbourne