Focusing on empowering women and girls: why it is acceptable and why it’s important

Yet again today I was faced with the comment that organisations such as Code First: Girls and Chayn were wrong and immoral. This is because they are focused only on women and girls (as well as other underrepresented genders)  which is in itself sexist. It is an interesting argument to say that in targeting one gender, you will alienate another, and thus programs such as CodeFirst:Girls, Ada’s List, Women Who Code (this list goes on…)  are a contradiction in terms and can only detriment gender equality.

It is an interesting argument, but it’s wrong. It is also something that I, along with many of my peers, often face, and so I asked around to see what their separate responses were. I was not disappointed.

So here is the argument for why female focused programs are positive for gender equality. (I warn you now – that this is my polite version)

So let us start off with this metaphor:

Imagine that you have a class, which the professor splits in two, group A and group B. For 75% of the year the professor favours group B far above that of group A. He helps them, supports them and gives them extra tuition. Suddenly, the professor has an epiphany, and they realise that they are completely wrong in favouring group B over A and that his discrimination was wrong. As a result he decides to give fair treatment and equal opportunities to all, does this lead to an immediately fair situation?

Hell no. Group A has been so discriminated against it is far behind it’s counterpart – as such the students have no way of achieving the same results in the end of year test. They will need extra tuition and opportunities to reach the same skill level as the favoured group.

And, it is the same with women and girls.

In an ideal world we would not need organisations like those mentioned above, but an internationally ingrained patriarchal system means that these organisations are sorely needed. Many women are not in a position to empower themselves because they simply do not know of the opportunities available to them, or they are unable to take those opportunities due to other factors (such as cultural based expectation).

In previous conversations with leaders of organisations there is apparently a noticeable difference in behaviours between genders. Often you’ll find men will ask for pay rises, negotiate more heavily and place a strong emphasis on skill whilst a similarly skilled women will undervalue their skills and not push for the same recognition. Why is that?

Beyond the career, children are treated completely differently according to gender. It has only been through watching my 6 nieces and nephews grow up that I have noticed how outstandingly gendered children’s toys are; Lego Friends make me feel physically nauseous. We teach our children from birth that they are to expect different things from life, pink and blue.

Organisations such as CodeFirst: Girls would only negatively affect gender equality it there was parity in the first place. Imagine it like a see-saw; if one side is heavier than the other, you don’t get balance by putting the same weight in both sides. We would all like nothing better than for there to be a time when there is no need for the charities and organisations in question. But sadly, today is not that day.

I suppose there is an argument that if you just give all genders equal opportunities, eventually it will event out. Eventually. Honey, if you expect me to sit on my laurels and wait for gender equality to just even out – you have another thing coming. Considering the centuries of disparity – it will take centuries again without direct action, and I am not going to live for centuries. I want the gender I identify with to be seen as equal now, why should I expect anything less?

Big thanks to Madeleine, Ruby, Amali , Hera, Eleonora, Chiara, Nida and Maryam for all your contributions. You fabulous inspiring women.