Have you heard of Nicola Thorp, a 27 year old woman who was a receptionist at an accountancy firm in London in December 2015 and was sent home from work for not wearing high heels to work? If yes, well and good and if not, sit back as I inform you on why she's worth of your attention.
Nicola explains that after the incident, she spoke to her friends and decided to post about the incident on her Facebook account which is when she realized that, other women had been in similar positions. She then decided to launch a petition, which basically was calling for the law to be changed so that companies could no longer force women to wear high heels to work. As of today, the petition set up on the UK Government and Parliament's petitions website has garnered over 139,000 signatories, surpassing the 100,000 signature mark, the number required for a petition to be considered for a debate in Parliament.
Nicola says that when the incident initially happened, she was a bit scared about speaking up about it in case there was negative backlash. She then states. “but I realized that I needed to put a voice to this as it is a much bigger issue".
While I am sure that a lot of people have experienced gender based discrimination or so much as gender based violence on different instances, their experiences differ and vary. Each experience is unique in its own way. It may be cultural based like female genital mutilation; being married off at a young age and to person not of your own choice or liking; or being denied the right to education on the basis that one is a girl. Others include domestic violence which is something that a lot of women experience; rape; discrimination at places of work like what Nicola experienced; discrimination that occurs when accessing public service; being denied certain rights like the right to property, freedom of movement; or freedom of expression based on your gender. These are just but a few examples of the injustices that people experience because they are of a particular gender.
Whether someone believes that this is a rights issue or not, it is important for one to speak up when they experience any sort of unequal treatment based on their gender. This may not be as easy as it seems because of the victimization that the victims of these inequalities undergo. Sometimes this victimization includes a threat to a person's life. This though should not deter you from speaking up because it is only from people raising their voices on instances of gender inequality that the issue is brought to light.
By raising your voice, you are confronting the inequality. It is good to note that by talking about it, you are promoting a cycle of openness and actions to be taken against the injustice. By talking about the injustice, you give the oppressor an opportunity to think about the consequences of their actions and to rectify it, and this is also an opportunity for the law makers to think about the injustice and what they can do about it to make sure that the same doesn't occur to another person.
In this day of digital age, speaking up against gender inequality by victims of it means enduring endless backlash from people who may not not agree with them, which sometimes includes sexist abuses. But don't give up yet, here are a few pointers that you should keep in mind that will encourage you to SPEAK UP;
1. Your fruitful work may go unnoticed but the results of your actions will not.
Recognizing that your actions may go unnoticed but the results of your actions will have an impact, even if not immediately, or to yourself, will make your efforts worth it. Don't underestimate the impact of raising your voice on instances of gender inequality, it may help one person at the end of the day. The mere fact that of sharing your experience may have a tangible impact on someone else who may be experiencing the same injustice and you may choose to confront it together.
2. You are instrumental in the fight for gender equality
Despite what your experience might have been, it is important for you to know that by speaking out on it, you are helping correct the injustice. You are helping all those who are to come after you, you are saying that the injustice needs to be addressed now. The rules/culture may prescribe somethings which may not be fair and just or people may have separate minds and points of view on something. Coming out and pointing that the rules/practices are unjust or a particular point of view is discriminatory in a particular manner towards a certain gender is the first step. Your voice on this matter is important.
3. You are not the problem
Many victims of gender injustice blame themselves for what happens to them. Shame, guilt and backlash from people can deepen your trauma. Blaming yourself robs you the minimal strength you may have that will enable you to speak up. Blaming yourself maintains your victim status and allows your oppressor/perpetrator more power or control. You are not responsible for the injustice that occurred to you; and understanding this is the biggest tool that you can use to fight back, to speak up.
It is important for you to speak up against the inequality because at times, the injustice is not always associated with action but rather with an inaction.
4. It may take time but eventually you will be able to talk about it.
When the renowned Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) activist Alimatu Dimoneke first underwent FGM as a teenager back in Sierra Leone, she was so traumatized because she did not understand why it had to happen to her. It took her 22 years before she could speak up about it. She was told that she would die if she ever spoke about it. For more than 22 years, she struggled with terrible flashbacks, depression and pain.
She was able to finally come out and speak about it after many years trying to heal, counselling and a great support system that she got. In November 2013, she broke her silence to tell her story at an event at Britain’s parliament. Her speech was so raw and powerful that even long-time campaigners against FGM were in tears.
Alimatu describes the evening she spoke at the House of Commons as, 'a massive turning point' in her life. She says, “I realized my voice could reach people and was powerful, and that I did not have to stay silent.”
Remember that by speaking up, we are agents of change, we are raising our voice on a problem that needs to be addressed, we are calling for solutions. It may not be easy to speak up but remember that the situation will not fix itself unless you speak up.
Let us raise our voices to end gender inequality. SPEAK UP.