My mum and dad were first-time parents; unprepared, scared and clueless about how to raise a little girl who would wail her lungs out in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason, and could only be consoled with a hundred replays of the Snow White VCR, but they were ready to love.

To show me that the world was my backyard, if only I’d let myself walk for long enough, far enough to reach all the destinations they’d put in my dreams.

The first three stars in my record book – that first job when I was 17 and packing shoes for a little girl, getting ready for her first year of school… that first step halfway across the world in a place I’d only seen on TV.

My parents told me that nothing in this world was out of my reach, if only I worked hard enough to reach for it.

The world, on the other hand, didn’t seem to share that sentiment at first, the way it seemed to look at me like I was missing a few crucial parts of my anatomy. The way it used to determined I was too emotional, too feminine, not feminine enough, not pretty enough, too much makeup, that I didn’t have to be that smart, that there were certain things I just “wouldn’t understand”.

At least, the world used to look like that, before it began to realise balance was crucial. Balance that was for the world’s own betterment. Balance that’s still very much absent today.


And that’s why this year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD), ‘Balance For Better’, is a critical rallying call to step towards tipping the scales in favour of balance, and how women globally are already taking strides towards that balance.

“The future is exciting. Let’s build a gender-balanced world. Everyone has a part to play – all the time, everywhere. From grassroots activism to worldwide action, we are entering an exciting period of history where the world expects balance. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence. Balance drives a better working world. Let’s all help create a #BalanceForBetter.” – taken from the official IWD site.

That exciting future isn’t now, when there are more girls with access to education than before, but with 131 million girls in the world still not in school in 2018.

It’s not here yet, when women make up 56% of college students in the US, but that number doesn’t compute with the underrepresentation of women in the workplace, primarily in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.

It’s not here yet, when the gender gap is still abysmally unequal, with women having to wait more than two centuries for economic parity.

It’s not here yet, when abuse and sexual assault cases still go unreported for both male and female victims, because society had determined that weakness is a feminine trait and the woman was “clearly asking for it”.

It’s not here yet, but it’s coming, because the most poignant bit in that statement is the fact that it’s no longer just women that expect balance, but that the world has realised that very significant absence, and it’s thanks to women from various walks of life, who walked, marched, and stood up for the rights unfairly denied us as early as a century ago. From voting rights, to employment, to constantly fighting against the thought that women were less than able to stand side by side their male counterparts.

Women, who believed in empowering themselves to start shifting the scales when the world had not created the space for that balance yet, in preparation for the future we’re beginning to see today.

A balanced future that’s possible because empowered women, empower.

Empowered Women Empower

It’s amazing how much women have achieved, especially in the last few years, and it would be a crime to not touch on those things, today of all days.

Professor Donna Strickland (left) and Professor Frances Arnold (right) with their Nobel Prize medal (Courtesy of trailtimes.ca)

There’s no denying the obstacles that women continue to overcome, by small steps, by leaps and bounds. Women in STEM are experiencing breakthroughs in the highest level by breaking Nobel Prize barriers in 2018, with Professor Donna Strickland becoming the first woman in 55 years to win the Nobel Prize for Physics, and Professor Frances Arnold sharing joint honours in the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the fifth woman ever to have won the award.

Olympic champion Chloe Kim celebrating at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang County, South Korea (Photo: Shutterstock)

Young Olympian heroes like snowboarder Chloe Kim and gymnast Simone Biles are changing the landscape of the sports field, with Kim winning her first Olympic Gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics when she was 17 with a near perfect 98.25 score, and Biles being the most decorated female gymnast ever at 21 years old. They may look like outliers today, but they are young, and those who inevitably look up to them are younger still.

Olympic champion Simone Biles of United States competing on the balance beam at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (Photo: Shutterstock)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Clarke Gayford and their daughter Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford attend Nelson Mandela Peace Summit at UN GA 73rd session at UN Headquarters (Photo: Shutterstock)

And even as women still make up a too-small share of leadership on the stage of global politics, visibility has become more evident, and change isn’t just attainable, it’s already here.

Politicians like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are demonstrating that women are free to exercise the choice to have a family and a career, without having to neglect one or the other, and Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the country’s second female prime minister, implemented a pay equity law in 2018 to ensure that companies in both the public and private sectors demonstrate that they have equal pay standards for both men and women, and leads the number one country in the world for gender equality.

Women’s March protesters holding up signs with #MeToo and #TimesUp slogans during a rally held in front of City Hall (Photo: Shutterstock)

The world stood up to take notice when empowered women began leading groundbreaking movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp in the last two years to bring forward the conversation on sexual assault, harassment and discrimination, still sadly rampant in the daily lives of women, both professional and personal. These movements have broken the seal of silence and have exposed men who, in their authoritative positions have taken advantage of one too many women, and they continue to empower women and allied men who believe in the possibility of a gender-balanced, equal and fair future for all.

The World Expects Balance

I think about the little girl that thought she’d reach the edge of her backyard, when she was confronted with comments like “you’re just a girl, what do you know?” and “you’re a girl, don’t dress like that” with a sprinkling of “you’re a girl but you’re different from other girls”. And I smile when I think about the way she’d found someone just like her, and together, they pushed down the fences, and made the world their backyard.

The world is expecting balance – because there is such a significant absence of it, in the way the scales tip in favour of another sex still even in 2019, more than a century since the roots of the IWD took place.

The world is expecting balance, because how can we help to hold each other up, when one side is decidedly heavier?

The world is expecting balance, because empowerment is a consequence of the absence of that balance, and empowerment doesn’t exist in a static state. It moves, and it’s constantly being pushed, but it’s up to us to see that it’s pushed forward.

Even as IWD celebrates the achievements of women globally, across media, politics, education, entertainment; as societal thought continues to progress towards fairness and equality, it’s also a reminder of that progress. That we still need to continue pressing on, for change, for a balance that favours all sides of the spectrum.

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