KEYnote/ Facing Gender Demons

Ubud, 9 March 2016 — As the night fell and the Balinese prepared for Nyepi, their New Year's Day of Silence, they brought out and faced their Ogoh-Ogoh, gigantic effigies of mythological demons they made to be burned after a majestic parade. What can we learn from their culture?

Spiritual pollution and self-purification

Each effigy carried through the streets was made by a local community, including youth, with the intention to purify their environment from spiritual pollution created by humans, and to bewilder evil spirits so that they stop bothering human beings. 

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The Balinese regard their burning of the effigies—after making them dance to throw them off balance in the boisterous parade—as a symbol of self-purification for starting the new year, when the entire island shuts down for a day.

From comments online it seemed that many other places in our world today could do with a Day of Silence, and that there are lessons to be learned from Balinese culture with its focus on harmonizing the spiritual, social and environmental drivers of wellbeing and prosperity (Tri Hita Karana).

International Women's Day

This year, the Balinese parade of demons was held on International Women's Day, spurring us to reflect on the inconvenient truth of pervasive and persistent gender inequalities that continue to jeopardize our world's peace, happiness and sustainable development. 

How ready are we in our societies to face our powerful gender demons, now that the world has adopted Gender Equality as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals? Can we show ourselves to be as mindful for change as the Balinese are when they face their Ogoh-Ogoh demons and carry them through the streets before burning them?

Here is what the world community agreed in September 2015 in Goal 5: that by 2030 we will "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." The targets of this global goal by 2030 include ending "all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere," and "eliminating all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation."

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Making haste

There is no time to loose in taking action to reach this ambitious Global Goal. From United Nations information we know that in our world today:

  • Only half of the world’s working-age women are in the labor force, compared to 77 percent of working-age men. 

  • Most women still earn significantly less than their male counterparts do in the same job.

  • At least 62 million girls are still denied an education all over the world.

  • One in three women worldwide have experienced violence in their lifetime. 

  • Only 22 percent of all national parliamentarians are female. 

  • Only 30 percent of the world's researchers are women.

  • 50 countries have yet to recognize the equality of men and women in their constitutions.

Facing our demons

While progress has been made over the past decades, why does our world still show such poor results in gender equality for women and girls? The reasons will vary among societies around the world. Or do they really? 

In combating discrimination against women and girls, sustained results will require a transformation of the prevailing mindsets of both men and women. And the best place to start, as shown by the Balinese custom for purification, is to look at our own demons, in our own mind, and in the norms and values of the communities and societies we live in.

Here are three important questions to consider: 

  1. How can societies continue to allow and even promote gender inequality?
  2. What ways do we have to change this mindset of discrimination?
  3. When will we start making a difference where we are?

Empowering women leaders

In many countries, young leaders see more clearly how change can happen, and they are already stepping up to make a difference. Many of them are women. 

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We will nurture more peace, happiness and sustainability when we advance gender equality today. Empowering women leaders is the key to creating a livable planet.

Developing more women leaders is one of the most effective actions we can take for gender equality, and it is a good way to challenge our gender demons and make change happen, starting in our own communities, and with all the help we can get.

By empowering more women leaders we will do more than promoting gender equality. We will nurture more peace, happiness and sustainability when we advance gender equality today. Empowering women leaders is the key to creating a livable planet.