This feminist quote is attributed to Charlotte Whitton, Mayor of Ottawa, the first woman to govern a major Canadian city from 1951-56 and 1960-64. In 1999, 24 years after her death, the National Archives of Canada released the last of her personal papers including private letters to her live-in partner Margaret Grier. This sparked a spirited debate as to whether Whitton was in a lesbian relationship or a deep emotional friendship with Grier.
In June 2015, Caitlyn Jenner officially shed off her Bruce Jenner past. An Olympic decathlon champion and national hero, Jenner was named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 1976; he was the face on the Wheaties cereal box for many years; and was even considered for the role of Superman, eventually played by Christopher Reeve. He fathered six children from three wives.
Caitlyn is now the most celebrated transgender, with a Twitter following of 2.37 million, setting a new Guinness World record for amassing one million followers in a little over four hours. She is also followed by 1.5 million on Instagram.
But for all the cosmetic surgery and hormonal injections, she is not keen on sex reassignment surgery. Cait declared that she has never been attracted to men, only to women before her transition. She considers herself asexual.
The implications of the death of transgender Jennifer Laude allegedly in the hands of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton last March 2015 underscores various transgender issues. There is now keen curiosity for gender dysphoria, transphobia and violence against trans women.
But there is a more basic and fundamental gender topic that deserves equal if not more discourse: gender equality and diversity.
APEC WE forum
At the coming APEC Women and the Economy (WE) forum, this will be a central focus in the Public-Private Dialogue on September 17, 2015. The forum theme is “Women as Prime Movers of Inclusive Growth.”
The World Economic Forum has been measuring the impact of gender-based disparities over the years. Their Global Gender Gap report has quantified and tracked the relative gaps between men and women in 4 critical areas: health, education, economy and politics.
It has cited growing evidence that reducing gender inequality enhances productivity and economic growth. Furthermore, it confirmed the correlation, if not causality, between gender equality and GDP per capita, the level of competitiveness and human development.
The report noted:
“The most important determinant of a country’s competitiveness is its human talent – the skills and productivity of its workforce. Similarly, an organization’s performance is determined by the human capital that it possesses and its ability to use this resource efficiently.
Ensuring the healthy development and appropriate use of half of the world’s available talent pool thus has a vast bearing on how competitive a country may become or how efficient a company may be… Ultimately, gender equality is fundamental to whether and how societies thrive.”
Research by the World Bank revealed that the Asia Pacific region reportedly loses from US$42 billion-$47 billion annually due to women’s limited access to employment. The same is true for the Middle East where the gender gap in economic opportunity is the widest in the world, despite gains in education.
Closing the gap
A study has shown that closing the gap between male and female employment would boost Japanese GDP by as much as 16 percent. Companies with women in leadership positions perform better by an estimated 47 percent return on equity than companies without diverse management teams.
There is also a moral and ethical case for gender equality: Women are one-half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential and political decision-making power.
Martha Gill’s “Irrational Animals” column in the New Statesman puts a new twist to the Whitton witticism. She wrote, “Men not smart or hardworking enough to make it into positions of power will nevertheless find themselves working alongside women of four times their intelligence and work ethic.”
One could argue that Gill is lamenting the US situation.
In the 2014 Global Gender Gap report, the Philippines ranked number 9 out of 142 countries for the narrowest gender gap especially in education and health. We’re ahead of Belgium (10), Switzerland (11), Germany (12), New Zealand (13), Netherlands (14), France (16), Canada (19), US (20), Australia (24), UK (26), Luxembourg (28), Singapore (59), China (87) and Japan (104), to name a few.
In the Philippines
The Philippines had two women presidents, several ladies in the Cabinet, Senate and Congress. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is a lady. There are several female CEOs in private sector. Surely in a matriarchal society, we have no axe to grind?
But it has been pointed out that Cory Aquino was the widow of slain hero Ninoy, while Gloria Arroyo was the daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal. A handful of women in elective positions were also voted by virtue of their male relatives.
Many Filipina business leaders still feel the glass ceiling. They still feel like second class citizens or token accommodations in the Boardroom and the Excom. The shortage of economic and employment opportunities for women remain the areas that need improvement.
Gill adds another shade in her article, “If a woman and a man are equally smart and work equally hard, the man will go four times as far.”
And therein lies the rub.
A true meritocracy must be gender-blind. A just society must consciously and conscientiously confront and discard its prejudice and bigotry. Inclusive growth can only be attained if half of the population achieves real gender equality.
This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.