By Nalita James
‘Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.’
As I am pondering this powerful message and what it means for gender equality and International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, the news has just broken that Russia has invaded Ukraine. This senseless and unnecessary action saddens me as people’s democratic rights and freedoms are being challenged and exploited, and where the people of Ukraine are being punished for simply ‘being.’ When such actions occur how is it possible to build a gender-equitable society for lasting peace and stability? Ukraine has experienced ongoing conflict, instability, and insecurity for many years, which has had significant detrimental impact on human welfare and social and economic conditions. It has also deepened gender stereotypes that emphasise men as protectors and heroes and women as caring supporters. Whilst there are many female Ukrainian soldiers, reservists and volunteers, the Ukrainian Government has required healthy adult men to enlist in the armed forces and fight, to forget their wives and girlfriends and defend their country, thus limiting women’s engagement and involvement in conflict resolution.
Traditional gender roles still exist, and they are difficult to change. Yet gender equality is a universal agenda, and its absence has profound consequences for all of humanity. Currently in Ukraine, this has become even more pronounced in relation to matters of peace and security. Yet without peace, goal such as focusing on youth and women’s needs, to addressing climate change and water, energy, and food security—will be impossible to achieve. Millions of Ukrainians, women and children, are now refugees, displaced, and deprived of their livelihoods, in search of safety and security. In turn, this threatens the stability of the region and risk undoing decades of development progress. Women are indispensable in the process of building sustainable futures, democratic structures and strengthening civil society. When women meaningfully participate in peace processes, they are less likely to be simply a negotiation about power or macho posturing among men with guns, but rather include broader issues about how to build a sustainable peaceful society.
In terms of Putin’s war on Ukraine, the days, weeks, and months will show where we are heading but for now peace seems a long way off. When it eventually comes, the goal must be to unleash the potential of women as valuable contributors to the recovery and development of their communities. This will mean systematically listening to them, learning from their leadership, and ensuring their voices are included in the prevention and resolution of conflict, and in the building of peace after conflict. To empower women and girls to have a voice and be equal players in decision-making is essential for sustainable development and greater gender equality. Without gender equality today, a sustainable future, and an equal future, remains beyond our reach.
About the author
Nalita is Director of Academic Studies in the Centre for Lifelong Learning, and also a Fellow of the Warwick Institute for Engagement. Prior roles have included being the Director of Teaching and Learning at the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester, which was disestablished in October 2016, and Head of Curriculum and Quality for the Leicester Adult Skills and Learning Service. Nalita is also a Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of Leicester, and Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Up until recently she was Chair and Council member of the Standing Conference on University Teaching and Research in the Education of Adults (SCUTREA). She is currently a member of the European Stakeholder Reference Group in Adult Education (EPALE), and the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL) England Impact Forum. Nalita is also Co-Editor of the Studies in the Education of Adults journal as well as editorial board member for the International Journal of Lifelong Education. In January 2022 she was invited to become a member of the QAA Access to HE Review Group. Nalita is an active researcher and advocate of lifelong learning and adult education.