What does bias look like, and why does it matter when we talk about gender equality?
Written by Rachel Worcou / 08.03.2022
“The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." - Gloria Steinem
Written by Rachel Worcou / 08.03.2022
What does it mean to show up every day as a woman with multiple intersecting cultural and societal identity markers? What does it mean then to risk facing discrimination based on one’s identity?
For myself, housing a black, female body means to face the barrage of bias that stems from the stereotypical, and often harmful, portrayal of black women. Bias is a double take – a hounding, questioning glare that seeks any reason for difference. It’s the false belief that my complexion makes me intimidating to the white gaze. It’s the patriotic sentiment rooted in the belief that I’m not quite from here, or that I may not be as eloquent as one might expect. I could go on, but there is an often-unsettling dissonance in biasness. To be constantly aware of the duality of one's experience is to be both observer and observed, outlier and inlier; it is to be so closely examined and surveilled yet still, unseen.
Biases, both implicit and explicit, are learned assumptions and personal and societal beliefs that function to shape our perception of others by upholding the status quo. A form of bias that greatly affects women and girls is gender bias, which can play out as a preference for one gender over another, upholding the belief that women are unequal to men in rights, affordances, and dignity. Gender bias is the ever–present force that seeps into our everyday lives – from domestic, health, economic and political spheres – affecting women, men, and gender-diverse people, to varying degrees.
Let’s look at how this might play out in the workplace through an economical gender bias, for example: Australia’s national gender pay gap is currently 13.8%, where women earn on average $261.50 per week less than men*. These figures are shaped by several factors, including hiring bias, and rigid gender roles that assume women should take on a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic care work. Women from culturally diverse communities face additional barriers to employment as a result of language barriers and lack of access to support systems available in their language; racism and discrimination, and lack of culturally responsive services; these barriers increase further for migrant and refugee women who are overrepresented in insecure and low paid work. (Source/s)
While we may all face the possibility of experiencing gender bias, its impact is heightened when gendered barriers intersect across multiple forms of disadvantage and discrimination.* The impact of these barriers compound to create a culture of social exclusion that increases the likelihood of trans and gender-diverse people experiencing mental illness and verbal and physical abuse.(Source) For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, they face disproportionately high rates of violence compared to non-Indigenous women – compounded by gender inequality and the ongoing impacts of colonisation and racism. (Source)
The International Women's Day 2022 theme, #BreakTheBias, encourages us to deepen our understanding about gender bias for a diverse, equitable and inclusive world. To address this on an interpersonal level, we might begin by asking ourselves, our friends, and co-workers, how we can commit to a more inclusive world by challenging our learned attitudes and biases, whether through upholding trusting conversations, self-learning or course correction. However, while questioning our biases is vital, it simply is not enough.
All people benefit from advocating for gender equality: from the social benefits that create a stronger sense of connectivity, greater health, and wellbeing, to the economic cost of reducing violence against women, which costs Victorians a staggering $3.4 billion each year. When Victorians were asked, by Safe and Strong: Victoria’s Gender Equality Strategy, what they wanted for gender equality, the written responses called for “Equal opportunity for all women, regardless of background, religion, cultural or sexual identity.”
To make this a reality and propel the ongoing campaign to end gender inequality and violence against women, we must be willing to support the social and economic growth of all women and girls, through intersectional gender equality strategies that commit to policy and legislative change. We believe in a radical reimagining of the systems that serve us. We believe in feminist leadership that will transform power structures and break bias. Gender equality is a human right and a global responsibility, and we all have a role to play.
I’m committing to breaking the bias by making space for unlearning, modelling positive change and centring conversations of accountability. What actions will you commit to #BreakTheBias - in your workplace, at home, and in your relationships?