We'd like to celebrate and acknowledge International Women’s Day. For us, this means celebrating the diversity, courage, intelligence, and life of wāhine in our communities and internationally. Whilst it is important to celebrate and uplift the women that we know, love and respect; this occasion also prompts us to reflect on the challenges faced by women, particularly regarding their mental health. While positive mental health is essential to the overall health of all genders, women experience some mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression at higher rates than men. Here we'll cover briefly some small strategies we can take to support women’s health and flourishment.
Break the Bias
The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BreaktheBias. Whether conscious or unconscious, bias is a contributor to wider systemic barriers faced by women in the workplace, institutions or in their communities. Bias has shown to contribute to women being overlooked for jobs and promotions. An estimated 60 per cent of women have been found to regularly experience microaggressions at work, with women of colour, LGBTQI+ women and women with disabilities encountering more acute experiences of bias and discrimination.
Within a pandemic context, there are extra challenges women may encounter both in professional and personal domains. A health tracking poll conducted in the United States in 2020 found that six in ten women (57%) reported pandemic-related stress and worry to negatively impact their mental health, compared to 44% of men. The reasons for this have been attributed to women being viewed as the family’s primary caregiver and having to take responsibility for majority of the household whilst supporting their children’s learning and homeschooling activities.
Part of helping #BreaktheBias this year may include becoming more aware of the issues the women in your life face, and how this may impact their mental health. Becoming mindful of some of the challenges commonly faced by women - such as personal safety concerns, discrimination or bias in the workplace, sexism, unequal division of household labour, and the effects of gender norms may lead to a deeper understanding on how women are having to unwillingly navigate these challenging spaces. Below are some actions that we can all take to create safer and more inclusive spaces for women.
Listening can be thought of as the foundation for trust and respect. Listening requires sincerity, empathy, and focus. It is important to recognize that women may face additional roadblocks when making their voices and opinions heard. Women are often interrupted, spoken over or not given equal opportunities to speak. Research shows that men are almost three times more likely to interrupt women as they are other men. This often communicates that women’s’ experiences, ideas or voices are not important and eliminates the opportunity for true conversation. This behaviour may be difficult for women to challenge due to negative stereotypes and connotations associated with women being “over-assertive” or “bossy”. Alternatively, all listeners can make a more active effort to ensure women are afforded the same platform to speak and be heard. Active listening acknowledges the value of someone’s experience, their generosity for sharing it and the courage taken to do so. Look for ways that you can amplify or tautoko (support, advocate) what is being shared rather than replacing or rewording the dialogue.
There is a dominant narrative in modern culture that women must always be pleasant, accommodating, and cheerful. When women display signs of anger, sadness or any other heavy emotion, it can often be invalidated or written off as being “overdramatic” or “crazy”. This is a harmful dialogue which suppresses women’s’ ability to express how they feel. Women, like everyone else, should be encouraged to feel and communicate a full range of emotions without being criticized. One way to support women’s mental health is to validate and acknowledge women’s feelings through creating an open space for them to fully express themselves without judgement.
While eliminating any harmful dialogue or sexist behaviors can be done over time, there may be an additional challenge of reconciling any uncomfortable emotional responses that may show up through this process. Emotional responses such as guilt or anxiety for yourself or others may arise, and the important way to address this experience is with ongoing learning, honest interaction, and conversation. Expanding through these emotions rather than interpreting them as a sign to stop your allyship allows you to take better, more informed action when you can.
International Women’s Day is a global day to celebrate the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements of women. This day also calls for us to take steps towards the acceleration of equality and creating more equitable outcomes for women. When we collectively educate ourselves and raise awareness on some of these issues, we are taking concrete steps towards this mission.