Sara BroadbentOctober 16, 2018

The Gender Equality Riddle That Must Become Solvable for All

When I was young, there was a popular 70s sitcom considered groundbreaking at the time called All in the Family. Perhaps one of the most memorable episodes brought to light a controversial subject that really hadn’t been talked about on primetime television. Gloria, one of the female characters, comes home and poses a riddle to her parents and husband. Here’s the set-up.

“A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies immediately. The son gets taken to the hospital for surgery. Once in the operating room, the surgeon takes one look at the boy and says: ‘I can’t operate on him. He’s my son’.” How can this be?

The answer is obvious today, but in 1973 it wasn’t. Each character struggled the entire 30 minutes to come up with the answer. Eventually, the character Edith figures it out (the doctor is the boy’s mother). It was a clever way to illustrate gender stereotyping and inequality, and the idea that certain occupations were out of reach for females.

Forty-five years since that TV episode aired, I think we’d all agree that we’ve come a long way. But for too much of the world, the riddle remains unsolvable.

Consider this: 16 million girls ages 6-11 will never start school. Think about that. In 2018, who you are and where you are born can still severely limit your choices in life. And the one thing that so many of us take for granted—an education—is being denied to young girls and women because of their gender. (My colleague Becky Carr recently explored this topic further in her blog Breaking Down the Barriers to Girls’ Education.)

Something has got to give.

The Education of Girls and Its Impact on Society

The United Nations has shown that the education of girls and women is central to reducing poverty, and the stats underscoring this are remarkable. For example, girls with eight years of education are four times less likely to be a child bride; a child born to a mother who can read and write is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five; and educated mothers are more than twice as likely to send their children to school. Research also indicates that when more income is put into the hands of women, child nutrition, health, and education improve.

The call to action is clear: the education of girls and women needs to be a worldwide priority.

I’m proud to say that since 2015, my company has been partnering with Save the Children to help build classrooms where there are none. To date, our employees and partners have successfully raised the money needed to build two schools in Mozambique, Africa, helping to ensure that hard-to-reach children can attend and stay in school. This year, the Matching Donation money we raise during our annual Month of Giving—31 days of volunteering and fundraising activities across our company—will benefit Uganda, as I talk about in my recent blog Humanity at its Best.

In addition, we’re helping to advance the work of Save the Children to keep girls in school and ensure they can learn in safe and supportive environments. For example, our inaugural Avaya Charity Golf Tournament, held in August, spotlighted the charity’s Girls’ Education Programming. And earlier this month, we announced a Devices for Diversity campaign that contributes a donation to that same program for every one of our multimedia devices sold for the remainder of 2018.

Through these initiatives, we are helping to educate girls who may not otherwise have the chance to learn—and changing the course of their lives, their children’s lives, and the futures of their communities. And it feels empowering!

Riddles should never be born out of inequality. Instead, the acknowledgment that girls are allowed less education than boys anywhere in the world needs to be a wake-up call to everyone to come together and finally make the investments needed to bring about gender parity. And it all starts with equal education.

The Gender Equality Riddle That Must Become Solvable for All

Sara Broadbent

Sara Broadbent, Senior Director of Avaya Corporate Responsibility, has 25+ years of experience in improving business ops by integrating environment, safety and sustainability goals and requirements into day-to-day work processes.

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