By Helen Wai-sze Leung, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate, Representing China
I still remember sitting in a politics class on feminism, slightly amused when discussing China's "Occupy Male Bathrooms" movement. Although we have the equal number of cubicles, the architect of the bathroom did not take into account our biological differences. Hence, there were always longer queues for female bathrooms than for male. (Yes girls, we've all been there!) The movement led to a few angry men trying to fight through a crowd of equally angry women outside the Chinese male bathrooms to attend to their "business."
Although some may consider this trivial, it strongly reflects the deeply rooted patriarchal design and structure of our societies that many are unaware of. These inequalities are visible or invisible and highly embedded in the political, economic, and social aspects of our lives.
Acknowledging the fundamental differences between men and women is not wrong but in fact wise per se. We all have our own strengths to offer in the global society and economy. Yet, these potentials are not always fully utilized by girls and women.
In the existing economic structure, women take up the double burden of responsibilities for their work and family. The economic value of the work within the household is significant, but is often unrecognized. Across the world, women make up 60 per cent of the working poor. According to the International Labour Organization, women receive unequal pay for equal work, dismissal due to pregnancy, lack of maternity benefits, absence of social security and difficulties in returning to work after interruptions devoted to child bearing.
The feminization of poverty is evident, especially in the Global South. Women have higher participation in the informal sector, which is particularly evident in sub-Saharan Africa where 84 per cent of women's non-agricultural employment is informal. Increasingly, women migrate to low-skilled occupations in increasingly risky work situations, such as domestic work and entertainment, or are trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
The occupy movement has been a symbol of standing against a structure so impossibly larger than ourselves, but demonstrates the power of uniting individuals to reinvent the course of history. It is time, girls and women, to join the stage also. The economic empowerment of girls is not about "occupying" against men, but rather the integration of men into the movement. It is not just about women uniting for women, but rather women and men uniting for women's position in contrast to the existing power fabrics.
Each year, the G(irls)20 Summit looks at the G20 Leaders agenda through the lens of girls and women globally. They make recommendations to the G20 leaders for economically empowering girls and women. As a delegate of China, I wish to be part of the movement. Girls and women across the world, demand greater economic empowerment -- for your well-deserved position in your family, community, worker organization, local parliaments, national assemblies and global forums including the G20. And perhaps bathrooms too.
Helen Wai-sze Leung, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate, represented China at the 2013 G(irls)20 Summit, June 15 - 19 in Moscow, Russia. Visit www.girls20summit.com to watch the G(irls)20 Summit.