See UNESCO Courier – by Rosiska Darcy de Oliveira, President of the Centre for Women’s Leadership (CELIM), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (June 2000): This folloswing text by ‘find articles‘. But also available in pdf (page 26 of 52) here in english, but also in french and spanish.
Women may have entered public life on a massive scale, but they are still on their own when it comes to running the household. A new balance must be struck if there is to be genuine democracy.
At the dawn of the 21st century, states and the international community can no longer refute the fact that humanity is made up of two sexes, not just one. This discovery, a precious legacy of the century that just closed, has brought women’s existence into the limelight. One of the great democratic challenges for societies over the next century will be to mature so that both sexes are able to live their lives on an equal footing, with all their differences, contrasting history and culture, but also with equal rights and responsibilities.
Women’s rise to power and their participation in politics are the vital signs of a healthy democracy. If only this vision that emerged from the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference could spread worldwide! I would call it a radicalisation of democracy. When women take part in the public arena, contributing to the ongoing, shared effort to shape better ways of living together, a qualitative leap occurs. Their participation fills a gap which has until now prevented the emergence of a truly democratic culture.
Equal sharing of decision-making by men and women is a pre-requiste for democracy. In Brazil, women hold half the civil service jobs (they are more qualified than men), but only 13 per cent of supervisory positions. The ultra-modern buildings in the federal capital, Brasilia, stand in sharp contrast with the persistence of intellectual and emotional outlooks which hark back to the 19th century and hinder women’s empowerment.
But attitudes are not the only obstacle to women’s ambitions. The structure of society and the way men and women run their daily lives are other stumbling blocks.
The Inter-American Development Bank has had the good idea of giving the Institute for Cultural Action, an NGO in Rio de Janeiro, the task of setting up a pilot programme to train Brazilian women for positions of political and social power, an experiment which is to be extended to the rest of Latin America. Participants include trade union and NGO leaders, key figures from the black and indigenous communities, company executives, civil servants and policymakers.
These women of different ages, educational backgrounds and ethnic origins are all aware of one fact: they are paying a very high price for a social contract that was negotiated when women were in a position of weakness, and agree that this has to change.
Re-mapping the division between public and private life:
Women account for 46 per cent of Brazil’s working population and hold 51 per cent of the university degrees, but still perform almost all tasks at home, in the private sphere. A study of 300 women in positions of responsibility by the Centre for Women’s Leadership (CELIM) in Rio de Janeiro revealed the difficulty they had in making choices, their temptation to give up and the risk of pulling back in the face of increasing obstacles. Their difficulties show that there is an urgent need to re-organize the use of time, to strike a new balance between responsibilities and to re-map the division between public and private life. Household tasks must be recognised as timeconsuming, socially and economically vital and a serious check on women’s ambitions.
Women in positions of power must constantly prove that they can behave like men. They keep quiet about having to look after children, run a household and care for elderly parents. Bringing those issues out into the open would mean admitting “flaws” that men do not have, for the simple reason that they delegate such work to their wives.
By drawing a veil of silence over their home life as if it were something illicit, women are allowing a basic fact to be hidden: the world of work relies on a domestic zone run by them. Women have changed, but the world of work has not and they are reaching the point of exhaustion. Filled with a deep sense of injustice, they are asking themselves: “Where did I go wrong?”
Understanding that humanity is composed of two different but equal sexes has several implications. Society must redefine itself because women are turning up in public carrying children in their arms and breast-feeding them, and because they have their own awareness and language that come from life experiences which are different from those of men.
An untenable double burden:
Articulating issues affecting public and private life is complicated, but that does not mean the equation is impossible or that the problems they raise should be brushed aside–especially since the two worlds of public and private life are intertwined and mutually supportive. The balance between the two has now been upset. Women have entered public life on a massive scale, but the organization of home life–how time is used and who is responsible for what tasks-is still the same, as if nothing had changed. And yet such a world, where women are expected to soldier on just as before, “simply” adding to their lives experiences hitherto reserved to men, is called egalitarian.
That misunderstanding is fueled by an age-old tradition of dismissing the world of women, even by women themselves. Because society does not consider what they do in the home as having any major social significance, it fails to add this part of their lives to the other side of the equation.
This is why the massive migration of women from the home to the public arena is occurring without societies having to think seriously about how and by whom domestic work will be done in the future (and which women still do, but at what cost!). The double burden, resulting from an outdated social contract, is putting women under mounting pressure by speeding up their lives to an untenable pace. We are facing a social problem that society as a whole must solve and not, as many think, a problem that women must settle by working even harder.
As new areas of power open up to women, both sexes must take a fresh look at how they use time. Re-arranging it is a challenge to society’s imagination. But has this necessity sunk into the minds of decision-makers? I do not think so. This poses a major problem because it is a missing building block in the construction of our democracies.
The everyday work of CELIM is proof of this. Women must put these issues on the political and economic agenda, thereby contributing to a more radical definition of democracy. Feminism’s new demand for a different sharing of time also opens a debate that goes beyond the interests of women alone. In the final analysis, time and its constraints define the limits of our own lives and the range of choices we make, in accordance with the meaning we give to our own existence.
The equality equation is increasingly complex. It is not enough to wipe out the last traces of discrimination in public life. A new definition of equality will emerge when both sexes start sharing responsibility in the private realm. Otherwise, the issue will be distorted and women will lose all chance of succeeding in public life.