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3 Surprising things I learned about gender inequality this year

This year helped me really understand the importance of fixing gender inequality

I read many articles and have listened to speeches about calling people to action, regarding the discrimination of women in business and supporting girls to educate themselves. As I could only read it and see it on TV, I was somewhat distanced from all of it and couldn’t relate to any of those problems. This doesn’t mean I didn’t support the causes, but at that point, I didn’t realize how common the issue was and that it is actually a serious problem in a lot of countries around the world.

1. Women get fired because they raise children

This year, I met many women who got fired just because they were on maternity leave. Unfortunately, one of them was my friends' wives, who is a computer engineer. She had her salary decreased during the leave, which is, in Serbia and many other countries, completely normal and legal. When she got back to work after few months, they told her that she had “lost touch” with the business as, according to her boss, “The business changed in a year, and she cannot keep up with it now.”

This is nonsense, and we all know it. When did being a mom become illegal? Why do women have to be fearful about starting a family? Then, even if they have one baby, they are scared to have another child because it can put their job at risk.

2. Older women get fired

Women in their 50s get fired because youth and appearance are important, even though younger women might not have the experience or skill levels of the women being replaced. The excuse is that they will somehow do a better job because they are younger, but we’re talking about office jobs here, not about hard manual labor on a ranch, which makes this argument nonsensical.

My neighbor, a 55-year-old woman, recently got fired because she hadn’t met the requirements of the job position anymore, as the position now required somewhat higher computer skills. It sounds reasonable to change your position if the requirements change, but it’s definitely not a reason to get fired. Also, what about some training? A secretary isn’t supposed to know how to develop software or anything like that, and all these new skills can be learned fairly quickly.

There is nothing you can do and there are many women with families without a single penny — no retirement, nothing to hold onto.

Now, you may not be aware of this kind of a problem when you are young, sitting in your office and assuming you are doing a job you love and you want to do for the rest of your life. However, imagine yourself in your 50s, getting fired for no good reason, or even worse, in your 40s, when your children still depend on you financially. If you are single mother, it gets tougher.

What should you do? Become an intern again? How can you earn money to pay your bills and support your family?

3. Girls actually don’t realize how far they can go

As it is the 21st century, I thought children were taught to "dream big" and chase worthwhile goals in this modern society, and that they can become whatever they want. However, it actually isn’t the case everywhere. I was a teaching a few classes in a small private school, and some of the girls already knew the importance of education and were encouraged by their families. The income of the families differed and wasn’t a factor.

However, some girls still thought there are jobs for women and jobs for men. One girl said that she needs to get married and have children, and that is more important than enrolling in university. Jobs that she could see herself doing included working as an assistant, nurse or teacher at an elementary school. When I asked her what her dream job was, she replied a pilot because she likes flying — but she still thought the only possible career related to flying for a woman was being a stewardess. As it turns out, according to her, it’s not acceptable because you cannot have a family, as you’ll need to travel a lot. Many families teach their children that girls should be mothers and have a family and that a career isn’t something they should strive for.

We cannot all be CEOs and millionaires, and not everyone wants that. Many women will want to be stay-at-home moms, and there is nothing wrong with that. The problem occurs when you have a girl who wants to succeed and have a career, but she is taught that it’s not a suitable life choice for her.

Also, how should she pursue a career when there is always a risk of getting fired for having a family or simply getting old?

Start making changes within your city

It is important for all of us to stop just reading about discrimination and only supporting the cause via social media. We need to act and help those women by helping them get a job and educating young girls about their possibilities. We need to raise awareness in our cities and present it as a problem. We cannot solve this problem in a month or even a year because it is deeply embedded in many girls' minds, and there are still many sexist and uncaring bosses around the world.

This is a very complex issue, as there are many factors affecting our decisions (e.g., cultural beliefs and traditions, beliefs and opinions of family members, the financial status of the family, etc.). We can start small and hope that, someday, we will be able to open a little window in the minds of girls, who will then be able to consider starting a career in their 20s as a viable path for them to take in life. Don’t just call women to action, but also men, influential people and anyone who can help your cause go viral.

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