‘You cannot do that, you are a woman’ — Time to shatter the myth once and for all

‘You cannot do that, you are a woman’ — Time to shatter the myth once and for all

Students pose with their faces painted on the occasion of International Women's Day. (AFP)

At some point in our lives, most of us have heard the words “you cannot do that” or “you are not capable of doing that job” or “you lack the talent for that.” Women undoubtedly hear such dismissive and demotivating comments more often than men.
Throughout history, a number of incredible women have left their mark despite facing such comments and huge obstacles, many of which their descendants continue to face, unfortunately.
Do you think that Indira Gandhi was not confronted by such comments as “politics is not a career for a woman” when she set off on her path to becoming India’s first female prime minister? However, she persisted and became the most influential person in Indian political history, shaping the country’s post-war constitution and society despite the patriarchal nature of politics. She, along with the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and other women, proved that politics is not a field reserved solely for men.
When Marie Curie was conducting her pioneering research in chemistry and physics, do you imagine that there were not those around her questioning whether women were intelligent enough to work alongside men in the sciences? As we know, she became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, remains the only person to receive one in two different sciences, chemistry and physics, and helped to develop the first X-ray machines.
When Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, was fighting for human rights in her country, it is likely there were people telling her: “This is not your business. You are a woman whose job is to bring up children and stay at home.” She is another woman who paid no heed to such comments and went on to win a Nobel Prize.
There are many other examples of inspirational, pioneering women — too many to list in this column. Yet no matter how many break through glass ceilings and achieve great things, many others around the world still continue to be confronted by men who are convinced that any woman who succeeds only does so due to her father’s power or her husband’s position — in other words, thanks to nepotism and help from a man.
We marked another International Women’s Day by remembering and celebrating the achievements of women, and considering what else needs to be done to guarantee the freedom, rights and equality of every woman in the world.

Women are neither weaker nor less intelligent than men. They can do pretty much every job that men can do.

Sinem Cengiz

There is still serious discrimination against women in society, politics, business and many other aspects of daily life. A disturbing number of women are killed around the world under the pretext of “preserving honor” or as a result of domestic disputes. Millions of girls below the age of 18 continue to be forced into child marriages, the consequences of which hundreds of millions of women live with every day. According to UN estimates, almost two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world are women.
Women are neither weaker nor less intelligent than men. They can do pretty much every job that men can do. In the modern world, there are female pilots, truck drivers, engineers and mountaineers, and women work in every field that influences our daily lives.
There has been some notable progress on women’s rights in my own country, Turkey, though this should be considered while keeping in mind the discrimination and lack of equality that women still face everywhere in the world.
The ratios of women to men in the fields of science, technology, engineering, health, and research and development in Turkey have surpassed those in the EU, according to figures released on Feb. 11 by Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU in Luxembourg.
According to a recent Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) report, the proportion of women working as academics has reached 45 percent, again surpassing the EU average. The proportion of female ambassadors has also increased in recent years, to 63.
For many years, there was a common belief, due to taboos and prejudice, that diplomacy was a not a suitable career for women and so they were discouraged from trying to pursue it. Those who did try struggled to break through the glass ceiling. Now, 35 percent of diplomats in the Foreign Ministry are women and their way of conducting diplomacy might be working better than the old, exclusively male model, based on the good state of Turkey’s relations with countries to which female diplomats have been posted.
Not many people realize this but Turkey gave women the right to vote and to stand for Parliament in 1934, ahead of France (1945), Italy (1946) and Switzerland (1971). However, despite this proud record, the country has only once had a female foreign minister. As Turkey heads toward its local elections on March 31, KA.DER, a women’s rights organization that advocates for equal representation of women and men in all fields of life, has criticized the country’s political parties for nominating so few women to run for mayor.
According to TUIK data, women make up half of the Turkish population. Allow me to conclude, therefore, with a quote from Nobel Peace Prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “If we are going to see real development in the world, then our best investment is women.”

  • Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East.

Twitter: @SinemCngz

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