What does gender equality mean to you? How do you visualize it?

These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering this Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Women Making History Now,” and I’ve been reflecting on how I can create a lasting positive impact in my communities.

But to do so, I need to take a closer look at the core definition of gender equality in today’s context.

To illustrate, people once claimed that gender equality was achieved when women first got the right to vote in 1916. However, Indigenous, Black and POC women were excluded from this right until several years down the line. And as we now know: the famous five who won this right to vote held racist and xenophobic beliefs.

Hence, if we claim that gender equality is being achieved in this present timeline, we need to define what we mean and who we include.

As an artist, I see gender equality as a shared canvas upon which different colours and tools come together to create a work of art that captures the beholder’s eye, provides meaning and serves as a framework of reference for them to assess other artworks. 

What does this mean? Let’s break it down.

  • It’s a shared canvas because gender equality involves everyone and can’t be achieved if any gender is left out of its creation. It means equal rights and freedoms for everyone. Gender equality can’t exist in a vacuum or belong to just one group; instead, it is shared by all groups. 

  • The variety of colours and tools represents the unique characteristics, skills, and values of all individuals and their diversity.

  • The coming together symbolizes the collaboration and unification of various peoples from different backgrounds with a common goal of gender equality.

  • The beholder’s eye signifies the individual who seeks to possess this form of equality. 

  • The art providing meaning showcases the multidimensional purpose of gender equality and how it can mean different things to different people. To some, it might mean being treated with respect and dignity as all other persons. To some, it might mean economic equality and access to fair resources and opportunities. To others, it might mean both of these things and much more.

Given that people have intersecting identities that shape how they view the world, it makes sense that their interpretation of gender equality would differ and be unique to them. Despite the differing views people might have, one thing remains the same: Gender equality benefits everyone. True gender equality is holistic.

  • The art serving as a framework of reference for them to assess other artworks is equated to how we can’t achieve other forms of equality without first achieving gender equality.  If all persons aren’t treated equally, how can we recover from the ongoing COVID19 pandemic? We’ve seen how the pandemic exacerbated job losses for women. If all persons aren’t treated equally, how can we possibly eradicate poverty? It’s no secret that women are more vulnerable to poverty.  If all persons aren’t treated equally, how can we tackle the climate crisis? Afterall, women face higher risks from the impacts of climate change.

Now that we understand this working definition of gender equality as a Canvas, how is it related to achieving the Global Goals?

If you’re not familiar with the term, the Global Goals, officially known as the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, comprise 17 goals that world leaders created to envision a better future for everyone. Some of these goals include No Poverty (Goal 1), Reduced Inequalities (Goal 10), and Climate Action (Goal 13). Gender equality is Goal 5.

The concept of gender equality and the global goals are remarkably intertwined and linked such that defining one inevitably gives insight into the other.

So, using the same artistic metaphor,

I believe the global goals act like a brush continually painting the meaningful work of art on a shared canvas. 

  • The continual painting represents the ongoing process of achieving the goals, and the canvas is shared because the goals involve and affect everyone from every corner of the world. 

  • The canvas depicts the system in which the global goals are achieved. And like there are different kinds of brushes, there are various goals that come into play. Likewise, the effects of the brushes when they come in contact with the paint vary. They can be short, solid, delicate, rough, long, broken, or refined strokes. Nevertheless, they form the piece of artwork and play a critical role. 

  • The work of art is meaningful because each goal has an important impact on us, our communities and the world at large.

Hence, gender equality acts as a canvas for achieving the global goals because it lays the groundwork for the completion of the artwork. It is the essence. You can’t create a piece of art without a canvas (physical or digital), after all.

But then again, this is my view on gender equality, and the beauty of it is; you might have a different perspective. I encourage you also to take time to reflect on the concept, especially during this month.

That is how real change – the kind that makes the few good chapters of the history books – can begin.

About the Author

Priscilla Ojomu is a Nigerian-Canadian 3rd-Year BA student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology at UAlberta. Priscilla's work at WEW is fuelled by her passion for promoting awareness of the experiences of marginalized communities through accessible information and resources.

Literature, tea, podcasts, Studio Ghibli movies (Fun fact: she has 100+ collectible postcards of the feature films from 1984 - 2014), art, volunteering and advocating for equity keep her busy.