Not bad... for a girl.
It almost sounds like a compliment, doesn't it? We have all heard comments like this and, whether we bristle at the low bar or bask in the sentiment, we often let it go. It seems like such a small thing, yet it is a thread that helps to strengthen the culture of inequality.
There is a deeper, more basic element to this kind of dialogue. Our intellect and strength as women is often overlooked and we are not valued for ourselves, but for what we can do for others. Respect for women as strong, intelligent and independent people needs to be encouraged all over the world.
Forced marriages, child prostitution, slavery, honour killings, restricted freedom of movement - these violations of human rights still occur in many places across the globe. Women are seen as property - belonging to a man to do with as he likes. Education for these women is a luxury or non-existent. With this lack of respect comes a culture of accepted verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
The theme for 2017 International Women's Day is 'Be Bold for Change'. The website offers some powerful suggestions and visible ways to embrace this, such as supporting women through consumer choices, volunteering at shelters for abused women, and contributing to the mentorship and education of young women and girls world-wide. These coordinated measures will help to blur the stereotypical image of the woman as an adornment, a helper and not-quite-as-capable as a man. Measures like these chip away at the mountain of gender inequality, leaving chinks and cracks where there were none.
There are other effective ways to combat gender bias as well - gently and consistently and on a daily basis. These are smaller, more constant techniques that may not crack the rocks, but may, with time and persistence, erode the surface like a constant trickle of water wears away granite.
Let's start with the children.
From the very beginning, boys and girls are unwittingly taught that they are valued for different things. Consider this scenario - one that we've all seen or experienced:
A young brother and sister are meeting a friend of their parents' for the first time. They greet the little girl with, 'What a pretty dress!' The little girl feels proud. The visitor turns to her brother and says, 'Don't you look strong!' The little boy puffs out his chest. Both of these are innocent comments meant to make a child feel good about themselves. But underneath the superficial compliment lies a frightening message.
My dress is pretty. This is what makes me important.
I am strong. This is what makes me important.
So let's show the children that they are both valued for their thoughts, their ideas and their interests. We can ask about favourite books, toys or games. We can show interest in their opinions and hobbies. We can talk about anything, as long as we don't base our dialogue on assumptions and gender stereotypes.
Offer the opportunity for girls to play with trucks and boys to play with dolls. Teach girls and boys to cook a meal, but also to fix the car. Encourage boys to babysit and girls to mow the lawn. Pave the way for our daughters to become leaders and allow our sons to excel in playing a supportive role. Listen to what our young girls have to say and allow young boys to cry.
In short - let's encourage our children to find their strengths and passions as individuals and teach them to recognise and applaud those strengths in others, regardless of gender. Let's try to reword our language to be more inclusive and unbiased.
If we are mindful of our language and our subtle messages to our children, maybe we can start to erode this global culture of inequality. Maybe these beliefs will become so ingrained in ourselves and in our children that more women and enlightened men will enter politics, hold influential positions and have enough power to help create change. We must learn to value the lives of women who have never been given a chance.
The massive mountain of gender bias and inequality won't disappear overnight. It's taken centuries to build, and it will take time to break it down, but we are on the right track. By changing the culture of our own lives, we may contribute to change for women across the world. Every chip and crack we create in that rock face weakens it and, if we can keep up that consistent stream of vigilance in our language and actions, we will eventually remove it altogether.
Let's start with the children.
HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today
Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email firstname.lastname@example.org