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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Against All Odds: Global fight against sexism endures, but on differing battlegrounds

Eight countries, 13 women and countless stories of hardship, empowerment
Caitlin Thies

Nardo Msuya envisions a life for her daughter 100 times better than her own. Msuya works multiple jobs so her 15-year-old daughter, Maria, can have the life she never had. 

The days are long, the hours are demanding and the pain is palpable. But Msuya persists beyond the difficulty because underneath the pain is the knowledge she is doing it all for her daughter. 

Maria wishes to become an accountant, and Msuya hopes to give her everything she needs to achieve those goals and aspirations. 


With this dream at the forefront of Msuya’s life, she can’t quite remember the last time she took a vacation or simply time off work to spend time with her daughter. Though she loves her job, the days are long and the salary is not large.

But, Msuya’s story possesses one additional layer that complicates things — she is a single mother. 

Msuya is one of millions of single mothers around the world. Being a single parent is undoubtedly an uphill battle, but the hill doesn’t look the same for both single mothers and single fathers. For single mothers, the hill is covered in glass shards and falling rocks. 

Statistically, single mothers are much more likely to be poor compared to single fathers. Single mothers face additional challenges from maintaining a work-life balance due to needing to work extra hours to the lack of financial support and associated guilt of not providing enough, all the way to the burdening pressure of making decisions without the support of a partner.

These statistics are not merely a number, but rather evidence of a persistent, systemic problem of gender inequality all around the world.

Msuya’s biggest harness in her uphill battle is her education. She was born in a village known as Mwanga in the Kilimanjaro district of Tanzania and was raised in a family with seven other siblings. Despite being raised in a village, she was fortunate enough to receive education up to the university level.

Her education allowed her to start working as a receptionist at a hotel and tourism company and eventually work her way to becoming a sales executive. Today, she is the head of the marketing department at that same company, but the journey has not been easy.

From Australia to Mexico, women all around the world face an unfair uphill battle rooted in deep, systemic gender inequities. But the hills come in all different shapes and sizes as the way the inequities unfold is multifaceted and unique to each and every individual woman. With the patriarchy deeply embedded in the system on a global scale, the fight for gender equity is far from over.

Here, There And Everywhere

Feminism and feminist movements around the world date back several decades. In the U.S., 1848 marked a pivotal moment in the rise of the feminist movement and women’s history with the Declaration of Sentiments — a public petition outlining civil, social, political and religious rights for women — being signed by women’s rights activists at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York.

In 1893, women in New Zealand were granted the right to vote, sending a message to the world that equal voting rights were an attainable prospect. Moving into the 20th century, women around the world mobilized and advocated for gender equality, with feminist movements rapidly gaining momentum.

This momentum reached a pinnacle in 1995 when the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a global agenda for women’s empowerment and rights, was adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference in Beijing, China.

March 8, 2023, marked the 111th International Women’s Day, yet the fight for gender equality is far from over.

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Twenty-four-year-old Kirstin Roos was born and raised in Germany. Kristin currently studies graphic design in Cologne, Germany, and also works for a PR and advertising agency.

Kirstin has experienced sexism in the workplace from both her boss and her clients, making her fatigued and frustrated. She recalled a sexist encounter during a meeting with the company’s client.

In the meeting, after Kirstin’s boss made a charming statement, the client made a sexual innuendo insinuating an inappropriate relationship between her and her boss. The client also touched Kristin without her permission when he wanted her to notice something.

Knowing that her boss would side with the client and feeling unsafe, Kristin refrained from speaking up about the encounter to her boss at the time. Kristin has switched jobs since this encounter, and now feels more comfortable in her new workplace. She has also started to speak about the sexism she faces in the workplace, but admits that it’s not easy.

“I was really emotional in general, and it was just because I’m so frustrated that if you start noticing it once, then you start noticing it all the time,” Kristin said. “I was actually working on a similar project [about cognitive labor] for my bachelor’s degree . . . and if you start reading up about stuff like that, or start to open your eyes to the problems, you see them everywhere and that’s kind of really exhausting.”

Sexism in the workplace is prevalent in several different workplace settings — from food service to the mining industry — all around the world. In the U.S, 42% of women report having experienced gender discrimination at their workplace, according to Pew Research Center.

Kavitha Ramesh is an obstetrician-gynecologist who started her own medical practice 15 years ago in Karaikudi, India. Today, Ramesh is the owner of one of the leading fertility centers in Karaikudi, with a facility that can house up to 100 patients. She runs the business with her husband who is a laparoscopic surgeon.

Despite owning her own practice and being a sought-after physician, Ramesh faces subtle discrimination from her patients. Certain patients speak to Ramesh differently when she is alone compared to when her husband is present in the room. She finds herself seeking her husband’s help in dealing with certain difficult patients as her voice is not heard, whereas her husband’s male voice is heard in those situations.

“It’s really frustrating because when we do good things, and you’re not getting rewarded, not rewarded but when you get backfired, it’s the worst thing,” Ramesh said. “In those situations I really feel bad, and still the situation is not being completely alright . . . Even though you have some talent, your part of this thing will be shared only.”

Not feeling heard or taken seriously isn’t an isolated incident that occurs only in certain parts of the world, and American women are certainly not foreign to the concept. Studies in the U.S. show that women are almost four times as likely to report that they have been treated as incompetent as a result of their gender and about three times as likely to have experienced small slights in the workplace as a result of their gender.

Jazmynn Appleton has experienced this statistic first hand. Appleton is currently the manager of entrepreneurial opportunities for the Progress Center for Black Women in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Progress Center for Black Women was founded by Sabrina Madison in 2018. After recognizing the inequities prevalent for Black women, Madison decided to create a space for Black women to feel comfortable and receive resources for professional and personal development, particularly aimed at rejecting the devaluation of Black women.

Prior to working at the Progress Center, Appleton has held leadership positions at which she was not taken seriously, and even had clients refuse her service because she was a Black woman. Appleton recounted an instance when an older white man would not come up to the counter while she was behind it, even though she was the person who could help him. But, when Appleton’s manager, a white male came behind the counter, the customer accepted his service.

“It feels very degrading at the end of the day,” Appleton said.

Though the larger umbrella of sexism and gender inequities exists everywhere, the specific difficulties and the way they unfold underneath that umbrella can be drastically different.

Difference in Between 

Sunmi Famule grew up in Nigeria in a traditional household. Growing up, Famule and her sister realized traditional gender roles did not help them in realizing their dreams or in striving for a better life than the ones of their ancestors.

Famule said the expectation for young women in Nigeria is to stay with their family, where the father provides for the daughters until they get married. But, Famule’s dad eventually had to adapt to his daughter not adhering to the traditional gender roles of being married and having children at her age. 

Famule admits it is easier in the U.S. to separate herself from traditional gender stereotypes than it would be if she was living in Nigeria. Famule said considering oneself as a feminist in the U.S. and considering oneself as a feminist in Nigeria is not equivalent. 

Famule and her sister knew from a young age that they were feminists, especially after witnessing the life their mother lived adhering to traditional gender stereotypes. But, they never had the language to vocalize that or to recognize what feminism meant or what that looks like. 

Famule feels there is more access to the literature and discourse surrounding feminism in the U.S. In Nigeria, even when Famule saw people with feminist ideologies, they never called themselves feminists because feminism is often associated with Westernization. 

When people claim to be feminist in Nigeria, it is seen as succumbing to Western ideals, according to Famule, with the perspective that feminists are abandoning the culture and tradition, adding another layer of ostracization. 

“I think the difference here is there’s a lot more freedom in one, your ability to access the [feminist literature], but also your ability to define yourself without as much like societal backlash, like in your own community, not just like on the internet, but like the people you live next to, your family members, things like that,” Famule said. 

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University of Wisconsin political science professor Aili Tripp said feminist thinking varies drastically around the world, even within the U.S. While there are influences and overlaps, feminism is unique everywhere because of differences in feminist movements, trajectories, struggles for independence and cultural experiences. 

Tripp emphasized that when talking about women outside of the U.S., it is important to realize that the United States is not the gold standard. 

“When we talk about women in other parts of the world, we have to be aware of our own limitations and where we are coming from,” Tripp said. “ . . . We don’t always compare very favorably.

Tripp referred to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, in which an index is assigned to each country based on the current state and progress of gender equality across education, health, political and economic empowerment. 

According to the report, Rwanda, Nicaragua and Namibia are ranked in sixth, seventh, and eighth place, respectively, out of 145 countries as the world’s most gender equal countries — with the United States ranking 27th. 

In fact, Rwanda has the highest level of female representation in the Parliament, according to Tripp, at 61.3%, whereas in the U.S., only 29% of the members in the House of Representatives are women. 

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Barbara Tijerina is a civil engineer who was born and raised in Mexico. Currently, Tijerina lives in Luxembourg with her husband and son, and she notices stark differences in feminism and the female experience between the two countries. 

In Mexico, Tijerina said women are concentrating on fighting for more welfare benefits and acquiring more basic rights and justice. For example, in Latin America femicide — the intentional killing of women because of their gender —  is a very prevalent issue on the daily, but rarely do women get justice regarding this issue, Tijerina said 

But in Germany, Tijerina sometimes feels that feminism can be focused on more minor issues, such as the masculinity and femininity of words such as “engineer” in German, and the inclusion of both words in job applications and such. Tijerina feels that these debates are a luxury because the basic needs of women are fulfilled. 

“They are talking about all of these things that to me coming from a place where we still have the issues, it seems a little bit irrelevant or in its rhetoric even a little bit even unempathetic to real women having real issues all over the world,” Tijerina said. 

Tijerina acknowledged that there are still issues regarding gender inequalities in European countries, like Germany and Luxembourg, but also recognized the privileges being awarded to her. For example, in Luxembourg, Tijerina is offered two months of maternity leave before birth and three months after birth, as well as parental leave.

“You’re not in a precarious situation,” Tijerina said. “You don’t depend 100% economically on men or on your partner. There’s a lot of benefits that you have and that we have acquired in this region that allows for women to concentrate on other things.”

Tijerina said in Germany, women are able to become independent earlier, whereas in Mexico, women are often dependent on their family for much longer until they achieve the same level of independence. Women may have to live at home for longer periods of time to save money before becoming truly independent in Mexico, especially because a large population of Mexico lives below the poverty line.  

“I think it [stems from us] objectively understanding what the needs of women [are], or what really advances their betterment in society and how [we could] maybe equalize it in a more universal way and not conveniently change depending on where you’re at,” Tijerina said. “Like, oh but these women here are deserving of that and those women there, they might not care for this type of thing, like no.”

While the female experience and feminism looks different everywhere around the world, regardless of location, feminism and gender equality cannot be discussed without discussing another key part of the equation  — the men. 

Pushing Past the Patriarchy

Quality manager Anna Roos is 29 years old and currently lives in Germany. When living with her ex-boyfriend, Anna felt she bore most of the mental load of managing household tasks and had to tell her partner how or when to do specific household tasks. Though her partner participated in some household tasks, it was not balanced by any means. And because he believed he was already doing his part, though it was the bare minimum, he was not willing to discuss the issue at hand. 

Anna said despite men being able to be independent when they live by themselves, the expectation changes when they move in with a woman in a heterosexual relationship. 

“It’s because . . . they still have very much grown up in a household where the mother did both — went to work [and] did all the chores,” Anna said. “So sometimes if they end up in a heterosexual relationship living together, they might sometimes not equal the workload at home.”

Anna’s experiences mirror those of women all around the world. Women all around the world spend more time on tasks such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping and taking care of relatives compared to men. Even in countries often presented as the prototype for equitable standards, such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark, the gap in the amount of unpaid labor between men and women exists. 

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, women in the U.S. spend four hours per day on unpaid labor while men spend 2.5 hours. This disparity amounts to 10.5 more hours per week and 546 more hours per year for women. 

 According to the New York Times, if American women earned a minimum wage for their unpaid labor surrounding the household and the family, they would have made $1.5 trillion dollars in 2019. 

The underlying inequity behind unpaid labor is that more hours spent on unpaid labor equates to fewer hours spent on paid labor — the type of work that leads to political and financial advancement. Less time allocated toward paid work means fewer opportunities for promotions and other substantial assignments. This leads to women remaining in lower-paying, less-senior roles despite their abilities to take on more responsibility. 

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Alice Priddis is an occupational therapist that works with organizations doing strategic people and performance consulting in Sydney, Australia. 

Priddis grew up in a household that adhered to the traditional gender roles, rooted in stereotypes. She remembers her father not being very involved in childcare or household chores, with her mother taking on most of these duties. 

Priddis said these ideals from her childhood linger even today. She sees that with her female clients. Even if they are in a good socioeconomic situation, the females are the ones responsible for taking time off work to care for their children. 

“It’s her [the woman’s] responsibility to take the time off to look after the kids, to kind of be responsible for the household and the family more than the [male] partner because her work isn’t valued as much, even just financially,” Priddis said. 

Appleton and Madison are attempting to break these patriarchal ideals in the way they raise their sons. For example, Madison is raising her son with the expectation that he needs to work around the house. 

“I raised [my son] under the mindset that we are a team and that I need you to work around the house, so I could be able to go to work and take care of you,” Madison said “I can’t come and clean up your dirty drawers, your dirty underwear, when you can do the same thing.”

Appleton said household activities such as cooking and cleaning are basic survival skills that everyone should know and aren’t something that should be gendered or associated with gender stereotypes. 

Appleton teaches her own son many of these skills. In fact, she and her son have cooked together in the kitchen since he was 5 years old. 

“I would prefer my son to know how to cook and clean after himself. I don’t want him thinking that a woman is supposed to do everything,” Appleton said. 

But the reach of patriarchal ideals extend far beyond the household. 

Arja Roos heads two software companies based out of Germany with her husband. Despite Arja and her husband holding the same position, she isn’t viewed with the same respect as her husband. 

Arja pointed out instances in which during meetings, she was the one asked to make or bring coffee by her male employees. In other instances, Arja is referred to as the one helping her husband, rather than as the boss herself, even by her own friends.

“They say to me I’m helping my husband because we work together, but it’s my company. I founded it . . . I’m still CEO, but they don’t trust that because I’m a woman,” Arja said. 

The perception of women as less suitable leaders remains a widespread patriarchal ideal. According to the Reykjavík Index for Leadership, which measures society’s perceptions on whether men and women are equally suitable to lead, the average index score for women was 73, considerably below the target score of 100, indicating that women are still perceived as less suitable to lead compared to men. In fact, only 4.8% of Fortune Global 500 CEOS are women as of 2022, despite women making up 39.7% of the global labor workforce. 

While the system is stacked against women, there are tools that can be used to advance their position in society — one in particular that catalyzes progress towards equity.

The Ladder of Education

Maria Rendon was born and raised in Quito, Ecuador. Rendon studied environmental sciences and currently works at the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation as a coordinator for education and conservation programs. 

Growing up in a big city, Rendon said she has been fortunate to not have experienced sexism in the workplace or school settings. Rendon also grew up in a family where gender stereotypes were not strictly followed, with both parents partaking in household activities and childcare. 

Now, Rendon works in Manabi, a province located in the coastal region of Ecuador, where there are several rural communities. After moving, Rendon quickly realized that the situation for women in these communities were not the same as her own life experiences. 

Where Rendon works, women did not have the same access to education, jobs and other resources that Rendon herself did. Rendon said in the rural areas, much more machismo — or exaggerated masculinity — is very prevalent. The men are the primary decision makers and the ones responsible for handling the money, leaving women to be dependent on men and lack access to the same opportunities men do. 

According to Rendon, it’s common for women and girls to become mothers at a young age,  preventing them from finishing school in rural areas, but the same standard does not present itself for young males. Even if men become fathers at a young age, males are able to continue going to school and work. 

Education [is] the door that opens these new opportunities and that kind of brings down stereotypes because they’re here,” Rendon said. “ . . . Women are still responsible for being home, and guys are still responsible for going out fishing or working or stuff like that and not necessarily fully responsible [for] the kids that they have.”

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The inequities in access to education is a key factor that contributes to the gender inequities females face. Research shows that in the U.S., women’s education has been an integral step of progressing gender equality in several facets of life, including domestic and work. For example, women who are educated are more likely to have greater decision-making power within the household, according to UN Women

According to Brookings, education for girls “contributes later to their increased formal economic opportunity and wages, decreases in pregnancy and early marriage, reduction in child and maternal mortality, better educated children when they do bear children, increased participation in politics, and decreased climate risk vulnerability.” 

But grave disparities still exist between girls and boys in receiving education, particularly in rural versus urban settings. Only 39% of rural girls attend secondary school, which is significantly less than rural boys at 45%, urban girls at 59% and urban boys at 60%. 

The Philemon Ndesamburo family is one example of a family that overcame this statistic. The family — consisting of nine sisters and three brothers — runs and operates Keys Tours and Hotels, a travel and tourism agency in Moshi, Tanzania. Their mother and father started the business 30 years ago, and it has remained a family business ever since. 

Luisesia Philemon Ndesamburo, one of the nine sisters, also emphasized the importance of education in female empowerment. In a time when chauvinistic ideologies were very prevalent — such that women shouldn’t be involved in the business or allowed to be leaders, Ndesamburo’s father refused these ideals and educated all of his children equally. Today, Luisesia is a member of the Tanzanian parliament and is also involved in running the family business. 

Today, the lowest level of education among the nine sisters is a bachelor’s degree, with some of the daughters even holding a Ph.D. Some of the daughters focus on the family business while one of the daughters is a judge and one of them was the former executive director of UNICEF.

Our father really gave us an opportunity which we are really grateful [for]. He gave us the opportunity to work in his business, and we are the directors of the business and the business is doing well,” Ndehorio Philemon Ndesamburo said. “We are really proud of ourselves.”

 Dear Future Generations

Despite the progress the women’s rights movement has made throughout history, there is undeniably more to be done for future generations. 

For women to progress, men need to be more involved in the fight for gender equality — not just in the U.S. but all around the world, according to Tripp. Men are an integral part of the discourse of the women’s rights movement, and progress cannot be achieved without men being on board. 

African women have been making strides in furthering this goal and the global women’s movement for several years. 

In 2014, former Deputy President of South Africa and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka launched a campaign entitled HeforShe. The solidarity movement invites men and people of all genders to stand with women and be actively involved in the campaign’s efforts — building businesses and raising families, among others — aimed at achieving gender equality.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, Tripp said advancing the women’s movement should start with increasing the number of female leaders across sectors — from education to business to politics.

“I mean, there’s just tons of very capable women everywhere, and I think that we need to recognize that women can do these jobs just as well as men, and they bring different kinds of sensibilities to the table and different voices and different perspectives,” Tripp said. 

Tripp pointed out that more women are becoming involved in politics in the U.S., with an increasing number of women and women of color being elected in every election. While these are encouraging signs that the women’s movement is progressing in the right direction, the U.S. is not keeping up with global trends. 

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Change doesn’t only have to happen on a large scale. To Anna, change starts at home with the parents, as young children are largely influenced by and often imitate the behavior seen at home. Parents can make a large difference in attitudes about gender and gender equality based on how they behave at home, and how they educate their children on these issues. 

“I think it could already make a difference if you just live by example as a family,” Anna said. 

But beyond the home, teachers and educators can have a large influence on young minds as well. Anna said many of the traditional gender stereotypes and attitudes surrounding females, such that science fields are only for men, was taught to her in school. 

In a world made by men, made for men, more systemic change is also necessary for gender equality to become more than a mere concept, but a true reality. Tijerina believes the future of feminism lies in focusing on real policy making and analyzing the real issues women face. She said society needs to start focusing on implementing economic policy and education that can actually improve the livelihoods of women. 

“Feminism means for me pretty much equality for everyone,” Anna said. “I’m a feminist because it was the first way I think to express that I think that you should fight for those who are unaware they are not treated the same way . . . I wish there would be equality where it wouldn’t matter where you came from or what you look like or what your interests are, but that will be probably a long way to go.”

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