Gender inequality remains an everyday reality for women and girls around the world. Despite the varying forms in which inequality is experienced, it remains essential for society to engage and continually promote equality on a large scale and help educate so that we can all play our part in furthering women’s rights and achieving gender equality.
With International Women’s Day upon us, we recognise that gender equality is seeing males and females as being of equal status and value. “It is judging a person based on their merit, and not viewing them as inferior or superior based on their gender,” says Liesel Perks, Associate at Hames Sharley.
Growing up in a home where both parents had a university degree and their own separate careers, Liesel says she was unaware of what generations before her had to go through, “for me to be able to be where I am today, it certainly made we wonder why I was unaware of the topic growing up.”
Starting in a small company, Liesel fast-tracked her career by building her own business where gender inequality wasn’t apparent to her, nor was it the topic of conversation. “Once I took the opportunity to travel and join Hames Sharley, my awareness grew dramatically due to the transparency regarding equal opportunity,” she reports. These were the conversations which exposed Liesel to the history and the journey of many women before her and why she promotes these discussions now.
“Last year’s International Women’s Day presentation at the office showed me how important it is to recognise gender equality, despite never experiencing the mistreatment myself,” she admits. “It was a celebration of what has been achieved, where facts were highlighted about the issues and achievements of recent times.”
Liesel expresses that she has always felt equal to the men around her through school, work and sport. At age 14, she was sent to H.T.S John Vorster, an all-boys secondary school in South Africa – in an effort by her parents to enhance her future opportunities. “I was one of 30 girls in a school of 3000 students,” she says. “Our class of 30 kids had five girls, but I was never made aware of any disqualification due to my gender.”
She explains that she has always been provided the same treatment and opportunity as the other males in her school - whether she was building a motor engine, on the sporting field or learning in the classroom. She says that besides the crowds staring at her for being the only girl standing in line to take off against seven other boys in the swimming pool, she was evaluated on talent, and not gender.
“I often ask myself now why I never felt discriminated against or told that I would not be able to achieve what I wanted to achieve because of my gender,” Liesel reflects. She explains that the way she was raised and educated was not focused so much on gender, but rather on an entrepreneurial spirit. “During my formative years, this discussion was not an agenda item and imbalances within society were focussed more on ethnicity and poverty,” she reports.
Liesel’s resilience towards gender disparity has allowed her to forge a career pathway unencumbered. She says it is through the support of her family that she has seen no bounds or experienced any limitation to what she can achieve in life.
Being acutely aware of the importance in empowering the next generation, Liesel says we must continue to have conversations and educate children and teenagers. “Being a mother of two, I see it through my girls’ eyes and will continue to assist and support them on their journey.” Liesel identifies that it is essential to keep her children grounded in understanding their opportunities and how fortunate they are not to experience limitations.
Despite her neutral experiences in education and the workplace, Liesel knows of the discrimination females have historically faced and advises those currently suffer to find a mentor to lean on, “those that are breaking-ground and will help you reach your full potential.” Liesel recognises that we have come a long way, with stay-at-home dads and shared working arrangements that empower women to retain a career and a family. “I think it is fantastic because the argument of women not being able to keep up with their education and capability due to starting a family is being addressed from a government point-of-view as well as a self-motivation,” she exclaims.
Encompassing the #EachforEqual mentality to its core, Liesel believes those who want to achieve will achieve if they truly apply themselves. “For me, it is about balance and communication; I am influenced by those around me, not the media that surrounds me.” Refusing to succumb to the pressures or judgement as a female in the workplace, she urges, “I am self-driven and motivated to achieve my goals because of my skills and merits.”
It is through her experiences and background, which gives the Associate of Hames Sharley an impartial view on gender equality, and one that reflects this year’s International Women’s Day theme. Liesel is passionate that future generations should feel the world is theirs to conquer and not feel restricted because of the mistreatment of others. “It is up to every individual to want to achieve what they are passionate about without the limitation that media and society place on them due to the history of gender inequality,” she explains.
Liesel has always felt valued and given every opportunity due to her skill set, not her gender. After having her two daughters, she returned to Hames Sharley not only for herself, but to set an example for her girls. “It’s necessary for them to learn social skills and discover themselves where they need to overcome obstacles.”
Liesel knows the road ahead is long but wants us to recognise that International Women’s Day is a celebration of all generations before us that paved, and continue to pave, the way forward. “It is for every individual, to feel empowered by their talent and skills, regardless of their gender.”
As International Women’s Day approaches, we promote the idea to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements. Despite the inclusive experiences throughout her life, Liesel is still promoting the conversations about what is required to build a more all-encompassing society, which is needed to build a truly gender-equal world.