Jamila Rizvi: A letter to my son on International Women’s Day.

Dear Rafi,

I know that our conversations to date have centred on food, toys, sleep (or lack thereof) and your penchant for electrical cords. But today I want to talk to you about something else.

I want to talk to you about women.

Darling, while you may only be 9-months-old, gender bias has already begun playing itself out in your little world, the same way it does in Mummy and Daddy’s big one.

It began when you were born. The waitress at our local café gave me a bemused guffaw when I explained that you were in fact a boy, despite your pink and gold sparkly jumpsuit. A stranger on a plane advised me to ‘be careful he doesn’t grow up soft’, as you made those gentle, cooing noises to your favourite toy doggy.

international women's day letter to my son
(Image: Supplied)

Despite my initial insistence that we keep everything gender neutral, the cars and the trucks and the diggers and the trains arrived in abundance. Our generous friends and family exclaimed about how strong you were, how clever you seemed, how athletic you were destined to become. I smiled proudly, agreeing – like all new parents – that you were of course the most remarkable of children.

In those early weeks, I often thought about how things might have been different if you’d been born a girl. How the well-meaning commentary of visitors would have skipped over your powerful little legs and your intelligent-looking brow. Instead, singling out your pretty facial features and sweet temperament for praise.

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Beautiful, you would have been called. A princess.

Perhaps all of this seems a bit silly and inconsequential to you. Who cares about pink versus blue, or dolls versus Legos, when your generation is set to inherit a world ravaged by dangerous climate change, war, famine and potentially the aftermath of a Donald Trump presidency? Right? But, my darling, the different way we treat boy and girl babies is the beginning of something much, much bigger and something far more sinister.

international women's day letter to my son
(Image: Supplied)

It’s the beginning of a culture that teaches girls their appearance is the singularly most important asset they posses. A culture that labels girls as ‘bossy’ instead of ‘leaders’ and ‘aggressive’ instead of ‘powerful’. A culture that prevents a girl raising her hand in class, even when she knows the answer. A culture that means girls drop out of organised sport at three times the rate of boys.

A culture that teaches girls they can grow up to be anything they want to be… but fails to disclose the fact that simply isn’t true.

My son, in 2015 you were born into a world that is not equal.

The average superannuation payment for an Australian woman is just over half that of a man. Women are paid 82 cents in the dollar, compared with men. One in two mothers have experienced workplace discrimination. One in three women has been the subject of sexism at work. One in three women has experienced violence in the last five years. One in five women has experienced sexual violence. Women make up less than a third of our parliaments and less than one fifth of our top companies’ boards.

We have come such a very long way down the road of gender equality but still have a hell of a distance left to travel.

Through your life, I know that you will meet many brilliant women who are still working towards the cause cause of true equality. These women will delight, amaze and inspire you – such is their passion and commitment to build a fairer and more equal world.

Just some of the women who inspire us (post continues after video):

But know this: They cannot do it alone.

Because for one group in a society to gain power, another must – by definition – lose some. And as a privileged, healthy, white man, you will have power that others can only dream of; power well in excess of what is fair, power that well exceeds your due. It will be a power to build nations, to nurture communities, to invent, to explore, to educate and to change minds.

And I know that you will use that power for good.

But I hope for more than that.

I hope that when the time is right, you will be willing to relinquish some of that power. I hope you will be able to envision the better, more equal world that could exist if we don’t just tolerate but welcome women’s voices in decision making. And I hope that your imagination will be strong enough and your humility great enough, to make that vision a reality.

Because I promise you this, you will personally benefit from living in a more equal world. A world that celebrates men who want to spend more time with their children, rather than treating them as an oddity. A world that rewards men for the fullness of their character, not just their strength, bravery and influence. A world that values men for their kindness, for their compassion and for their vulnerability too.

I love you very, very much. Happy International Women’s Day.

Mum.

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