#PressforProgress is the theme for the 2018 International Women’s Day, which will be commemorated on 8th March. It is exciting to once again commemorate and celebrate women and women achievements. Of course, the commemoration of international women’s day is also used as an advocacy platform – to advocate for change in issues, situations, systems and structures that hinder women’s advancement in our society. It is urgent, there is need to press for progress towards equality – equality in opportunities, equality in dignity and justice.

The challenges that stand in the way of progress for women are way too many. Most of the obstacles hindering progress for women are rooted in social stereotypes that are constructed in our minds and passed on to the social environment through communication. Once internalised, these become realities that bar women from enjoying equality. The realities create a glass ceiling made of a plethora of barriers hindering women from rising beyond what the society expects of them. The glass ceiling stifles women’s efforts to rise into high into self-advancement as well as rising to positions of influence.

It is tempting to suggest that women should just ignore the negative rhetoric and move forward. The challenge remains that the negative rhetoric is the very fabric that creates the glass ceiling for women’s progress. Again, the glass ceiling is in most cases invisible to on-lookers and only felt by the one person trying to break through it. This creates a situation whereby unless one has experienced it before, they do not understand it, neither do they appreciate it. Women are then seen to be crying for no reason because what is biting is in their shoes and no one else can see it.

It is important to note that there has been some progress both in Southern Africa and the world over. We can attest to many women featuring in powerful positions. Panos Institute Southern Africa has profiled some of them through various media platforms. However, the glass ceiling still exists. Those who have risen to powerful positions have had to fight their way through, get bruised, get hurt, get rejected, get injured along the way. But with resilience, they have succeeded. We celebrate those women, who at various levels have crashed the glass ceiling and made through. They have given hope and power to other women, including young girls who aspire to reach where they have reached and beyond.

The story does not end there. There is an equally important need to focus attention on the next step – making it easier for more women to get to the top. Women should not have to work three times as hard and prove that they are superhuman for them to be trusted to hold positions of influence.

Even with the crashing of the glass ceiling, women who find themselves up there receive less recognition and commendation than their male counterparts. There is the on-going debate about equal pay for equal work. Women are generally perceived to be cheaper labour, and less valued for the same amount of work. In some circumstances, women have been told to just be grateful for what they have, like they do not deserve it, like it is an out-of-this-world favour. This attitude which is seen from both men and women is one of the many negative forces that are pulling women downwards and reinforcing the glass ceiling.

Expectations from women leaders are much higher and when they experience challenges, they are judged more harshly that their male counterparts. In her prime, Dolly Parton played a song titled: My mistakes are no worse than yours just because am a woman. Dolly challenged this negative attitude towards women and that was in the 1960s. Women today, about six decades later are still fighting the same prejudices.

We see on social media, mainstream media in talks shows, news and features women’s capabilities being questioned because of one misstep in their personal life. In some cases, it is not even a misstep – it is a deliberate twisting of facts in efforts to put dirty on shining and upcoming women.

This is injustice that should be acknowledged and addressed on the way towards equality. Equality for women is in the long run good for both men and women’s advancement. The road to equality is long, it has many obstacles, but we must walk it together as we #PressforProgress.

The author is the Executive Director of Panos Institute Southern Africa. For feedback, email: lilian@panos.org.zm.

*This article has also been published on www.panos.org.zm, and in the Zambia Daily Mail of 5th March 2018.