Project Gender Bender questions the roles of men and women in modern society

By Lucy Christie

HKIS students held a discussion to see if men's and women's roles in society have finally started to change

By Lucy Christie |

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(Left to right) HKIS student moderators Rachel Tang and Pari Garg, and panellists Matthieu Bodin, Meredith Kelly Oke, John Shanahan, Yan Chu, Paul Cherry, Sara Yang Bosco, Clarence Yang, and Karena Belin at the Gender Bender panel discussion.

Beyonce famously sings, "Who run the world? Girls", empowering females across the globe. But while we might think we live in a fair and equal society, there is still a lot of work to be done when it comes to gender inequality.

Two Hong Kong International School students, Rachel Tang and Parinita Garg, both 17, are doing their best to get people talking about this global issue.

"The issues that come with gender inequality affect both men and women," says Rachel. "And to solve these problems, both genders must be involved."

Last September, while they were discussing hypothetical solutions for these issues, the idea for their senior project, Gender Bender, was born.

On February 28, they held a panel as part of the project, in hopes of generating a discussion on gender inequality and stereotypes in Hong Kong.

There are many jobs and responsibilities that are traditionally held by only one gender. For example, teachers, nurses, homemakers were usually expected to be women, while doctors, police officers, and bankers were expected to be men. These might seem like old stereotypes that don't exist anymore, so the panellists were asked to share their experiences in gender-bending roles.

They each responded to a few key questions: what is society's perception of your role at work? Can you explain how and why you decided to be in a gender-bending position? Are gender inequality and gender stereotypes actually problems?

Parinita and Rachel wanted to emphasise that gender inequality is not a "women's battle" - men need to take action, too. Paul Cherry, one of the panellists and a stay-at-home dad, understands the importance of men playing their part.

"As more and more women become successful and are given opportunities for senior roles, I think the reality will be that in some cases, like what happened in our household, it makes sense for the family that the father becomes the more stay-at-home parent," says Cherry.

Meredith Kelly Oke, another panellist and senior executive coach at Simitri Group, believes there are gender stereotypes in the workplace even today.

"For many of my clients, they didn't feel discrimination in terms of their gender at school or early in their careers, and they didn't feel it when they got promoted to vice-president. But now that they're pregnant, they're starting to feel it," says Oke. "It has to do with what phase of life you're at. The idea of discrimination isn't necessarily a set thing, but a fluid thing." Her comments show that although progress is being made, there is still a long way to go.

"People don't realise that inequality continues to manifest itself in smaller and often unnoticed ways," says Parinita.

Grade 12 HKIS student Brittany Fried says: "Attending Gender Bender truly opened my eyes to the reality of gender roles in the workplace, home, and society in general. Hearing how strong women [and men] have been able to defy these stereotypes motivates me to continue pursuing a professional future."

Parinita and Rachel have certainly got people talking about gender inequality, but as they both know, there is still a lot to be done. What can you do to help?