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Going silent on gender equality

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International Women’s Day in Cyprus is championed with such fervour as if there is collective guilt about all the things we are not putting right.

Everyone in the political arena wheeled out statements about progress in gender equality and eradicating bigotry.

Even the perpetrators of an unequal society joined the clarion call.

Declaring your allegiance to diversity, inclusion, and tolerance is not the same as ensuring those principles are upheld.

Well, it isn’t so much a story as a missing chapter.

Sure, Cyprus has made great strides in gender rights and protecting women’s freedoms, except when it involves pay, justice and sport.

Women and girls are more likely to be murdered or abused by a partner or guardian; sex crimes are also not given the gravity they demand.

Women are subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, whether physical or verbal.

Police say they are more aware of sex crimes and trained to handle them sensitively, but how many women are confident or encouraged to report rape.

And what is the conviction rate when such crimes actually make it to court?

These are the types of public discussions that officials should be having rather than issuing statements of platitudes about not tolerating discrimination when it’s embedded in the system.

For a so-called progressive society, Cyprus has one of the lowest rates of female participation in politics, possibly because men are so good at it.

One-third of elected representatives in national parliaments in the EU are women; the world average is 26.4%.

Have a guess where democratic Cyprus stands on the scale?

It is below the world average at 14.29%, with only eight MPs out of 56.

Look no further than the new Cabinet, which struggled to appoint three women ministers among the 11 top seats.

To make up for the gender imbalance, the president has appointed women to other government posts, which is condescending and insincere.

Diversity handbook

Gender equality isn’t a numbers game; people should be chosen on merit and ability – a concept Cyprus finds hard to comprehend.

Throwing a few more women in the mix to ring-fence your position from criticism is not part of the diversity handbook.

The point is to create an environment where misogyny and bigotry cannot thrive; inclusion should be a norm, not an afterthought.

We should strive to be a fairer society with equal opportunities because it’s a moral imperative and a core value.

Not because we are embarrassed into doing so.

Progress is creating the conditions that enable people to excel, whether in sport or their chosen career path.

People should thrive because of the system, not despite the obstacles in their way.

As a society, we must demand more from those in authority.

Instead, we tolerate the rule benders, incompetence, negligence, greed, ignorance and sleaze.

While the government was flying the flag for women this week, angry parents outed the Cyprus Basketball Federation for snubbing girls’ national teams in favour of the boys.

Typically, they encourage girls to compete at grassroots level, and then when the crunch comes, they are overlooked for the boys even if they are better.

In its wisdom, the CBF decided to sacrifice the girls playing at international level at either U16 or U18 level so they could send the boys.

It had to make the hard choice because it was squeezed for cash, and the girls would just have to lump it.

Such blatant discrimination would have gone unnoticed, but for some parents flagging the injustice on social media.

With no meaningful justification – apart from not taking girls seriously – the male-run CBF went into silent mode.

The Sports Organisation that oversees government funding for such sporting federations was also rather timid in its response.

The government did not condemn such actions or order a probe into why it had happened.

Basketball is arguably the second most popular sport in Cyprus, and these were girls representing their country, not a village fete.

Where was the gender equality commissioner making a stand on the battlefront of sexism?

I’m sure these decisions are made in other sports where women and girls are treated as excess baggage.

But everyone seems content to let it slide.

And the decoded message is – ‘the government has more important things to do than worry about girls’.