Starting off with what has to be some of the most memorable opening words in the history of contemporary literature, British journalist and author, Caroline Criado Perez proceeds to illustrate in an eviscerating fashion, the deprivation of the deserving rights of half the human population under the sun. “Invisible Women” is sans a semblance of any doubt, the most seminal book dealing with women’s rights and denial since Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex.’ The world seems to blissfully function under a preternatural dogma that has at its core a “male unless indicated otherwise” approach. This taken-for-granted male universality, Ms. Perez demonstrates, results in some serious and significant absence of sex-disaggregated data. “Men have confused their own point of view with the absolute truth. There are issues, be it the female body, women’s unpaid care burden or the male violence against women that have always warranted serious discussions but have often been overlooked and deemed unimportant”, writes Ms. Perez. The title of the book itself represents a master stroke. The book is titled ‘Invisible Women’ because women are just that: invisible. Thankless and tedious tasks such as childcare, elderly care and unpaid household work, are derisively and disturbingly assumed to be the sole prerogative of the feminine gender. This back breaking labour does not just go unrecognized, it also remains absolutely unnoticed, and thus, invisible.
As a fundamental example, across the globe women use public transport more than men. They engage in multiple transportation shifts. Dropping kids at school, commuting to work, accompanying the unwell at home to a hospital or dispensary, and finally rounding off a hectic schedule by completing grocery shopping while heading back home, women are the ones who are in need of a fully functioning, reliable, adequate, and sufficient transport infrastructure. However, as Ms. Perez informs her readers, rarely does a transportation policy take into consideration such a ubiquitous pattern adopted by a woman. A suffocatingly crowded peak transportation crowd, sparse availability of transport late in the evenings and the very design of vehicles all have an unmissable bias towards men. Cases abound of women being groped, sexually abused, and harassed during the course of their journey. A horrific case in point being the singularly ghastly Nirbhaya rape case in New Delhi.
To cite another unfortunate trend, consider the employ of safety mechanisms and equipment in automobiles such as airbags and headrests. All major automobile companies, prior to introducing every new vehicle model, test their safety and resilience by using ‘Crash test dummies.’ Very few people are aware that these Crash Test dummies are invariably designed around a 50th percentile male, about 1.77 meters tall and weighing 76 kilograms. There is a brazen neglect of the fact that women, are on average, shorter, and lighter, a critical and crucial fact which the test procedures conveniently overlook. Thus in any unfortunate car crash, an even more unfortunate women is 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured and 17 percent more likely to die! An elementary sex-disaggregated data will very easily ameliorate what in hindsight looks to be an absolutely intolerable practice.
Similarly while there are limits in many industries on the weights that can be lifted while at work (industries predominantly populated by men), there are no prescribed limits or regulations on a nurse or a woman healthcare worker who spends a predominant proportion of her time assisting and lifting patients far more heavier than her. Hence thr potential for women to be struck by hazardous muscular and bone tissue injuries are much higher than for men. Staying within the medical sphere, a revealing study unearthed the fact that a complex kind of pacemaker had, based on clinical trials, been calibrated for male hearts. When the female results were aggregated, the researchers were astonished to find that if the women’s use had been calibrated on women’s results, then there would likely have been a 76% reduction in heart failure for those women who didn’t qualify based on male results, but did qualify when women’s statistical outcomes had been considered.
One of the most highly hailed, subscribed to, and reveled about drug in the modern world of medicine, is Pfizer’s Viagra. A boon bestowing aphrodisiac for millions, Viagra was however an accidentally ‘repurposed’ wonder. An initial study of the drug conducted in the year 2013 revealed that Viagra was most effective in relieving dysmenorrhea – commonly known as ‘period pain.’ But an astounding refusal to fund the study for evaluating its efficacy further, meant that the trial petered out. Dr. Richard Legro, who lead the study bemoaned that the reviewers probably did not see dysmenorrhea as a priority public health issue.
A seemingly prosaic and plain activity such as snow cleaning suffers from an inherent and implicit male bias. This was hammered home in an enlightening fashion to a bunch of councilors in Sweden. Public authorities in the town of Karlskoga were assessing their efficiency of their practices in embellishing gender equality. This assessment disclosed that the council’s policy of clearing roads first favoured men, who used automobiles much more than women, the latter being more pedestrians than drivers. When the snow clearing policy was altered to first clear those paths taken by women who walked and used public transport, Karlskoga saved public money because of a material drop in the number of women admitted to hospital after falling on snowy surfaces.
The world of economics is not far behind either in encouraging and adding to the gender gap. The gospel of Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”) fails miserably in not taking within its hallowed ambit unpaid household and care work, the impact of taxes on women’s choice to join the labor force, and the disproportionate representation of women among the world’s poor. According to a report issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”), not counting unpaid care work leads to misestimating households’ material well-being and societies’ wealth. If included, unpaid care work would constitute 40% of Swiss GDP (Schiess and SchönBühlmann, 2004) and would be equivalent to 63% of Indian GDP (Budlender, 2008).
“Most of recorded human history is one big data gap,” writes Perez at the very beginning of her wonderful book. “Starting with the theory of Man the Hunter, chroniclers of the past have left little space for women’s role in the evolution of humanity, whether cultural or biological. Instead, the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall. When it comes to the lives of the other half if humanity, there is often nothing but silence.”
The time to remedy this deafening silence is now.