Holland is the place where every woman dreams to be. We cannot all fit in, or else pressure due to overpopulation would be another problem we would have to look at. But why switch countries when we can make a difference in our own as far as gender equality is concerned? Well, we already have. At least Kenya has. Kenya has ‘paper voices’ that stipulate the role of the woman in today’s society. Blurry lines appear in articles found in the constitution, loud but not loud enough on the society having women representation. But what good are policies if we cannot actualize what we read and say. Paper voices make gender equality seem easy but as my good friend, Professor Leah Wanjama told me, “we are far from achieving gender equality but there are signs that we will achieve this though unlikely in 21st century unless everybody individually and collectively commits to work on it.”
Women started fighting for their position in society as early as the 19th century. They have broken some barriers since then. We come from a time where women writers such as the Bronte Sisters had to use male names for their work to sell. A time where women characters were portrayed as a weaker gender and a woman had to have a room of her own if she was to write fiction. We have broken those chains and brought about renowned writers such as Chimamanda Adichie but that is not enough. At least not for Africa. Women and those who fight for gender equality still face barriers.
Africa’s society had ingrained beliefs to young women and men that certain roles are played by a particular gender. The social construction in most African communities is complex and serves as a barrier to achieving gender equality. In some African communities, the birth of a boy is marked by 5 ululations and the girl 4- its tradition- begging the question of whether they are lesser human beings. Some will argue that we have evolved, but from a tender age, girls are bought up playing with Barbie dolls and boys get the toy cars. Girls engage in cooking games and dressing up but boys are given a chance to explore. It’s in the small details, we are complete oblivious from, a woman should take care of her home, she is a caregiver. It may seem true but that is what the society has made both genders to believe. So a lady, who understands her role and who has an education will leave her job to take care of her family. Not that it is wrong but it is wrong if it is a choice she is forced to make.
A woman cannot raise a man to the expectations of society, she has never been one but she can raise a perfect lady who can change and transform the society. There is a mistaken belief that the ‘boy child’ has been neglected. This problem emanates from the thicker skin that pushes for women’s rights. The actual problem behind the ‘boy child’ is the fathers who choose to abdicate their roles of raising sons and delve into their careers. They leave the woman to raise the children and only make appearances over the weekends. It’s even worse if she is a single mother as she has to balance between work, family and growing herself.
Women with job titles often find themselves a conflict between family time and work. Today’s mothers have evolved; they can earn from home through online platforms such as youtube. But that should be a decision she makes out of free will not when she falls short of choices. Unpaid care work is still an issue in most companies leaving women more likely to be poor than men. A rural woman spends 40 hours of fetching water and doing other domestic chores that go unpaid. We cannot blame them; we live in a society that still exercises entrenched patriarchy. As the good Professor defines it- what is a man and everything man is superior to a woman and everything woman.
“The higher you go the fewer women there are”- the late Professor Wangari Maathai.
Confusing right? Take the case of two individuals in an interview room competing for a high position in a company distinguished by their gender, not merit. The question, “how do you intend to balance work and a growing family?” mostly applies to the female and not the man, yet both are parents. Besides, the slots left for women to compete are few. What the society needs to do is expand its horizon in the positions it has created for the woman. Big decisions made in golf courses and other social gatherings should cease and pave the way for a society that is equitable, and one that gives both genders a fair fighting ground.
We cannot run away from the fact that both the man and the woman contribute to society in their unique way. If we are to move a step closer to achieving gender equality we must understand that men and women benefit differently from development, are impacted differently by socialization and impact development.
We are not short of policies, they are well stipulated but what we lack are people who are gender-conscious and who understand the different gifts each gender has and can use that to promote a free and fair society. Women should be empowered at local levels and perception changed to break the social barriers. Then and only then will we have a different conversation on gender equality.