Why do we celebrate International Women’s Day?
March is here and with it International Women’s Day celebrated worldwide on March 8. Imagine if your great-great- (4 generations back) grandmother woke up today. What do you think would shock her the most?
That women are eating eggs and chicken? Sitting astride a bicycle and riding to the next town? Driving, even owning cars and trucks? That women are sitting in Board rooms and even chairing those meetings as CEOs, Directors and General Managers?
No doubt a lot has come the woman’s way compared to 200 years ago and what was thought abominable, prohibited or impossible is now a way of life. Gender equality means women can do all that men can do and progress over the years has shown that, in fact, life is better and development more certain if women are involved and working together with men.
Years ago it was not this way. There was a time when women were discriminated against and considered inferior to men. Career opportunities were gender biased, unequal pay, injustice and oppression. Irked by the inequality, women began to demand for equal opportunities and fight for their rights. A period of turbulence followed that saw women raise up to say no to oppression and push their way to their rightful positions beside the men. Slowly, ever so slowly, once in a long while one woman would be recognized and an inch of mileage would be registered.
In Africa, traditional culture did not help matters and while our sisters in the West were gaining mileage we were still abiding by cultures that put a hold on the women describing acceptable behavior and defining gender relations – “a good woman keeps silent and lets her husband make the decision and humbly agrees: ‘Yes Sir’; a good wife must keep the house so why go to school if all you need to do is clean house and obey?” So they kept the girls at home and sent the boys to school, they had to be something and take care of their wives. It did not help that resources were limited – a good excuse to deprive the inferior lot.
Women began to gather to press for the recognition of their rights; to demonstrate and march for the freedom that they desired but that seemed far out of reach. That was the time when women needed to be loud to be heard, to gather in large numbers to be recognized as anything. It has been a long way since then, and things are different now. But it did not come without a fight!
We are at a good place now, women and men largely enjoy equal opportunities, and International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements made in promoting gender equality and the gains achieved through standing for the rights of women. Although we have come a long way and have lots to sing about, and we do appreciate the progress we have made, this invitation to celebrate is not a party invite yet. It is an invitation to keep up the good work in the realization that we still have ways to go.
Men - partners, colleagues, companions, whichever way you celebrate, make the women’s day. Appreciate that the world is a better place because of the presence of women and that walking beside you is a better place to have them than back in the outer room. Step in their shoes – do the chores that are normally assigned to women – cooking a meal for your wife is a good idea – never mind that you cook in the restaurant, buying flowers to appreciate the women in your life. Go ahead and celebrate but remember there is still work to do to get the women of Africa where they should comfortably stay!
Contact email: aotiti[at]primature.gov.rw