It’s International Women’s day today. I like this year’s theme, ’Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for all’, because it essentially brings out the true reason for celebration.
It all started in 1910, when a woman named Clara Zetkin, a leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, brought forward the idea of celebrating an international women’s day with the objective of pushing for their rights.
At that time, women were not allowed to vote, nor participate in decision making, and were subjected to perplexing, if not humiliating concerns on what more a housewife could do besides raising babies and keeping house.
A lot has changed since then, and fortunately, this opinion has gradually changed as women become more powerful and daring for positions previously reserved for men. Actually, the concern now is that it’s high time the men and the boy-child got attended to as well.
Perhaps the main problem here is to do more with the current approach, than the act in itself of promoting women.
Now that most countries have come round to develope enabling policies and programs, more effort should be put into getting men to understand and appreciate this drive, as opposed to pushing it down their throats through affirmative action-one reason why, at the mention of the word gender, everyone automatically starts thinking ‘women’.
The truth is, women promotion should be a component of Gender, and not gender in itself.
At the turn of the last decade, I was charged with mainstreaming gender and HIV-AIDS at my workplace. My colleagues (most of them men) portrayed a nonchalant attitude when I approached them. In their opinion, gender was all about women fighting to be equal to men. I couldn’t blame them for that.
The whole fight for gender equality at the time was centered on getting women up in arms for promotions and major positions, than it was on getting people to mutually appreciate and support the cause.
By nature in our African societies, you still have women who believe their duty is to be by their husbands and raise children. Instead of usurping this concept with forceful nudges to come up to level, having a husband who understands the importance of his wife living up to her true worth would certainly help.
But it is also true that there are still men (even among the educated), who believe a woman’s role is first and foremost in the kitchen.
A young man I worked with was genuinely adamant that non other than his wife should serve him tea, on top of which he gallantly vowed to ensure she gets highly educated, have a brilliant job, and drive her own car.
Another man proudly declared that he could never enter the kitchen or go to the market, as long as he had a wife to take care of that. But who says this brilliant girl requires a husband to do all that? It could be possible that she possesses in her own right a lot more than he could ever provide for.
Does all this sound contradictory or quite confusing? I guess so. The whole point here is that most of our societies still have a condescending attitude towards gender equality, either out of obedience to policy, or patronage.
I will never forget the crestfallen look on the men’s faces when I turned up at the interview, the only female candidate on the shortlist.
They got me really offended when they said I would definitely win the interview because of this gender thing.
At another occasion during a private sector meeting, an employer was adamant that while government was requesting for increased output, it was about to approve a policy on 6 months maternity leave for women.
Surprisingly, most participants agreed with him, including the father of a one and half month’s old baby, showing total disregard for the mother who in any case, would be the one to strut to and fro, to feed the baby.
Like me, there are many ladies who do not entirely agree with the idea of affirmative action for women when it comes to competitiveness, but merely wish to do what is right by an individual through an enabling environment.
This can only come true if men are brought on board and prioritized on the gender agenda to encourage their appreciation and acceptance, (not patronage), of the enormous potential of women as their development partners.
Else, we shall have to keep putting up with such derogatory remarks like “women are encouraged to apply”; extra points are added for ‘gender’, women are the in thing today; oh, it’s a woman!; and on top of that, having to read conference agenda items like ‘women, children and animal rights’!