In her book ‘Lean In’ Sheryl Sandberg writes that for many men, the fundamental assumption is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life. For many women, however, the assumption is that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst.
Sandberg highlights that the stereotype of a working woman is rarely attractive. Women are surrounded by headlines and stories warning them that they cannot be committed to both their families and their careers. They are told over and over again that they have to choose, because if they try to do too much, they’ll be harried and unhappy.
Mothers sometimes feel overwhelmed and unsupported during the transition from motherhood to working mother. Net photo
“Fear is at the root of so many of the barriers that women face. Fear of not being liked. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of drawing negative attention. Fear of overreaching. Fear of being judged. Fear of failure. And the holy trinity of fear: the fear of being a bad mother, wife, and daughter.”
This year’s International Women’s Day serves to reflect on this aspect. The day that will be celebrated on March 8 is going to be held under the theme ‘Balance for better’. It will, hence, serve as a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.
Over the past years, women have tussled for their way to equality. They have learnt to multitask; they raise children, handle home shopping, they take part in the professional world, while at the same time, handling house chores.
Women have to be ready to set their best foot forward always.
However, in the midst of this journey towards attaining equality, in their quest to discover their potential, to find the courage to believe in themselves, to become leaders, how are women keeping up with everything? How well are they balancing their lives?
Jackline Mbabazi, a junior legal consultant at Women’s Link Worldwide, says women can be the best version of themselves by taking their dreams hand-in-hand with good values.
Mbabazi does not believe a woman needs to do something just to prove a point, she should do it because she is convinced it is the right thing and she has her best foot forward, without cheering squads.
“Women should not do everything, let them do what they can and do it in the best way they can. What matters is that they are strong, independent, confident, and tireless and determined to get to where they want to be.”
Women need to understand that they can only stretch themselves to certain limits, she counsels.
“They are human, let them count out steps one by one and appreciate each move instead of feeling inadequate for not doing everything or not doing more. They need to keep building themselves in education and career. They need to show their competence.”
Mbabazi, however, emphasises the need for women not to stop loving, caring, being respectful and supportive of others. “People, especially men, used to think that women are good for only the latter. We know that’s not true, we are good for so much more than that,” she says.
The legal consultant says fighting for equality can indeed be challenging though one is bound to get wearier if they are fighting alone.
“Fortunately, in Rwanda, we aren’t fighting alone. We have men like President Paul Kagame who are not only motivating and encouraging women to do more, but also creating an environment where they can do more; and striving to make sure gender balance is realised,” she says.
She counsels that the best way to sustain the drive is to keep in mind why one is doing what they are doing in the first place.
“On our minds, we have the undesired and the ideal. Your dislike for the undesired past and your determination to transform it into the ideal future, will sustain your drive to do more,” Mbabazi says.
Faustin Rusingiza, a sales officer, applauds the milestones women have taken so far in terms of achieving gender equality, however, he adds that women should take heart and not conform to societal pressure to do more.
“Women should always endeavour to do what they can and aspire to do and achieve more. Equality doesn’t mean doing every other thing that men are doing, it means knowing what one wants, having an equal platform to achieve it and going for it,” he says.
Berna Namata, Ag. Branch Manager, Nation Holdings Rwanda, says there is no silver bullet to addressing gender equality and that it has little to do with what women can or can’t do.
Many women are already doing their part but society still won’t accept them or let them be. Our society is still too harsh on women, they are judged too often and harshly, she says.
Namata, therefore, says there is need for a society that is more accommodative of women who aspire to be active players and not just on the receiving end.
“Women need room to make their own choices and for society to accept and respect them. Put simply, men get away with so much including impunity. Women have developed a thick skin and focus on their goals. Quite often women allow society to undermine or distract them.”
Namata also notes there is need for more women to stand firm in pursuit of their goals and be unapologetic about it.
“Women have to be ready to set their best foot forward always, it is the only thing they owe the world. I don’t aspire to be equal to a man/men, I aspire to have a levelled ground to compete with men. It’s painful to have to do the same work twice or even more just to prove that one can do what a man/men can do(es),” she adds.
Bertin Ganza Kanamugire, a gender activist and founder of Afflatus Africa, is of the view that women need a high level of confidence in this era for a lot can be achieved if they support each other, believe they can and actually move a step farther and start doing.
In regards to opportunities especially in education and career, Kanamugire believes that women should continue to upgrade themselves.
He also notes that this fight for equality goes beyond just them. “Sometimes women fight but the system is discouraging for equality in some countries. However, they should fight harder because this fight goes beyond them so they need to challenge these system as well.”
Kanamugire encourages women to continue pressing on until their voices are heard urging that this will help the next generation have a better place in society.
Women need to learn to speak up without feeling inferior; they need to master the art of independence. How do we expect to be equal to men when all we do is depend on them? Also, women need to learn to love themselves before they even think of loving others. They need to set their own goals and make sure that they thrive to achieve them. When raising kids, they need to give boys the right upbringing, to raise them as kings who treat women right. Additionally, women need to uplift fellow women instead of constantly belittling them, calling them names, fighting with them. Women need to come together in love and unity and know that if equality is to be achieved, it starts with supporting each other.
Sylvia Elizabeth, Customer care agent
Once women discover their inner power or potential, nothing can be impossible for them. They will understand that they had the power all along and it is this inner motivation that will be their daily inspiration.
Justus Mutabazi, Student
Women should have access to quality education at all levels and lifelong learning as well as a safe and supportive learning environment. They should walk it out in their daily lives through their actions and communications; this removes fear and creates a chance for change. Women should encourage each other to make a leap; most women miss out on great opportunities because they mistakenly believe they are unqualified.
Doreen Kakuru, Cashier
They need to be positive; they should first of all seek positive empowerment. Empowerment that involves respect to themselves and others, but above all they should stand up for their rights.
Livingstone Buyinza, Businessman