Women’s Day and the Sexual Division of Labor

This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day is Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for all. It is now known that Rwanda is a global leader in this quest, but, what is truly impressive is the ongoing destruction of society’s sexual division of labor. Fifty-six percent of Rwanda’s lawmakers are women. When compared to other countries, Rwanda comes out first in this category.

This year’s theme for the International Women’s Day is Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for all. It is now known that Rwanda is a global leader in this quest, but, what is truly impressive is the ongoing destruction of society’s sexual division of labor.  

Fifty-six percent of Rwanda’s lawmakers are women. When compared to other countries, Rwanda comes out first in this category. The Scandinavian countries of Sweden and Norway are right behind Rwanda at 45% and 38%, respectively.

That high number is not by chance. The Rwandan constitution requires that women hold at least 30% of all public positions. (30% is not equality, therefore la Luta continua!). For the comparatively minded, women’s representation in parliament was at 12% before the genocide; even worse, women diplomats were a meager 2%. Two per cent!

But beyond the impressive numbers of parliamentarians, diplomats, and other women in leadership positions, what is happening for ordinary women is even more astounding.

In the streets of Kigali today one can find women road constructors, taxi drivers, and even conductors.

This is significant. What it means is that we are all witnesses to a psychological shift in society. We are seeing a shift in terms of the relationship between men and women and their connection to labor.

The concept of the sexual division of labor is beginning to mean less and less. This idea speaks of the distribution of work according to one’s sex.

Historically, there was men’s work and women’s work. And men’s work was remunerated at a higher rate. Likewise, women were denied access to employment through protective myths that reinforced this sexual division of labor.

Further discrimination of women, for example, was in the manner in which ‘work’ was defined. It precluded jobs done at home such as house cleaning and raising children.

Stay at home mothers were said to spend the whole day ‘doing nothing’ while hard working men went to work. Accordingly, women were lazy; men were hardworking.

These men woke up very early in the morning and went to work on road construction; others were taxi drivers and conductors.

It is not surprising to see that women’s dependency on men has largely been driven by this corrupted definition of ‘work.’ It tied women’s livelihoods to men, creating a sort of bondage. Most crucially, however, this dependency is responsible for patriarchy, a systemic relationship of male domination over women.

The real cat and mouse game has been that while women have been trying to free themselves from this bondage, men are reluctant of letting go of this relationship of domination because of the privileges it affords them. This happens both at home and away from home, at the office.

Men just will not let go of this hierarchy of oppression.
To emphasize, its not that men simply want to oppress women, it is the privilege that the hierarchy carries that they are accustomed to and simply won’t let go.

Because of this privilege, it is likely that many will want to maintain the status quo. It benefits them. It provides them with jobs, status, and most importantly a psychological boost that comes with domination.

True, not all men are psychologically oppressed (insecure) to the extent that they cannot live without the need for this domination. Progressive men realize this unfair, unequal, and most importantly, unhealthy social hierarchy and reject it.

But this pool of men must continue to get larger. Indeed it will. More will realize that equality is beneficial not only to women but to men as well.

That is the direction of history and it will not be stopped by anyone. The real issue, then, has to do with the pace of that trajectory.

That woman road construction worker, the taxi driver, and her conductor have simply been chosen by history. And you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.

The author lives in Kacyiru and recently completed Graduate school at Howard University (Washington DC).

lonzenr@yahoo.com

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