Positive discrimination: A thorny path to gender justice

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a renowned Genevan philosopher in his famous writing, the social contract decried that, “Man is born free but he is everywhere in chains”, alluding to the fact that people deserve to be free but they are chained by the societies in which they live.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a renowned Genevan philosopher in his famous writing, the social contract decried that, “Man is born free but he is everywhere in chains”, alluding to the fact that people deserve to be free but they are chained by the societies in which they live.

In light of the above, this article attempts to narrate how in patriarchal societies, females have been barred from access to and control of productive resources, decision making in their household, community and state management and control over their sexuality.

In the 21st century, there has been protracted debate on whether abolition of this injustice is enough incentive to enable women fully participate and benefit from the development process or we undertake positive discrimination in favour of the female race.

Cambridge English dictionary, defines positive discrimination as an act of favouring some groups of people in society that have been treated unfairly based on their sex, race, age, among others as a stopgap measure, to overcome their historical disadvantages.

Positive discrimination can take the form of; lower student cut-off points, female-only political positions, employment quotas, female only scholarships, among others. In each country where this principle is upheld, there is a different orientation on how and to whom this is administered.

Despite the historical injustices against women, that warrant some form of affirmative action, this principle has been widely criticized as a twisted type of reverse prejudice where females are favoured compared to their male counterparts.

Male chauvinists have alleged that equality could simply be attained through equal opportunities for all. Even some anti-feminist females have harshly criticized this practice as a manifestation of women as a “weak sex” in society.

In order to appreciate the need for positive discrimination, one needs to understand the multiple constraints and historical injustices to which females have been subjected by nature and or the society in which they live.

In some Arab counties, for example, women aren’t allowed to drive, ride bikes, or be driven by men they are not closely related to. This implies that for women to move from one place to another, they have to do so escorted by their husbands.

In all but a few countries, men can by default pass-on their citizenship to their children, whereas women cannot. This implies that children belong to male parents, as if any man since the creation has ever undergone the terrible 9 months of pain during pregnancy.

In Rwandan culture, some names given to boy children such as Mugabo (Man), Ntwari (Brave), Manzi (Hero), and Shema (Pride) symbolize the great value attached to boy children, compared to girl children whose names include; Mukobwajana (One who will bring home one hundred cows as a bride price), Muteteri (One fit to be pampered), envisaging girls as future wives and a weaker sex.

Biologically, it is only females that undergo routine menstrual cycles, inflicting pain and psychological instability and potentially affecting their productivity. In recognition of this trouble, some form of compensation for their wasted time is really justified.

Despite the historical injustices, where women have been positioned to deliver, they have done so beyond expectation. In the book of Esther in the holy bible, a Jewish lady assisted by her uncle Moldechai saved the entire tribe of Israel, from death and destruction.

In the 1990-1994 RPF liberation struggle, women contributed enormously to this noble cause challenging earlier doubts that women are incapable of undertaking difficult assignments when need arises. To-date, Rwandan female officers are involved in global peace building and many have received accolades for that.

The gender analysis exercise is a precursor to determine the extent of inequalities based on gender. It’s analysis assesses the differential impact of policies, programmes and legislation on women and men and should inequalities be identified beforehand, then positive discrimination in favour of the marginalized should be an ideal path to gender justice.

The writer is a policy advisor on gender and family promotion, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion

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