We are living in a society where each person has to strive for their own sustenance. As much as our destiny and very existence is intertwined and interrelated, it is also about how we could individually perform that our success or failure is determined. In other words, everything starting from the rule of nature to values and culture, whether secular or religious have an impact in enhancing or impeding our success in this very intrinsic and competitive world.
The ratio of men to women is currently close to one, this suggests that there are about as many women as men living on the planet. However, there is no clear indication whether the share of resources, opportunities or for that matter contributions to build our common goods is in proportion to this ratio. Arguably, the contemporary world we reside in is full of injustice. Gender inequality is no exception. The core of the matter is the level of injustice and its consequence in gender. It is so grieving and may not be well captured by the usual jargon of “In-equality”. Though a range of factors could have attributed to the challenge, the degree of its impact by and large depends on the level of civility and development of the society. The more conscious and civil the society is, the more it values differences and are able to turn it to its advantage. In the contrary, if the society ignores this fact and fails to exploit these differences for its betterment, then it will have opted for failure as destiny.
The differences we observe in the way gender is handled in different societies is a reflection of this notion. It is good to note that countries that are known to be exemplary in handling gender issues (e.g. North European countries) in the past had similar or worse records. While the challenge remains the same, the solution evolves with changes in the socio-economic and technological development of societies over time. Hence, the advantage of inclusiveness is no more a mystery but an indispensable factor for our transformation.
The issue of gender cannot and should not be reduced to a moral imperative. It is a fundamental, economic, social and societal development imperative. There is no way the world could be transformed in a sustainable way when half of its part is ignored. Failure to understand this reality as a society is unacceptable, hence requires a multiple and aggressive move in educating and alerting the existing and future generations. This notion should even be harsher when it relates to leadership. A leadership with no vision to transform its society on the issue of gender is a failed one. No explanation whatsoever should justify this failure, not even ignorance, except mere arrogance and irresponsibleness.
The intention of this piece is therefore, neither to undermine nor to ignore the enormous and relentless efforts that brave men and women have exerted to curb the gender situation, including in Africa. It is evident that Africa having been under colony and devoid of many other basic rights for development, may not have moved consciously to deal with this situation like the Industrial Revolution era of Europe and other parts of the Global North. Nevertheless, there were proud stories in Africa where women had enjoyed beyond equal rights and even assumed political leadership in some countries where relative independence was sustained decades before. The source of the frustration is therefore not only in the failure to keep the pace but also in not being able to nurture such early day’s actions through education and institutions. Lack of such actions have been very consequential and by default creating a male dominated system with little sensitivity to gender. This has made the issue structural and nonlinear, he
nce requiring no less than structural transformation, including change in mind set.
Recently I came across a study conducted around the gender issue which suggested that the likelihood of a household with a mother being poor who completed high school would be rare. This very information not only amazes me but also enables one to seriously question whether we are scratching the right itch in our struggle to address poverty issues in the society. Certainly, the educated mother would never dare to see her children stay out of school, knowing what education is capable of doing in their life. A girl who goes to school, in turn will be exposed to her rights and obligations; shall not get married early and will not produce many children that she cannot afford to raise decently. The story could go on and on.
The other important thing is how much the gender data and planning process is aggregated. Oftentimes, we care about collecting accurate and timely data on specific subject matters but are gender blind. We may know how much has been performed but have no idea on how much of that goes to women. This has made us at best insensitive or deceived. Without good information and intentions, there is no way that we will narrow the already existing gap let alone curing the rift that has been created. We should consciously move in this regard and come up with comprehensive action plans that ascertain doubling the effort, correcting the past and laying the right path for the future.
Hence, the call for change here is synonymous to overhauling the entire super structure and base. It ranges from change in mind set to the rules and regulations, access to technologies and other opportunities. In the absence of this approach any of the efforts we would exert will be a futile exercise. Gender is an issue of the society. It needs to be dealt with by all, at both family and society level.
The writer is Director General of The Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa (SDGC/A)