Today I know that my opinions shall be a source of no little trouble but I must be. I have a really good friend who works in UNIFEM (United Nations development fund for women), and I always have wonderful arguments with her. Most notably what ‘feminism’ is and whether I am a feminist. I argue that I am and she retorts that I’m nothing of the sort.
Feminism is one of those concepts that very few people agree on. While the basic premise of feminism is simply the equal treatment of women vis-à-vis the men, when the practicalities of feminism emerge things get a little sticky.
Some groups of thought believe that feminism is a fight against the ‘male’ status quo in which men cause and benefit from sexism. Others believe that that gender, like sex, are social constructions that harm all people; and that “feminism thus seeks to liberate men as well as women”.
I’m a firm believer in the second school of thought. And not because I am male, and therefore, automatically biased.
Rwanda is one of those nations that should be able to pat itself on the back because of the strides its current leadership has made in giving women more and more positions of responsibility. We have women patrolling our streets as officers of the law, we have women commanding our troops in warfare, women are in our classrooms, our boardrooms, courtrooms and everywhere we, men, are.
Our Parliament has a female composition that shames each and every Western country that lecturers us about democracy, and our Constitution is unequivocal when it comes to equal rights for citizens irrespective of sex.
But some of the methods used by some in our nation to promote the female Rwandan rub me the wrong way. While I totally support making primary and secondary education as accessible to women as possible by, for example, building separate boys and girls toilets and providing sanitary pads for girls who simply cannot afford them, I think that some of the issues that crop up aren’t necessarily male/female ones but rather issues of poverty and lack of effective enforcement of laws. Let’s look at a few scenarios.
A huge number of girls don’t go to school because they are forced to help around the house while their brothers go off to school. While one can choose to see this through feminist lenses and talk about the unfairness of it all, I think that the child’s parents don’t see the situation quite the same way they do. I believe that these parents have finite resources and find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
They have only enough money to educate some of their children while the others have to stay at home. One could say that in most circumstances it’s the male offspring’s that get a chance to go to school, and if you did, you would be absolutely correct. However, the larger problem isn’t the unfairness of the parents but rather the poverty that informs their decision. What I suggest is that more money must be put in the pockets of these parents. With more money, they will be able to HIRE farm workers and house help. The fact of the matter is, when we win the war on poverty, it shall be a victory felt by both genders.
Now comes the controversial part of this small essay of mine. While I’m all for equal rights and ‘leg ups’ for the unfortunate girls that need the support, I have nothing but disdain for my sisters who jump on the ‘promoting women’ bandwagon to get ahead.
Why in the world should a girl from a middle class family in Kigali, studying in a private school, then get perks and scholarships just because she happens to be a girl?
I look at the so-called feminists among us and all I see are women who have used ‘women’s empowerment’ to get ahead. I’m sorry but I think that is unfair.
I find it okay to support those unable to get ahead in life, but it disgusts me when resources are spent on those that didn’t need the help in the first place.