By Kizito Angella N: A writer , A feminist.
Prejudice; an unreasonable dislike of or preference for a person or group based on race, religion or sex (Hornby, 2000).
According to Mosse and Julia Cleves in their publication “Half the World Half a chance,” Gender is defined as the social and cultural constructs which, while based on the biological sex of a person, define his or her roles in society. In the same tune, a situation of gender equality is described as one in which there is no discrimination against anyone based on his or her sex. This means that in a world where gender equality is achieved, both men and women co-exist in harmony with a mutual understanding and respect. In such a world, roles are distributed and achieved based on capacity, knowledge and ability; not based on one’s sex.
Feminism; the belief and aim that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. It is the struggle to achieve this aim (Hornby, 2000).
Gender equality and Feminism are some of the most contentious issues in the world today. These issues are so deep in such a way that their fabric is so sensitive and fully equipped with the capacity to provoke, ignite, anger, excite and cause tension.
For a very long time, women from all walks of life have endured unfiltered misogyny from their different societies. Women have had to deal with a second rate kind of treatment from a range of institutions that are at the core of society. These may range from cultural, religious, economic, educational, family and government among others. To add fire to the wood, these institutions are part of and necessary for maintaining social order, therefore, guiding behavioral norms and expectations of individuals. It is a pity that these biased ideologies have not only fed the ego of patriarchy but have gone ahead to take root in the minds of women as well. Gender inequality has become a way of life.
It is true when we say that gender inequality has to a greater extent affected women. This is because traditionally, women are the ones who have occupied positions with unfavorable religious, cultural and traditional expectations that are too defined and limiting. Women are expected to be strong but not too strong as to appear intimidating. For a woman, her strides have been limited by society because it is unacceptable to have women of opinion soaring in leadership and taking on powerful roles. This is why you will find very many people display signs of awkward, cheerless and restless behavior when names like Angela Merkel, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Hilary Clinton, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and our very own Ugandan women like Rebecca Kadaga, Jeniffer Musisi, Allen Kagina, Dr. Maggie Kigozi, Winnie Byanyima among others are mentioned. Engraved in our core beliefs is that a woman is supposed to be weak and soft.
According to UN Women’s, facts and figures; leadership and political participation of women in parliaments, “Globally, as of June 2016, in 38 states, women account for less than 10 percent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, including four chambers with no women at all.” In Uganda, more women are slowly coming on board each day. However, it is important to question what form that kind of power takes. To what extent are those women being effective change agents or are they just puppets or submissive? In Uganda, these women are so often challenged and sometimes insulted for not taking on traditional roles like marriage and giving birth. Feminism has evolved over centuries and we must change with it accordingly so that we can contribute new ideas to the struggle that suit our modern cultural context.
In practice, a woman’s ability should change according to the convenience of society. With the changing world, where a single mother can take on a job, raise her children as to equip them with strong life skills and proper values, such a scenario does not in any way shock the world. In fact, people will automatically say that it is her duty to be strong and head her family. In the African setting, there is a saying that whenever a child is flawed, the flaws of the child are blamed on the mother but the strengths and achievements of the child will be credited to the father. There is also another belief that it is a mother who raises her children while the father’s role is to solely provide for the family in terms of their basic needs. This means that when it is convenient, a woman should be strong, wise, dominant and a go getter. If we are to fully believe in our traditions and values, then why is the woman who raises the child not given a chance to take pride in the achievements of her children? If the father is so eager to take full credit for the child’s achievements, then why does he shy away from the child’s weaknesses? It is such hypocrisy that has created numerous heated debates and arguments on what a woman can and cannot do. Society has evolved, therefore our roles in it must be able to evolve.
On the flip side, men have been expected to be dominant; appear strong, lead and conquer. Society is more lenient on men as they have more room to explore and change with less judgment. It is important to notice how this leniency cuts both ways. In Uganda, it is okay for men to engage in catcalling and street harassment in terms of reckless grabbing of women walking through Kampala. Society will okay the behavior of men taking part in; excessive drinking, marrying very young girls, cheating, sexual advances at work from the boss and in schools from professors, polygamy and domestic violence. On the other hand, it will not be frowned upon much if a girl fails in school, marries too young and chooses to become a pretty financially dependent wife. Why should we settle to excuse people’s behaviors based on their gender? Why should a beautiful woman quickly be judged as a person without brains? Might women in Kampala nurture their intelligence and financial independence more if they weren’t expected to be ignorant and financially dependent? Perhaps, men would not cheat as much or marry many wives if they were not told over and over that it is in their nature. Should we really excuse some of these gross and unproductive behaviors simply because they are done by women or men?
It is a pity that we don’t see that as much as these stereotypes have greatly affected women, they have to an extent equally victimised men. Due to the changing society, we have seen men take on roles previously dominated by women such as cooking, cleaning, care giving, hair dressing among others. Today, we may not think much of it, when we meet a female engineer, however, when we meet a male hairdresser or cook, their sexuality will quickly come into question. A similar mindset will also quickly spring into motion when we meet a man crying or being deeply and emotionally expressive of their feelings. This is another way we can view how deep gender inequalities have been deeply internalised in our diverse societies. While it may be true, most of the time, that women may be more skilled at compassionate or care giving skills and men more competitive and aggressive, this is often not the case. There is a spectrum where many women are better at roles assigned to men and vice versa. People’s innate skills and characters do not always fit in the mold. Productivity is lost if a man never applies his natural care giving skills and interests because he fears the scornful eyes society will turn towards his direction.
In 2014, Emma Watson the Goodwill Ambassador of UN Women, made a speech at the launch of the “HeForShe” campaign at the United Nations headquarters in New York, she said, “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals.” She recognized that it is these gender stereotypes that have greatly contributed to the feeling of inequality among men and women. These pressures push men to believe that they ought to be aggressive while women find themselves caving into believing that they have to be submissive. This kind of environment inhibits freedom in self-expression, smooth co-existence and growth. Emma Watson also asked, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” This means that the fight for gender equality is as much a concern to men as it is to women. For Gender equality to work in a realistic way, men and boys have to join the discussion and go the extra mile in bringing solutions and taking part in strategies that are implemented to actualize this vision of equality.
Gender equality has become that song on your stereo that you have heard over and over again. Now you are used to the tune. The sound has become too familiar that most of us are now either too tired to dance or too bored with the tune.
A dance can never be too boring with so many dancers because each is fresh with a new skill to showcase. So is an idea. An idea with one mind to implement it has one chance of success, while an idea with five minds involved has five chances of success. Gender equality is one of such ideas that requires a wide range of groups, opinions and personalities for it to succeed.
It is indeed, a collective effort of both men and women. We have reached that point where the dancing may stop or fade away unless the tune is changed or new dancers are brought on board. The common myth making rounds today is that the fight for gender equality is one that affects only women and girls. The myth must die.
If we all step forward and each of us; men and women, takes a share in the responsibility that comes with implementing gender equality, the world will indeed be a much better place to live in. Nicholas D Kristof said, “In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.” This too shall pass.