March 8 marks the day for celebrating women worldwide. There have been lots of controversies surrounding the woman in terms of empowerment, Gender Discrimination and Feminism.
I believe that men and women are not equal however there must be equal rights and opportunities for both men and women. No human being should be denied of their right or opportunities only because of their sex.
Fighting for equality comes with a lot of controversies because some people believe that equality simply means give whatever you gave to party A to party B. Which implies that, if party A needs a laptop to climb the educational ladder, then party B, who needs a desk should also be given a laptop to sail through education. We shoot ourselves in the foot if we fight for equality in this manner. This is why I believe we fight for equity instead of equality.
Analyzing from afar, I have come to realise that fighting for equality defeats the purpose of bridging the gender gap. Equity is when you give both party A and B the right tools that will push them through the academic ladder or whatever resource they will NEED to reach their goal.
When there are Rights to be enjoyed and opportunities available for everyone, then no one must be denied of them based on their sex – something they have no control of.
Before I move on, I’d like us to understand that gender simply refers to the roles assigned to us by society based on our sex. For instance, in Ghana, girls are ‘expected’ to cook, whereas boys are ‘expected’ to avoid showing any form of weaknesses.
Gender discrimination happens to both sexes – men and women – however, the reason most feminists pay more attention to women is because the numbers are higher.
Women are denied opportunities not because they are incapacitated but only because they are women. It’s not fair. Being a woman isn’t something one can change but we can change society’s perception on gender roles and expectations assigned to women.
In the past, about some 10 decades ago, people weren’t conscious to the issue of gender discrimination. Wealth and power were measured by strength and courage. Men were selected to lead because it was not a matter of ability but one of physical appearance (masculinity). Women were seen as calm and fragile only because they were associated with the nature of childbirth and nurturing. So, while the men went to hunt and fight for lands and wealth, the women took care of the home; the children, meals, washing and the like.
Today, a lot has changed. Thanks to the continuous persistence and fight by gender advocates, civil society and feminists alike, pushing for equal rights and opportunities across all gender, a certain consciousness has been raised. The international community insist on equal opportunities in the workplace, companies have diversity clauses in their employment policies and young people all over the world are being empowered and re-oriented to be sensitive to the issue of gender discrimination.
We are getting somewhere.
There is a misconception about feminism. I did a little research during school days. I randomly asked people who a feminist is and their definition just made me realise they have actually never taken the time to google or research who or what truly the term feminism meant. In some cases, they said feminists are women who have gone through heart breaks from a past lover or have children before marriage which is popularly termed as “born one” in Ghana.
Sadly, some of their responses were true. Some people who fight for gender equality came to this realisation only after having bitter experiences with men not only in terms of being in a relationship but also at the workplace, at school and the like. They were denied opportunities even from the home where they came from. These women therefore came out to vent their frustration.
However, because they did this out of pain and bitterness, they failed to create UNDERSTANDING and rather ended up creating a misconception on the fight against gender discrimination. This is what dominates the mindset of the lot. This makes the fight against gender discrimination very difficult to achieve.
Feminists are people, be it male or female, who try to acknowledge social discrimination based on gender and stop it from continuing. Feminists point out that in most cultures, throughout history, men have received more opportunities than women. This implies that once you believe in equity for all and stand for positive social change, you could identify as a feminist. Even though this definition sounds very simple and easy to grasp, a cause of logic that all hands should be on deck, there is the missing link of interpretation and understanding.
There are types of feminists. Unfortunately, most people only know of the Radical type of feminists. Radical Feminists practice extreme form of feminism. They are mostly aggressive and use the militant approach. Radical Feminists believe that we live in a misogynistic and patriarchal society and therefore women are deliberately denied opportunities only because they are women. Therefore, they practice man-hating and female supremacy in order to ‘take back what belongs to the woman’.
People see this approach as weird because it is foreign to them. Society has lived and accepted the marginalisation of women so much that, radical women movement groups that seek for equity aggressively are seen as bitter women who have absolutely nothing to do with their lives. The concept of aggression and militant approach is so foreign to society because women have been seen as weak, not to speak when men speak and lifetime dedicated followers, not leaders.
Some bizarre rumours have even been associated with radical feminists where they are alleged to have fought for technologies that could harbor eggs and sperms to form a baby. This is because they believe that one of the reasons why women are discriminated against is because they are associated with childbirth. Radical Feminists of this sort suggest that maternity leave is a contributing factor to the pay gap and therefore if there was a technology that could form a baby using the eggs and sperms of women and men, then women will not be associated with just child-bearing, cooks and weaker vessels.
Another type of feminist group is the Socialist Feminists. This group are slightly different from the Radical Feminists. Socialist Feminist believe that capitalism must be scrapped out of the system because it promotes masculine power which widens the gender pay gap. Research by the World Economic Forum shows that it will take 217 years to bridge the economic gap in gender, a sharp rise from the 170-year gap predicted in 2016.
Again, there are the Liberal Feminists, who believe that the main causes of gender inequality are ignorance and socialisation. They do not believe that social institutions are inherently patriarchal. They believe in a “March of Progress” view of gender relations. This means that they believe that men and women are gradually becoming more equal over time and that this trend will continue. However, there have been some criticisms on Liberal Feminists. One criticism of their view is that it is ethnocentric – it only really reflects the experiences of white, middle class women.
There are also the Cultural Feminists and Religious ones who also believe that some cultural and religious practices are a contributing factor to promoting the patriarchal system and gender discrimination. For instance, in Christianity, the Bible states that: “the man is the head of the home”. Although the Bible didn’t intend to create gender inequalities considering how it promotes loving one another and treating neighbours as we will treat ourselves, most Christians misunderstood this concept to mean the woman is a weaker vessel and needs to seek for permission from her husband or listen to her husband to make decision or contribute to the upkeep of the family.
So, Religious Feminists believe that Christians must be made to understand that the Bible instructs men and women to submit to each other first. And in this context, submission is not equal to timidity but rather equal to respect. Again, they explain that men were instructed to love women as Christ loved the church and women are instructed to be submissive in return. In other words, a woman’s submission to a man is highly dependent on how the man treats the woman.
But in spite of all this, isn’t it ironic that 52% of the world’s population are females however they suffer discrimination most? This explains that women have been part of the problem of gender discrimination. Most women have accepted the limitation placed on them which has destroyed their morale to do more to assume their full potentials and become better versions of themselves. In the days of old and even sometimes in this modern dispensation, women who trained up their children created this disparity.
For instance, women encourage their girls to be decent, to be quiet when a man is talking and also to wash dishes and clean the home. Whereas their sons had the chance to either play football or were exposed to do ‘tedious’ or technical chores such as fixing the light bulb. The roles women imbibe in their daughters directly and indirectly prepares the girl mostly for marriage and also as the weaker vessel. It limits her ambitions and presents an ultimate goal of marriage as her greatest achievements. As I stated earlier, issues as such were well accepted in the days of old, where the aim of the woman was to keep her home together before her husband returned from war or hunting. Women are given so much responsibilities that it turns out to be, if the home fails, it is the fault of the woman. Girls are exposed to ‘the wait’ however boys are not pushed to ‘pursue’.
These examples raised above prove that women have been a contributing factor to the issue of gender discrimination.
Also, a World Bank Study revealed that more than 150 countries still have at least one law that restrict women’s opportunities. Which implies that 8 out of every 10 countries on earth have these restrictive order. For instance: In Mauritania, their laws do not require men and women to be paid the same amount for comparable work, and women do not have the same rights as men in marriage or after divorce.
Again, 46 countries provide no legal protection against domestic violence and 41 countries across the globe provide no legal consequences for sexual harassment at work. Globally, 1 in every 6 girls does not go to school.
The problem here which we do not realise is that we all pay the price for gender discrimination because an estimated number of 865 million women are ready to work to contribute to the economy of the world.
A study reveals that if girls are taken to school they will contribute 3% to a country’s GDP, which means if you educate a girl, she has the ability to contribute growth to the economy of a country.
In conclusion, both men and women are needed on board to fight against gender discrimination. When gender discrimination is eliminated, not only women will benefit from it. The wives of men, the mothers of children and the daughters of parents will achieve more, do more and contribute more to the development of the nation and the world at large.
Feminists must create UNDERSTANDING first, before fighting. It lays the foundation and makes the fight easier and better. Gender discrimination and women empowerment are seen as foreign because men and women have not been made to UNDERSTAND the repercussion it has on the world at large. Many people do shun the fight to bridge the gap because it has become a very sensitive issue that comes with a lot of backlash.
We need to accelerate progress that translate into action. It takes little efforts as starting from the home through to the schools, changing the narratives and flipping the scripts that women and girls are as capable as men to become leaders, pursue engineering and other science related courses as well as mathematics. Intelligence, abilities and capabilities are not gender sensitive. Once you are capable, you can do it, whether man or woman.
Fighting against gender discrimination must not be a competition. Feminists must realise that making the fight against gender discrimination a competition takes the focus away from reasoning into pettiness. It will lead to a cause where we major on the minor and will defeat the purpose of the fight entirely. It will lead to a dead end. Competing with men in the fight raises petty arguments such as, ‘who pays for the meals on a date’, ‘who pays the bills at home and the children’s school fees’, ‘who cooks at home’, ‘who pays for the bride price’, ‘who does the proposal of marriage’ etc. I say, in the home, whoever earns more pays more. Whoever has more time at hand does the cooking, I mean whatever humanely sane criteria that is agreed by the couple or the male and female involved, as that which will work for them should be practiced.
We must know that gender prescribes how we should be instead of how we are. Both men and women must be made to understand that fighting against gender discrimination is not to benefit women only. We have the ability to make and remake our society because culture doesn’t make us, we make culture.
The Fight against Gender Discrimination is not a Woman issue, it is a Human issue.
Lilipearl Baaba Otoo is an online journalist with the Business and Financial Times, a Gender Advocate of Plan International-Ghana and Founder of Bridge for Equity (an Advocacy group that is geared towards creating awareness and public education on the SDGs particularly Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls)