by Ruth Aine - 01 October 2014
“Empowering women and girls is not only the right thing to do: It’s also smart economics and vital to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity. For example, an extra year of secondary schooling for girls can increase their future wages by 10% to 20%. And evidence shows that resources in the hands of women boost household spending in areas that benefit children. But despite a range of significant advances, too many women still lack basic freedoms and opportunities and face huge inequalities in the world of work.” - World Bank
The world system recognizes that there is gender disparity. That is why the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) paid critical attention to this. To be able to understand gender inequality, we need to know and understand why such a term even exists. Is it a question of socialization, tradition or biology? I would say that tradition (especially in African culture) and socialization could be the causes.
Following the tradition of the world/society, MDG 3 is targeted towards eliminating gender disparity. Fifteen years down the road, the statistics are still not where we want them to be. By 2010 16.2% of ministerial-level positions are held by women and only two countries out of 130 had achieved gender equality at all levels of education.
For Africa, there are many challenges affecting the achievement of this millennium development goal on the continent:
There are different African cultures that are hindrances in achieving gender equality. The culture that I was brought up in, dictated that women were to do all the house work and digging. The men joined in, but only if they wanted to. The women were mandated to till the ground, grow food and feed the family. This meant that usually the girl child would not go to school, but would rather be asked to help the mother in the garden. Of course modernity and education brought a little bit of change to some of these communities, but we would be burying our heads in the sand if we said that this was evident to date.
This is something that women all over the world face regarding progress in their careers. So, when someone does progress there are so many questions such as: Who is she? Where is she from and what kind of experience does she have? The questions are always justified by the fact that the person in question is a woman. To some people, there are jobs that women cannot hold. If they happen to get the jobs, then everyone is asking: Who did she sleep with to get herself that kind of a position? All of a sudden the moral authority is being questioned because the sentiment shared is that women cannot hold high positions of authority. This is slowly by slowly changing, but the stereotypes still exist.
A certain case of gender-based violence happens on the job, especially if a woman is seeking political office. For young aspiring women, this is something that they may or may not be told. Recently, I got to listen to the now Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Hon Yvonne Khamati. She was talking about her rise to the political scene. The first time she decided to run for office, she was young, unmarried and inexperienced, but that did not deter her. “At my first attempt, I was beaten up and hospitalized by my opponents’ supporters. When I was hospitalized, the women veterans in politics came to me and said: Welcome to politics, that was baptism by fire.” That was about 10 years ago, but we still hear similar stories. Would a man be beaten up at their first attempt to run for office? I do not think so.
In Africa, women still do the bulk of the work and yet they are not appreciated. With increased awareness and education, the trends are slowly changing. But then again, there will never be equal pay or equal opportunities anywhere in life. What we all seek is a balanced equation. And as Gitte Larsen has said: “Going into the future we need a new definition of gender equality. Not the usual industrial definition that we are used to, but one created out of society needs.”