Do We See Equal? A discourse on Gender Equality by Linda Onyeocha.
Gender Equality: pronounce these two words in a conversation and you are bound to raise eyebrows if not questions.
Many people are under the impression that the campaign for gender quality is one that seeks to elevate women to the dethronement of men and therefore view such discussions as an opposition to their ways of life. Perhaps, this view held is not without cause, as females hold the short end of the stick when facts are stripped down to placement of gender perception and roles in society. Therefore, much thought and actions are geared towards first, raising the female to her rightful place in the equation of things, which is, on an equal footing with males as regards, freedom, opportunities, rights and responsibilities.
Gender equality however, just simply means that all human beings, regardless of gender, are free to develop themselves and make choices without limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, culture, religion, etc.
Stereotypes regarding gender involve sweeping generalizations, perceptions and even preconceptions cast upon males and females in a given place. Some of these notions are influenced by all that is around us; conversations, strictures, religion and even in the behaviours of people around us. In a society such as ours, it is common to hear the statement, ‘you are not behaving like a woman’ when people encounter a female who goes against preconceived notions of what women should be or act like.
Some existing stereotypes of what it means to be a woman include;
Being submissive and respectful to everyone, especially males
Being good with house chores and kitchen duties
Consider marriage and childbearing as the higher purpose of womanhood
Not engaging in practices that reduces one’s marriageability.
A woman who takes the initiative on sex or proposals is slutty or desperate.
A woman should be patient and prayerful in relationships or marriages even when they are clearly bad or destructive.
There are more examples which are almost similar across all regions, contributing to the subjugation of women in not just their personal lives but the professional too, if she’s lucky to have a career. Where a woman is viewed as one who is to be placed beneath a man and submissive to him, it is not rare to find that even in some workplaces, an incompetent man is more likely to hold a position of authority over a group of women. The most dangerous effect of stereotyping is that it is also firmly held as truth by even the ‘victims’ themselves, which makes it possible to find women contributing to their own subjugation and that of other females by their words and actions.
In a society as patriarchal as ours, gender stereotypes affect the males too and we hear it in the admonitions, “Be a man! No dey do like woman”. To be a man is to be fearless, strong, brave, sexually active, ambitious, adventurous, successful ready to take on challenges, bear pain without giving in to tears or complaints, etc. To be anything less is to be considered weak and therefore, womanly. The supposition is that of the two sexes, the female is weaker and this is based not just on the physical but also emotional, mental and intellectual strength. Little wonder some men kick against conversations of gender equality because for a woman to be considered equal, is to them false, as they already believe themselves stronger, therefore superior.
Gender inequality hinders progress because a part of the population is disenfranchised and told that the only place where their contributions are actually needed or valued, are in the family unit or jobs which require care-giving. Gender equality seeks to change this narrative by insisting that women are equal to men, not biologically but in matters of intellect, capabilities and contributions to society especially when equal opportunities are given to both from conception.
For the purpose of this movement, this post seeks to point out some ubiquitous ways in which gender inequality negatively imparts a person and society at large.
Recently, the Nigerian social media ran amok with the news that a woman died because her husband refused to sign his consent for a blood transfusion to be given based on their shared religious belief. There is a group who think that if the woman or someone else besides her husband could have given consent, the transfusion would have gone on, and she would possibly still be alive. This is merely an example of how husbands, automatically cast in the role of owners, are consciously and unconsciously granted rights over a woman’s body and welfare.
There are so many disadvantages to this and yet another can be seen in instances of marital rape. A crime which most people argue is no crime at all, since the woman belongs to the man and is therefore his for the taking, regardless of the absence of her consent. Perhaps this falsehood gains traction when one considers the presence of bride price and dowry payment prevalent in many cultures. In this case, a man having paid a price for his wife, considers her as just another acquired property answerable to him and his desires.
Also, most women are also far less willing to request for family planning once their partners are against it, even if they have been told that another pregnancy poses a health danger to them. It is also most likely that a young woman would have to deal with insinuations of being sexually loose if she goes to buy a condom by herself, therefore to avoid the shaming, she places the burden of protection from diseases and unwanted pregnancy upon the male, sometimes with disastrous conclusions.
From early childhood, boys are encouraged in their sense of adventure, risk-taking, they learn to climb trees, fall, hurt themselves and get back on, preparing them, albeit playfully on tackling challenges life oftentimes throws in one’s path. However, alongside this lesson is an insidious one which takes root in a boy’s mind: men do not cry. We find then that men internalize their pain, are less likely to talk about their problems and when these conflicts can no longer be held within, they sometimes find expression in violent outbursts.
Violence against women is mostly carried out by men and it is in areas such as these that conversations concerning change of laws are lobbied for. Some people accept it as normal that a way to correct a woman who has erred is by beating her. Physical abuse in a relationship is considered as one of the things women must endure in the name of love. Some women are bullied by societal influence into remaining in an abusive marriage far longer than is necessary. And in extreme cases when a woman walks away, she can be killed for her audacity by the partner who can’t handle rejection. In most cases, society has a way of strangulating such a woman’s freedom. She is constantly reminded that her freedom and that of her children if she has any, comes with a tag: broken. As though a broken home is not one which breaks its occupants in mind and body as is the norm with failed marriages. Very few women have the confidence to escape an abusive relationship or marriage, because it has been drilled overtime into consciousness, that a man is what completes a woman.
Single women are also stuck with the appellation of incompleteness and it is commonplace to find a woman’s singleness being questioned and oftentimes mocked and marked as a deficiency this inability to snag a man irrespective of her personal achievements. We find too that it is seen as normal when a woman is sometimes forced to choose between her career and a marriage. This is not an issue when both parties talk and consider it the best line of action based on reasons. It becomes a problem when it is demanded of the woman, overlooking her desires or capabilities because she has been cast in the role of housekeeper.
Although there are exceptions, this is rarely the case for men who are advised to be successful before venturing into marriage. We find that society is wired to react differently to say, a thirty five year old spinster and bachelor. In some cultures, girls are carted off into marriages once puberty strikes — which can be as early as nine years and little or no thought is given to the girl child’s mental, physical, emotional or sexual maturity. In some cultures, ownership of a woman’s body is conferred on the males in her life — fathers, brothers, husbands and strictly placed underneath their protection. And in some cultures, there is little or no intervention when a crime is committed against a woman by the people society considers her owners. There is no case where this is most pronounced than in the places where honor killings are considered just or normal.
It is not only on the family level that we find gender inequality rearing its head. We find it too in workplaces where women are usually paid less than their male counterparts. This dichotomy can be viewed in the recent revelations by some Hollywood actresses who revealed their pay as lower than the male counterparts, even though they had put in equal or more amount of work. Also, it is hard to find a woman who has rapidly risen through the ranks in an organization do so without it being said or implied that she achieved that through less than ethical means.
Perhaps, the reason for this discrepancy is still rooted in the belief that a man is the provider of the family, the one who takes care of the bills of his family and therefore, needs more money than a woman. This assigned gender role of men being cast as provider has erroneously enabled some women who now imagine that even if they earn money, it is for their personal use and not for family upkeep. It has also led to the dissolution of some marriages because when a man is no longer active in his role as provider, self esteem issues creep in as do questions and problems, because both parties are imprisoned by societal perceptions of gender roles.
There are many ways through which gender inequality affects people and society, and these limitations are not easily brushed aside as they have been ingrained into the society’s consciousness and it is only in opening our minds and speaking up against set narratives, that we are able to make a headway in this drive for gender equality.
Linda Onyeocha has so many pseudonyms but this one is legal. She is a health professional with a passion for literature who believes change starts first from a broadening of the mental landscape. She is a reader who writes and loves yoghurt.