Did you know that every year 12 million girls are married before their 18th birthday? Globally, 1 in 5 girls become a mother before that age. Also, 98 million girls who should be in Secondary School are not. I’m sure we all know this one; women and girls represent half of the world’s population. And as of 2018, only 24% of all national parliamentarians were female, a very slow rise from 11.3% in 1995.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres has stated that “achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.”
Thankfully, women have come a long way from the time they were not allowed to vote, a time when female suffragists were imprisoned for what was at the time ‘a right that was not theirs’. Yet, there is still so much that needs to be done.
Over the past decade, emphasis has been laid more than ever before on the issue of ‘Gender Equality’. A steady rise has been observed in the way the issue is being perceived, scrutinized and absorbed and or accepted into society.
During the course of my research on this topic, I have come to be fond of this quote by ‘Dr. Robert Blum who has had a 40-year long career in public health:“Gender straightjackets”- that boys are aggressors and girls are weak- are harmful to both boys and girls…”
- Mariam Oyetunji, Gender Equality Advocate
Now whether or not we choose to accept it, there are gender norms and stereotypes being instilled in girls and boys at the very foundation of their lives- their childhood.
For instance, in the African society; the average Nigerian home, when girls and boys are growing, initially they seem to be the same, at the same level of understanding the society and the world around them. But as they develop, their view is altered. Their view is altered by the ‘gender roles’ they are forced to take on. An example of where these ‘gender roles’ come into play is ‘house chores’. Certain, if not all the house chores are relegated to the girl child. A girl is taught to clean and to cook and to overall be a home maker, while the boy is allowed to play around till half six, only to come home to eat what has been prepared for him.
Subconsciously, the mind of the girl child is being reset and programmed in order to perfectly execute the ‘Background Mode’ which ensures that the girls stay quiet and hidden, to be obedient, submissive and dependent, also to be out of the public eye, while the boys go ahead to be decision makers and the major stakeholders in matters that desperately concern them.
Now the boys are not spared, they are taught that they and they alone are the head, the sole bread winner. They are programmed to be extremely confident. They are taught that ‘in order to be a man, you need not shed a tear’- that even when their world is on the verge of being capsized by a huge emotional torrent, they should not show it, they should be dry eyed and not to display any emotion that suggests even the slightest existence of weakness. They are brainwashed into thinking their gender is the most capable and superior.
Unfortunately, most parents/guardians have little or no idea that stereotypes like these go a long way in giving a child the wrong orientation, which sticks better than glue to the child’s being.
If there is one thing I am grateful to my parents for, is the fact that they did not allow my brother and I to fall under the spell of the gender stereotypes. As impracticable as this may seem in a Nigerian home, my brother and I were not victims. For as long as I could remember, we were equal. If I washed the dishes, he washed the dishes, if I washed the toilet, he did the same. If I cooked today, he cooked the next day. If I learnt how to drive at 18, he had to wait till he was 18 to learn how to drive. Regardless of our gender, my parents provided us with equal opportunities within the home; there was a balance on our gender scale. Therefore bracing our minds for what was to come in the real world. What these stereotypes and gender norms do to boys and girls is exactly the birth of the “gender straightjackets”. While girls are brought up to be remarkably humble and less confident, boys are brought up with too much confidence.
Do you know that globally, an average woman in the labour market still earns 20% less than her male counterpart? This is but one example of the crystal clear gender divide in most workplaces globally. Apart from earning way less than men, women are also discriminated against when it comes to promotions, and even when it comes down to the hiring process, where they are constantly being denied jobs based on their gender, not to mention that women have little or no chance in being able to climb up the promotional ladder in a ‘male dominated field’. Hence, they tend to stick to more “pink collar” jobs like secretaries, pre-school teaching and administrative assistants.
Putting an end to all forms of discrimination against women is not just important because it is a fundamental human right. Over time, it has been proven that in empowering women and girls, there is improved economic growth and development. Strong policies should be enacted to ensure that sexual violence and exploitation is a thing of the past. A considerable increase in the number of women leaders around the world, than ever before could be observed, it is essential that there is a consistent pattern in encouraging more women leaders. It is important that adequate attention is paid to female education, in order to groom a new generation of female leaders which would do well to achieve a greater sense of gender equality.
MASCULINITY AND GENDER INEQUALITY
In a bid to attain gender equality, the conversation has been tilted mainly towards girls and women, female child and women empowerment, female education, etcetera. How exactly do we intend to complete the gender equality puzzle when a vital piece of that puzzle is missing- men? It is of great importance that boys and men, not just girls and women are brought on this journey.
We are in a time when the simplified version of gender inequality is not paying adequate attention to the female gender, how then can we not see that we are totally sidelining the men?
Women are not the only victims of gender stereotypes, men are too and somehow we seem to forget this. Boys are subjected to these stereotypes at a very young age, as I have said earlier. And one of these stereotypes I have termed the ‘Hard Guy Philosophy’, yes, you heard right.
The hard guy philosophy is exactly what it connotes in the urban context, which is the emotionless exterior that many men put up. Young boys are taught that showing emotion is a sign of being feeble, weak and “not manly enough”. This literally gives these boys the impression that it is okay to be the dominant gender, that’s the way it works, a man as the ‘alpha male’ and a woman as ‘the docile one’.
Do you know that just as women face issues of being denied work because of their gender, so also do men? You hear things like; ‘I can’t get the job because a woman is also competing for the same spot’ and ‘I did not get the job because of a woman’.
Though men have been seen as the privileged sex, we also need to understand that in this war against inequality and female discrimination, we have somehow lost the men and are doing exactly the opposite of what we are not to do; which is discriminating against the male gender.Another instance is on the issue of ‘Parental Leave’. It is a known fact that women have always been given longer parental leave than the men that do get leave, seeing as some jobs do not permit men parental leave. Whereas a mother gets 12 weeks leave, a man gets just 2 weeks. This is in itself inequality.
Seeing as it has always been perceived that women come with a ton of baggage and have to deal with running a family and at the same time working, it makes sense to give them more time off. No, this is absolutely wrong. Who says men don’t want to be with their new child for a long period, to experience the joys of fatherhood. In fact, recent research has shown that fathers would love to have extended parental leave to actually be there for their child and family.
Achieving gender equality is not just a women’s issue. In order to achieve gender equality, it requires us all, irrespective of sex/gender, which is why including men in the fight against gender inequality is very important. It is time we get past the gender stereotypes and norms, it is time we check our bias. Only then can gender based violence and discrimination in workplaces be stopped. Only then can we successfully put gender inequality behind us.
*Mariam Ayomide OYETUNJI, 300 Level student of History & International Studies, University of Ilorin, Nigeria, presented this paper recently at a symposium orgainsed by the Young Diplomats Chamber of UNILORIN.