Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Developing A National Gender Policy For Nigeria? These Women Have Come Again!
Ejiro Joyce Otive-Igbuzor
[Country Director, Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA)]
November 13, 2006
The Federal Ministry of Women Affairs has embarked on the development of a National Gender Policy for Nigeria. While some of us think it is long overdue, others believe that the nation is hardly ready for this. From the outset, some people are already apprehensive about the use of the term gender equality. I often hear people say call it something else! What else can we call it dear brother? Who is afraid of equality? The best sticker I have ever seen says ‘Quality men do not fear Equality’. The title of this article speaks to the mindset of the average male and (incredibly) female Nigerian. The moment the word gender is mentioned, the first reaction, even within the international development circle is often that these feminists and gender activists (as some mischievously call us) have come again! No doubt, they are sick of us and are unfortunately too impatient to hear us out. No matter your mindset on the subject of gender equality and gender mainstreaming, lend me your ears. Isn’t it a sign of maturity to listen before we speak? This write-up is more experiential than it is academic and attempts to deconstruct a mindset that we all developed over the years and have come to accept albeit illogically as God-ordained. Perhaps after reading through, you will come to appreciate your mother, wife, sister, auntie or daughter and to see her in a different light.
Four years ago, I was at the Playfair Library, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. The hall was decorated with magnificent statues of individuals who had in the past contributed immensely towards improving the status of the University. It was an honours roll call of some sort. In my curiosity, I moved from statue to statue, faithfully reading the inscriptions. Behold they were all statues of men. Not a single woman had contributed to the development of that school in a developed country! I thought it was ridiculous. I did ask questions and was told by an aged Professor that in the early years, female scholars could not even be admitted into the Royal Society of Scotland (a professional body). According to my Professor friend, one woman made a unique discovery in Mathematics and because she could not present her findings at a conference organized by the Royal Society of Scotland (being a woman), she wrote up her presentation and passed it on to her husband. The man presented as though it was his write-up and rode on the strength of that discovery to become a Professor.
Gender inequality is not simply an African or Nigerian phenomenon but a global one. It is only more prominent and has lasted for too long in our part of the world. We all live with it and have come to accept it as part of life. The reason we are beginning to speak up is that it has not only eroded our self-esteem and opportunities as women but also negates all the gains that the third world should have been celebrating today.
As posited in CEDPA’s strategic position paper, gender inequality impedes economic productivity and results in unequal access to and unfair distribution of our collective resources. People perceive development in several ways but it is generally agreed that it is a process that leads to increased capacity of people to have control over material assets, intellectual resources and ideology and obtain physical necessities of life (food, clothing & shelter), equality in employment, participation in government, political and economic independence, adequate education, gender equality, sustainable development and peace. It is impossible to achieve development without gender equality.
Gender inequality like a cankerworm has eroded every fabric of society and development. Recent reports show that 54.4% of Nigerians live in abject poverty. Women remain the poorest of the poor. Of the 8 million school-age children that are not in school, 62% are girls and out of 43% of Nigerians who cannot read or write, women constitute two-thirds. There is an obvious link between illiteracy, poverty, health status and child survival. An educated woman is more likely to embrace reproductive health including family planning information that improves her own chance of survival. In Nigeria, it is reported that about 54,000 women die annually from preventable pregnancy-related causes. The most graphic way to illustrate this is to relate it to the number of people who die in every plane crash. With the Bellview incidence of October 22nd 2005, 117 people were said to have lost their lives. Divide 54,000 by 117 and you have an equivalent of 461 plane crashes per annum. These women do not perish together on the same spot so noone really hears about them. Since we are extremely religious, we say it is the will of God and we bury our dead quietly. For any child that loses its mother, its chance of survival is considerably reduced. One out of every five Nigerian children dies before his/her 5th birthday. Mr President himself has declared Maternal and child mortality a National Emergency. Poverty, harmful traditional practices, and gender-based violence have continued to fuel the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Out of about 4.2 million Nigerians living with HIV and AIDS, over half are women. Though women are more infected by HIV they, in addition, bear the burden of care for their family members. Even in the face of inequalities and abject poverty, women continue to pioneer survival strategies and eke out a living for their families and themselves.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) onto which our government signed along with 188 other governments around the world focus attention on gender equality as the pivot upon which development is hinged. For example, how can we eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve Universal Primary Education, reduce child mortality, improve maternal healthcare and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015 in the face of inequalities? Indeed the offsprings of inequalities are encroaching on the little gains that Africa had made in the past. It is no wonder that the African Union, in adopting the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on Rights of Women in Africa agreed to integrate a gender perspective in their policy decisions, legislation, development plans, programmes and activities in all spheres of development. Nigeria is a signatory to several international covenants that entrench the principles of equality, fairness and justice.
Who then is afraid of gender equality? What does the term really mean? Can all humans be equal? Aren’t some born with a silver spoon in their mouths? Does equality mean same size, age, same socio-economic status? By no means! The World Bank gives a classic definition of gender equality as “equality under the law, equality of opportunity including rewards for work, access to human, financial and other productive resources that enable opportunity and equality of voice to influence and contribute to the development process”. Any development strategy that ignores equity strategies can be likened to an attempt to treat the symptoms of a disease while ignoring its already diagnosed root cause. Gender equality is thus an imperative for development, democracy and global progress.
Do women really experience inequality in the home, community and the larger society? Perhaps you can judge this for yourself after reading this article. A convenient point to start would be to distinguish between the terms sex and gender as used in the development sector. All people are born either male or female. This is sex. By virtue of their sexes, human beings have been assigned roles by nature. One distinguishing feature between a woman and a man is the fact that the former has a womb and the latter does not. Except by genetic manipulation of some sort, a man cannot become pregnant. Pregnancy is thus a sex role apportioned to women. It is common knowledge that no woman can make another woman pregnant. Ability to impregnate a woman is a sex role apportioned to men. Another sex role apportioned to men is the ability to determine the sex of a baby. A woman’s sex gametes are XX while a man has XY. In sexual reproduction, a woman always contributes one X gamete that usually combines either with the man’s X to form XX = a baby girl or with the man’s Y to form XY = a baby boy. We all know that in this part of the world, there is son-preference. When a woman has had one girl too many, she stands the risk of being thrown out by her husband or his people. I have met women who were pregnant and nearly became hypertensive for fear of having another female. Women often make endless trips to the labour ward in search of the golden male. Many lose their lives in the process and are quietly buried. Imagine the needless pains women bear over an issue that they are not ordained to determine in the first place! No doubt, ignorance kills.
The one time Mama Na boy! advert by MTN typifies the Nigerian mindset around son-preference. Just like the mother in-law in the said advert broke out in singing when she heard that her daughter in-law had given birth to a boy, the coming of a girl in some settings provokes anger, bitterness and regrets. Such regret is often expressed even in the kind of name that the child is given. In the part of Nigeria where I come from, she is likely to be called Omotejomo translated ‘a girl is nonetheless a child’. Its equivalent in Ibo language is Nwayibunwa. The most unfriendly form of that name is Omotejohwo translated ‘a girl is nonetheless a human being’. It is a consolation and carries the connotation ‘I wish she was a girl! How do you think this child would feel for the rest of her life, knowing that she is considered a mistake? Some liberated families however give a heart-warming variant of that name. My mother is called Omotekoro translated ‘a girl is as precious as gold’. Even where a family has had ten boys and desires a girl for a change, nobody is ever called Osharejomo (a boy is nonetheless a child) or Osharejohwo (a boy is nonetheless a human being).
Now let’s attempt to explain the term gender. In every society, there is a mindset regarding attitudes, attributes and roles played by men/boys and women/girls. These societal constructs of what behaviour or role is masculine or feminine varies from place to place. In my part of the country, a girl or woman is expected to be quiet, shy, and ignorant about sexual intercourse or at least pretend to be. The domestic domain is seen as her legitimate space. Her roles are basically about the house –cooking, scrubbing, child rearing etc. If she has a farm, she does all the other things in addition to tilling the soil, marketing her wares and basically eking out a living. From the cradle to the grave, she plays little or no role in decision-making even concerning things that have to do with the use of her body. She learns very early that she does not have as much play or study time as her brothers because like you know, she has to ensure that their food is ready in good time. She receives lessons from her mother on how she must never argue with her brothers. These lessons stick to her memory and as she begins to relate to boys outside the home, she has no power to assert her rights. Even if she does, hardly will anyone take her seriously. So she succumbs to intimidation. A male child is however, far removed from domestic activities. He is often chased out of the kitchen, forced to do his homework and allowed to play football.
The girl-child experiences several forms of violence and harassment but accepts them as normal. On one hand she is expected to be a virgin and this expectation is actively enforced through Female Genital Mutilation – mostly the cutting off of her clitoris to ensure that she does not develop sexual urge or enjoy sexual intercourse. That way, her sexuality is supposedly kept under control. It really doesn’t matter if she gets infected or bleeds to death in the process of being mutilated. Considered the most inhuman and barbaric of all traditional practices, Female Genital Mutilation does not ensure virginity. The only way to ensure that children – girls and boys are decent is to build their self-esteem and provide them with factual information about their bodies and the consequences of promiscuity. The only operation in the male that is equivalent to FGM is cutting off the tip of the penis (not circumcision). Did you say God forbid!? That’s exactly how God forbids FGM.
If there happens to be any form of economic hardship during the growing up period, the girl-child is usually the first to drop out of school either to marry or help generate more income. In my third year in University, a female classmate of mine narrowly escaped dropping out of school when his younger brother got admission into the same University. Why? Her parents couldn’t afford to support two children in school at the same time. Rather than keep this girl in school for one more year to graduate, the parents wanted her to step aside for her younger brother. Her saving grace was that this younger brother (bless him) had so much regard for his big sister that he chose to defer his admission. This is a true life story. So do women face oppression in the home?
In school, a girl is often reminded of her gender roles. She sweeps the class, sews the duster (don’t mind me, I attended a village primary school and we didn’t have ready-made dusters). Her schoolbooks carry stereotyped images of men and women in their traditional element – men in ward coats, suits and ties portrayed as doctors, engineers, architects, name it; women portrayed as domestic workers as they scrub away, fetch firewood, sit by the fireside cooking, with a baby on her back or a basket on her head. Domestic chores are good and very rewarding for the entire family. The question really is –why should only one sex be cast in and overburdened by this role? Why can’t we socialize boys and girls to participate in building the home-front so we can all have quality time to engage in other productive activities that are rewarding for the entire family? The issue is really that the roles assigned to women are usually less valued and non-remunerated. The moment remuneration is attached to it, the men begin to takeover. The number of men winning cooking competitions is instructive. At a workshop I organized in 2004 for Clergy, one Pastor insisted that there was something in women’s genes that drew them to the kitchen after a hard day’s work at the office. When we insisted that it was purely a question of socialization, he wouldn’t be convinced. As we spoke, the tea boys walked in with trays. Trust me to cash in on such an opportunity! I asked the gentleman – what happened to these men’s genes? And there was silence. My son cooks his indomie and fries his egg and he is still my son. He sweeps his room and scrubs his toilet (even though we have a housekeeper). Listen, we (my husband and I) have to raise a responsible citizen, a great and loving husband and father to be. Otherwise, we would have failed as parents.
Stereotypes and inequalities pervade the school systems and curricula. When my daughter Rukky was in Nursery School (not her present school), she took an examination and scored 9/10 in one subject. In reviewing the question paper with her, I discovered that she failed the simple question Who cooks food that you eat? There were only two options –a) Mummy, b) Daddy. At that age, the children couldn’t read so the teacher would normally read out the questions and expect them to answer. I called my Rukky and repeated the question to her. Of course it was an eye-opener! When I read out the question and the options –a) Mummy, b) Daddy to my baby, she looked at me and answered frankly –Aunty Efe. And this teacher marked it wrong. What did you expect her to say? I was living in Lagos at the time and as early as 6.00am, my husband and I were out of the house to beat the traffic on Ikorodu Road. My daughter used to wake up at 6.00am to join us for morning devotion after which husband and wife would take off to look for daily bread. Aunty Efe, my younger sister who was then awaiting her WAEC results would bathe and give her breakfast. She returns from school and Aunty Efe gives her lunch while Mummy and Daddy are at work. On a bad day on Ikorodu Road, I used to get home at 11.00p.m. I once got home at 1.00 am because of traffic jam. The school system teaches my child that only mummy can cook her meals. This creates a mindset. Any wonder why we chose to pack out of Lagos? Once upon a time, my husband held a school to ransom when during an open day visit, he saw that my daughter was being taught that there separate chores for girls and boys at the home-front. The teacher’s defense? “It is what the curriculum stipulates”.
In secondary school, girls are encouraged to pick so-called feminine subjects like Home Economics. Boys are virtually forced to pick the masculine ones like Wood Works, Physics, Further Mathematics, etc. In higher school, the trend becomes very clear. Is it any wonder that about 90% of nurses are women? It would appear that nursing was actually designed for women. Even the nomenclature gives credence to this fact. The term Nursing Sister tells it all. Has anyone heard of Nursing Brothers? I grew up thinking that Nurse was the feminine form of doctor. Women are often encouraged to pursue careers that reflect their care-giving roles. Whereas in a Hotel Management and Catering class you would find a large population of women, you are likely to have 3-5 ladies in a final year Engineering class even in this day and age. Please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong in pursuing Nursing or Hotel Management and Catering as careers if that is really what you want to do. My mother is a Nurse / Midwife (great name but because of the literal meaning of wife, many men cannot just associate with this title. Some would rather be called the meaningless variant – househusband). What we are saying is that if your daughter loves to play football, please let her play. And if your son prefers to play with dolls, let him be. We need to give children the space to express themselves. There are so many doctors miserably caged in ward coats and often irritated with their patients because their parents wanted them to be doctors. Some of them would definitely have been happier and probably more prosperous, had they been allowed to follow their passion.
When a girl eventually gets married, the cycle of violence could continue. It comes in different shades – from being spoken to rudely by their husbands or in-laws to being battered. She often does not decide how many children she wants to have. God help her if by the end of one year of marriage she is not pregnant! As the children come, her joy is full. Her roles also expand. Even if she wants to stop child bearing, she cannot negotiate the use of barrier methods during sexual intercourse. Two years ago, I was facilitating a workshop and I asked the men ‘what if your wife presents you with a condom when you want to have sex?’. One man became violent and flexing all muscles, he declared ‘She would have to tell me how she got it in the first place’.
There is a mindset concerning what is feminine. Access to and control over resources or ownership of property are not part of it. Both women and men have imbibed this mindset. Many women are afraid to be rich for fear of being considered tough. I have friends who refused to buy cars or rent decent apartments for many years even though they could afford it. Their excuse? Men will become afraid to ask their hands in marriage. As one friend lamented, they will now think that they cannot control me. You see what I mean? The typical Nigerian girl must show that she can be controlled, not just by her man but by all the men out there. If you thus have an argument with your domestic staff who is a man, you are likely to be asked don’t you know he is a man? Sometimes when I rebuke my 11 year-old son for being noisy or boisterous, there is always a good Samaritan on hand to ask me the same question. Trust me! I never mince words in telling them that this boy (not man) is my son and I will raise him the way I deem fit. If I succumb to societal pressure and let him have his way all the time because he is a man, this same society will call me an irresponsible mother, should he grow up to be a bad citizen. And when he becomes a man, my son and I will be the first to know.
Once upon a time, I featured on a live TV programme –AIDSONLINE to be precise. After I spoke about the need for women / girls and men / boys to have equal access to equal opportunities, one caller furiously rebuked me saying You this woman, I’m sure you are not living under a man. I laughed and said yes Oga, you are right o. I am not living under a man. I live with my husband. He respects me and I respect him. He does not treat me like a doormat and my family is better off for it. Another caller quoted Scriptures at me. The Bible says ‘wives submit to your husbands…’ and I said Yes! You have quoted Ephesians 5: 22. Could you move one verse up and hear what Ephesians 5: 21 says?...submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. How come noone ever takes note of that verse? Or the fact that husbands are asked to love their wives as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5: 25). How did Jesus love the Church? He loved the Church so much, He gave His life for her. Did this happen because the Church was a good Church? No! The Bible says while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Though the head, He stooped low and washed the feet of His disciples thereby teaching us humility. And to crown it all, God almighty in His majesty beckons on humanity. He says “come now, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1: 18). How many men reason with their wives and children? And on and on I went. You see, I know the Scriptures and I encourage every woman to study the Holy Books of their various religions. For too long, some men have interpreted Scriptures out of context to deceive humanity. Remember what God said He would do with those who add to or remove a jot from the Scriptures?
To say that many religious leaders have contributed to the entire damage is to say the least. Once I was in church (not my present church) on Mothers’ Day and my Pastor asked all the women to stand up and come to the altar to be honoured. Before he prayed, he congratulated us and gave a charge – Today is mothers’ day. When you get home, make sure you cook sumptuous meals for your husbands. And to the men, he said – Husbands, in order to show appreciation, eat with relish!” Good gracious! If you were a man who loved to help out with chores and your Pastor, the spiritual head of the local assembly preaches at you in this manner, wouldn’t you feel unmanly? That’s how we all got here and I honestly sympathise with African men. We are all victims of socialization. Surely, God has not made one sex to serve the other. Rather, we are told to serve one another, submitting to one another in love and unity. In Galatians 3: 26-29, a powerful equality statement was made by Paul the Apostle…there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. How wonderful the world would be if humankind could love one another and show respect for the rights of others, irrespective of sex, race, tribe, privilege of birth, position, religion, etc. This surely is not too much to ask.
I celebrate women who by dint of hard labour have overcome the fear of being thought rich. My grandma of blessed memory was one of them. Mama was a real merchant. She had a great shop where she sold everything from breakable dishes to expensive wrappers, empty tins (no kidding) of bournvita, groundnut, mats, name it! She had two bicycles including the white sparb (as the white Raleigh bicycle used to called). She built two houses, sent her children and grandchildren (including yours sincerely) to school and had a bank account in Warri though she lived in Eku, several kilometers away. Amazingly, though she could neither read nor write, Mama maintained a record of her debtors by making chalk marks on the wall. She was the only one who could decode what every mark stood for. It is still difficult to believe that she was not educated. Guess what! Because her exploits were beyond what people would normally expect of a woman, people said that my grandmother was a man. The mindset about women being unsuccessful and dependent still pervades our society.
If you want to completely destroy a Nigerian man, call him a woman. That is the lowest form of derogation. Any man described as a woman is regarded as unsuccessful, talkative, fearful, quarrelsome, emotional, cries easily, helps with domestic chores, poor, faithful to his wife etc. The mindset concerning masculinity is thus that a boy or man is a breadwinner (even if he wins no bread at all), natural leader, emotionally strong, does not cry – people often chide male children when they cry – don’t you know you are a man? So they learn not to cry even when in pain. No wonder many men go on and on even when they are sick, nursing their pains quietly for fear of being thought weak. Because it is also masculine to smoke and drink, they gradually destroy their bodies and never check their blood pressures or sugar levels. Then one day, they drop dead. And we say but he was never sick! Says who?
I once gave somebody a ride on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and because I was almost late for a meeting, I was on top speed. To show me how impressed he was with my driving, my passenger retorted, Madam, you drive like a man. Guess what, I slowed down. This is one task that I like to do like the woman that I am. Listen, my children are still young. Imagine how many men out there drive to impress to show their manliness and end up in untimely graves!
The mindset concerning what is masculine has put many young men in trouble. For fear of being thought effeminate (I hate that word), they succumb to societal pressure and expectations. Several men maintain multiple sexual partners. These include the one-man-one-wife-several-concubines practitioners. They do this to demonstrate their manliness. Many have had repeated episodes of venereal disease leading to infertility. In Igbo language, venereal disease is termed nsi nwayi or oria nwayi translated woman disease in English. Don’t be amazed! Everything bad comes from a woman! For every man that is infected, there is the possibility that up to ten women within the space of one year might share willingly or unwilling in it. If he is married, then his faithful wife or wives are in trouble. If he brings HIV home, his unborn baby is also threatened. Several young men have mentioned to me that their mothers normally get worried when they go to the village and no girl visits them. A friend of mine once said that his mother actually organized girls for him to sample and pick a wife, the last time he visited his village. Don’t forget that these same girls are expected to be virgins at marriage. Yes I know what you are thinking…that women are perpetrators of injustice. You are not totally wrong. But think about it. For whose benefit or pleasure do they try to maintain tradition? Are women not seen as custodians of culture and tradition? Who delegated these roles to them? So when my fellow women in Ibo land, the Umuada compel a woman to drink the bathwater of her husband’s corpse to prove that she didn’t kill him, whose interests are they serving?
I still haven’t forgotten my father’s advice to me when my husband (then my fiancé) came home for introduction. Right in the presence of my husband, my father said – Ejiro, you know that men do flirt. It is normal. Even if you see him with another woman, that is not reason enough to quit o. And my uncle (name withheld so I can still visit home in peace) was nodding. That was the license given by my father. Thank God my husband did not pick it. I looked at him and we had a good laugh. Had my husband turned out to be a flirt, to whom should I have returned? Don’t get me wrong, my father loved me so dearly and I loved him too. He was giving me sincere advice from his heart. All he wanted was for me to be happy. Women and men are victims of socialization but culture is dynamic. Once upon a time, some people used to kill twins because we thought they were evil. Somebody somewhere had to act as a catalyst for change. Can you imagine what a group like the umuada can achieve in this country should they, as assertive and influential as they are, be given the space and the tools to influence things positively? At least we have evidence that women can make a lot of difference in governance. The achievements of Prof Dora Akunyili, the NAFDAC icon, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance, Oby Ezekwesili, Minister of Education alias Madam due process, Amina Ibrahim of the MDG fame and a host of others provide the evidence.
Summarising these viewpoints into a single paragraph, gender, as opposed to sex is a social construct within which certain behaviours are stereotyped as feminine or masculine. In Nigeria, good women/girls are shy, virgins, chaste, quiet, do not talk about sex, sexually submissive and inexperienced, non-assertive, obedient, economically dependent, weak and vulnerable, emotional, often irrational. Men/boys on the other hand are assertive, macho, do not cry, violent/aggressive, domineering (even bully), risk takers, breadwinners, can bear pain, strong and bold, have no fear of darkness, unemotional, adventurous, disciplinarian, virile, sexually aggressive and experienced, independent, free and individualistic, proud, ambitious, egotistical, success-oriented e.t.c. Feminine behaviour in men is frowned at. The dictionary definition of the word effeminacy is very instructive. Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia defines effeminacy as a character trait of a male showing femininity, unmanliness, weakness, softness and/or delicacy which contradicts traditional masculine, male gender roles. In Nigeria, successful women are often described as ‘men’ while unsuccessful men are described as ‘women’.
In our society, patriarchy as a system of male domination defines women’s relationships, participation, representation and access in all facets of development. According to Adrienne Rich, patriarchy is ‘a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men by force, direct pressure or through ritual, tradition, law and language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labour, determine what part women shall or shall not play in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male’. The material base of patriarchy is men’s control over women, labor, and power. Essential elements upon which patriarchy thrives include unequal power relations between men and women, men’s access to women’s bodies for sex, women’s economic dependence on men. Societies’ institutions such as schools, workplaces, families and health systems enforce these norms. They influence the gender division of labor as well as stereotypic constructions of masculinity and femininity. In Nigeria the domestic domain is perceived by men and women (through socialization) as the legitimate space for women while public space is associated with men. Political leadership is gendered and even though the current regime has made efforts to include women in its cabinet, men saturate the political space while women still constitute the most disenfranchised group on earth. Their historic marginalization is evident in the gender disparities in social indicators - education, poverty, health, employment and ownership of productive resources.
In order to pave way for development, the elements of patriarchy must be dismantled so that both sexes can have equal chance of survival, fully harnessing their potentials, free from the constraints of poverty, disease and inequalities. As we develop a National Gender Policy, key challenges abound. How can we implement the principles of equality within a rigid system that entrenches inequalities? It does appear that a complete overhaul of certain sectors is inevitable. Using the education sector as an example, there is dire need for curriculum review to expunge stereotypes. All sectors, including the media will have to be re-oriented and re-positioned. The media is critical because it helps to shape our mindset. Exploring the adverts we see on television, it is obvious that the media plays a critical role in perpetuating stereotype. From the detergent adverts to the creams, toothpaste, bath soaps, and so on, women are portrayed in their traditional roles and as sex objects. Only the Knorr cube advert deviates from the norm. At least it shows that a man can also cook and still remain the husband.
In order to engender equality at all levels, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the historic marginalization of women has created a wide generational gap between men and women. Equality cannot be achieved outside the context of redressing years of inequalities and relegation experienced by women/girls in society and bridging the gap between women and men so that they can operate from a level playing field. Affirmative action for women is a key gender equity strategy that eventually helps to achieve equality. In instances where men and boys are marginalized, affirmative action would be in their favour. A clear instance is the disparity in school enrolment in Eastern Nigeria. People have often criticized the concept of affirmative action but we practice it in various ways. Quota system is affirmative action. So also is Federal Character! Suffice it to say that gender equality is not simply a strategy for development but an important development goal in itself.
Challenging a mindset is not an easy task. I purposely chose to ignore the theories and –isms of gender equality because they had not helped in the past. Perhaps my real life experiences have set you thinking from a gender perspective. Soon you will begin to see through a gender lens, analyzing your own actions and making positive changes. This will not happen in a flash. Change is usually a gradual process. We are willing to wait!
[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this write-up are strictly those of the author.]
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.