By: Frederick H
In a world where there is a lack of access to relevant information, there is a great misconception of gender and gender equality. A proper understanding of these two will definitely open many to a better understanding of this evolving society. Faced with a myriad of social values and customs engraved in stone and culture, unlearning in most rural societies in Africa is key in promoting gender equality, access to relevant information. Gender is loosely defined as the state of being male or female in relation to the social and cultural roles that are considered appropriate for men and women. In societies or families we live in, there are particular roles assigned to women, men, boys or girls. This is as a result of beliefs and social set-ups. Different society relationships, education and demands of the age of reason have created new waves of social interactions which have defined roles of males and females in society in a more progressive manner.
Gender equality therefore means that the different behaviors, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered and valued equally. Note, it does not mean that women and men have become the same, but their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. A skilled female engineer can be as good as a skilled male engineer. Similarly, a skilled male nurse or care giver can be as good as a skilled female nurse or care giver.
In many rural settings all over the world, poverty has a hand in most of the damning decisions made by parents in families or elders in clans. In Eritrea, many parents force their young girls into marriage as a source of income, bride price is all they care for at that moment. The girl child here is looked at as property, a mere source of income. Even when she gets married, she is seen by the husband as property to fulfill the aspirations and desires of the husband. This act perpetrates poverty within such families, keeping societies and individuals in the vicious circle of poverty. Poverty must be tackled head on regardless of the circumstances. In most urban settings where families have access to multiple sources of income and progressive levels of education, girls are offered considerable opportunities equivalent to boys. Tackling poverty will increase the sources of income for families, this will avail more opportunities for girls in families to go to school as opposed to dropping out of school for early marriages.
In that way promoting gender equality. Girls will then attain relevant skills to employ them in different fields and then competing favorably with the rest of the world.
I have a friend who vends agricultural products in Jinja central market, a mother of three, a boy and two girls. Four years ago she was abandoned by her husband because she stood in the way of her husband forcing her daughter into early marriage at a tender age of sixteen. This friend of mine never wanted her daughter to go through the same horrible experience of rushing into marriage at a tender age, to an elderly man. The father cared less, all he wanted was the lucrative bride price promised. At that point he was battling a lot of debts, he had sold his ancestral land and now, resorting to his daughters as a way out. The mother stuck to her guns and started selling agricultural products that gave her considerable profits at a time she really needed it. She chose to take care of her children in her own home and kept them in school at all cost, with much needed support from the area community based officers. As I write this, the girl that would have been married off four years back, has excelled at every level in her academics, receiving different kinds of scholarships of excellence. If we concentrate on solutions and tackle poverty in a more humane and progressive manner, all our children in our families shall have opportunities and they will live their dreams.
Secondly, we must tackle exclusion at all levels in our societies. There are instances where stereo types propose that certain science related courses and jobs are meant for males only, which is not the case. If this notion is upheld, there will be limited opportunities for girls to acquire skills and therefore, their job pool will be limited, this will in the long run harbor unemployment.
Tackling exclusion will definitely help in fighting unemployment and thus making it possible for girls and boys to work based on their skill and abilities, rather than their state of being boys or girls. In many instances, employers tend to ignore females when it comes to science related jobs based on stereotypes and they ignore their skills, abilities and gifts in those fields. Let employers take up the most qualified personnel for the jobs, regardless of whether they are male or female.
It is very clear, how society has attached gender roles to females and males. This comes directly from our different family settings and backgrounds. Nevertheless we should uphold the strides made by the active contribution of girls in the different fields which are pillars of society growth, that they were once excluded from. In a society where some men have chosen to abscond from their responsibilities, women have stood tall to head their families in a more effective way becoming bread winners. This comes as a result of opportunities availed to them. In a nutshell, gender equality will definitely encourage growth and development in the society, since it comes with opportunities of getting skills, decent education and employment. As progress loving people, we have a moral responsibility to promote gender equality in our immediate circles.