Gender is a social concept brought about by society which often refers to the male and female species. Gender is also a cultural concept based on the traditions and beliefs of a society or community. It can be best understood when both the female and male species are being mentioned while the term itself is the biological function of male and female.
Growing up as a child was a little different for me, in my family everyone including my 5 brothers were made to do all house chores (Kitchen, toilets and bedroom), there was never a separate chore for male or female, even down to cooking.
When it came to my education and career, I was scolded hard alongside my brothers when my result didn’t seem good enough and even pushed harder when it came to my career.
But as I grew older and began to relate with the larger society, I realised it was totally different, people from diverse cultures brought in their beliefs and were determined to push it down my throat in the workplace and at events. There was a belief that I was a WOMAN and I needed to reduce my ambitions, and contributions and limit aspirations.
Women especially in developing countries in Africa, Middle East and South Asia seem trapped by societal demands and rising to the peak of their capacities looks like a daunting task. The major problem facing a woman’s career development is the overwhelming belief that women are not equal to men. The male child has always been seen as superior to the female child.
Till today, to some extent the crave for a male child still prevails in many homes which arises from our cultural/religious belief that women are the weaker gender and are just meant to bear children and stay at home to look after them. When it comes to inheritance in some cultures, women are excluded, the belief that the male child keeps the family’s wealth somehow remains relevant.
However with development over the world as attested to in Europe and America has made it clearer that if both men and women are given same opportunities, women can perform as good as men in various chosen fields of endeavour.
In line with the holy book, the Bible, men and women were made to complement each other. In Genesis, God created Eve as a helper to Adam because man alone cannot shoulder all the responsibilities. Before God, men and women are all equal. The sustenance of the human race to a very large extent is not possible without women which also means the sustenance of a healthy labour force that drives the world economy and our existence cannot be possible without women which cannot be overemphasised. This enormous belief of male superiority has to a large extent hindered women’s achievement and participation in all facets of Africa’s development. The girl child from birth is not given the same opportunities as the male child particularly in the area of education.
Education, as we all know, enables individuals to claim their rights and develop their potential in any chosen field which leads to a better life socially and economically. In some parts of the country today, the girl child is groomed with little or no education, relegated to mainly domestic activities. For instance, in the northern part of Nigeria, the proportion of girls to boys in school ranges from 1 girl to 2 boys and in some states 1 to 3 (UNICEF).
This inequality has to change. In view of these glaring inequalities especially in developing countries like Nigeria, the United Nations in 2000 put in place the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) as eight goals with measurable targets and clear guidelines for improving the lives of people in the world’s poorest countries. 189 countries signed the declaration including Nigeria.
One of the eight goals is the target to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels of education by 2015. This was essentially to promote gender equality and empower women. Furthermore, the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and signed by 180 states sets the right for women on freedom from discrimination and inequality under the law. All these laws are to ensure that women career development are not hindered by cultural/religious beliefs.
Around the world, women that have been given the opportunity to pass through the educational system and lead in various organisations have excelled. In Nigeria, the former Minister of Environment, Amina J. Mohammed who is currently the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations has a proven track record of succeeding in every position assigned to her.
Let’s not forget our very own Folorunsho Alakija, a Nigerian businesswoman and one of the richest African women in the world. Globally we have heads of government like Angela Merkel of Germany, Theresa May of Great Britain, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and only recently she was the first female presidential candidate of a major political party in the US. Finally we also have the first self made richest woman in the world, the founder of Lens Technology, Zhou Qunfei. All these successful women attest to the fact that given equal opportunities, women can excel like men and bring about development in Africa.
In order to ensure that the progress of women career development is not hampered, the government must have clear-cut policies in place with regard to the girl child/women education. Education must be made compulsory from primary to secondary for the girl child. The women advocate groups must continually propagate the relevance of women to society, building and highlighting their progress in all facets of life both locally and internationally.
The government must also ensure that policies like the MDG’s set objective are met. In the past 3 years, a number of women groups sprung up, unfortunately, the objective behind the groups seems to be tilting towards networking with the middle and upper class rather than solving real issues like women career development, this must be changed. The ministry of women affairs must also not fail to recognise and partner with institutions that have focused their marketing campaigns on girl-child education. The ultimate goal is to ensure that we have a society where everyone is allowed to contribute to the development of the country irrespective of his/her gender. The contributions of women to the world’s economic and social development are by far glaring and cannot be overemphasised.
Rosemary Egabor-Afolahan writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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