You just bought a bus ticket traveling from Bamenda to Yaounde. You got seated in the bus and as the driver got in, you noticed it’s a woman. Would you have second thoughts still taking that trip? Most people will immediately demand for a male driver, even the female passengers. It won’t even be considered as a funny joke. This is a simple example but it goes to show us the extent of challenges to which feminist and headliners of gender equality face on a daily basis. Yesterday I conducted a little poll in which I asked a lot of my female friends if they were okay proposing marriage with a ring to their boyfriends and if they believed in gender equality. A few of them saw no problems in doing that and declared themselves as strong feminist. A greater number saw it as a taboo both culturally and religiously, but still wanted gender equality to an “extent”. Gender Equality is 5th of the 17 UN SDGs. Before we dive deep into the focus of this article, I would like to define a few words as concerns this issue.
Gender equality is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender. This means regardless of being a boy or girl, everyone should enjoy the same opportunities and rights in their country.
Women's empowerment is the process of empowering women. Empowerment can be defined in many ways, however, when talking about women's empowerment, it means accepting and allowing people (women) who are on the outside of the decision-making process into it.
Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes. Feminism incorporates the position that societies prioritize the male point of view, and that women are treated unfairly within those societies.
African culture primarily in the past has favored males, but this trend has been greatly reduced in recent years. In Cameroon, both male and female sexes enjoy equal rights to education, healthcare, public service employment etc. I won’t talk much about the successes of gender equality but my aim here is to explore the failures and why they face such challenges especially in the African community.
Equal Pay and Employment into High Positions:
In the public service, male and female colleagues are paid equally if they are of the same classification and anyone can be appointed to a position of great value (e.g all teachers of a particular grade receive the same salary and can be appointed as heads of institutions and ministers regardless of their gender). But in the Private sector this may not be the case as employers prefer to put males in critical positions. This is usually done based on assumptions that men can perform better even under duress and difficult situations. This is also mostly done to avoid situations like pregnancy leaves as most employers see no need for paying an employee who isn’t working etc. Feminist see this as unfair and demand that women be allowed to take Pregnancy leaves while receiving pay. While there is some considerable success in that area, the story becomes different when this female employee holds a high position. It’s not uncommon for an employer to request his female CEO not to get pregnant for her specified length of time working for that company. When she’s CEO and gets pregnant and demands a pregnancy leave, this leaves the business or company without a CEO, is the employer now to find a temporary head for the position and start paying them? Will he still pay her? What if this employee does a better job than she did, will you be willing to fire them and have her back? What if you fire her? Will she sue for gender bias assuming this new employee is male? These are some of the challenges faced everyday in the private sector. So as a rule of thumb, most employers prefer not to indulge in this messy hassle by just employing the male gender into these critical positions. What are your thoughts about this and how can we mitigate this bias? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Owning Property: In recent years, there has been considerable success in the issue of women's rights and owning property. Most of African cultures in the past regarded this as a taboo. Women were even considered as property in some cultures. In our villages, every compound certainly has what we call a “chop-chair”. This is the person who inherits the property of the “man” when he dies. In some cases, this is highly regarded as unfair especially when the man dies leaving behind a wife and kids who may evidently receive nothing from his property as his “chop-chair” will always be favored first in terms of succession. This poses a very big cultural problem for feminist. Some people argue that this is the reason why wills exist but I’ll tell you in some communities, people will rather see all the property burned to the ground than have some will enforced which will go against their customs. But this tribal-succession issue is less seen in families where a lot of the parties are educated (again reiterating the importance of education in society). This has become a challenge because while implementing solutions for gender equality, we are trying to copy what happens in western cultures without taking into consideration factors such as our African Culture about the issue. What do you think can be done to prevent women from being left out of their late-husband's possessions without causing a cultural war? Let me know in the comments section below.
This has been a hot-button topic ever since the name was coined. Feminist have always fought for women’s abortion rights stating that a woman should be in control of her body and be able to decide if she wants a child or not. Even married women in a lot of developed countries are allowed to abort their babies even when their husbands are against it (unfair to the male gender but then nobody cares). We have people like Bill Gates actively funding research on ways to control birth hormones with vaccines etc. This may not really be a big problem in western and eastern cultures but when we bring this kind of thing to Africa it becomes a whole new issue. Here men are proud of having children. Lack of children can lead to divorce even. In some communities it may even be considered a taboo if a married woman has an abortion. This is another challenge feminist encounter in our African communities and with good reason because it’s not just against tradition, it is also against many religious beliefs. So they are essentially fighting the war on two fronts. What are your thoughts on abortion? Should it be made legal? If so, what would be the stand of the father? Would he have equal rights in the decision making process as the mother? Would you argue that the woman should have more say since she's the one carrying the child for nine months? How is that gender equality?
There are many other issues regarding gender equality (trafficking, mutilation practices etc) which I will not list here but one which is greatly overlooked is the fact that gender equality is only seen on the female side and the advantages it gives women. Women get to pick and choose where gender equality should apply (which is only in cases and situations that favor them). Example, a woman can be sexually harassed but by first principle it’s impossible for a male to be harassed.
The debate of Gender Equality will continue to face challenges especially when it opposes realities in the realms of tradition and religion. What are your thoughts on gender equality, should male and female be treated equally in all aspects? If a female thief is treated the same as a male thief (beaten and killed), would you prefer that we don’t equalize the genders in that situation? If you are a female and your employer demands that you don't get pregnant for a period of time, what will you do? Knowing well that you may be fired if you attempt to sue the company or go against that request? What about transgender people? What are your thoughts?
Muluh MG Godson.
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