By Isatou Juwara
We live in a society where the girl child goes to school just like the boy child, but the girl child still does the chores at home. We live in a world where women go to work just like their husbands, but the women are still expected to raise the family.
Are women in the world and in The Gambia, in particular, being given their due rights? Are women being treated fairly? Should men and women share equal rights? What is more important – equal rights or justice? Read to find out.
Gender equality and justice are among the most debated topics on the international platform today. These key terms must first be defined for a deeper understanding of this write-up.
Gender equality can be defined as giving equal rights and opportunities to both men and women across all sectors of society. This includes equal opportunity to participate in socio-economic, political and other decision-making activities. It also means that the needs and aspirations of both sexes are equally respected.
On the other hand, social justice is about ensuring equal access to civil liberties, opportunities, and human rights. This means ensuring each individual has the necessary means to achieve his or her goals, with particular attention to the least advantaged members of society. It also entails that each individual must respect the rights of others the same way his or her rights must be respected.
From these definitions, it is clear that the two concepts are intertwined. However, it is my opinion that equality cannot be attained without justice. As a matter of fact, I believe that pursing gender justice is more important and quite honestly, more practical than pursing equality. For that reason, more effort should be put into attaining social justice for women, who are undoubtedly the most discriminated and oppressed in society.
Generally, men are seen as being physically stronger than women, which is why they have always been considered superior. On the other hand, society views women as soft, fragile beings whose only roles are childbearing and taking care of the home. Through the years, however, women have been pushing to have a say. Today, we understand that women can do much more than stay at home. We understand that women can be educated, work, and contribute immensely to the political, social and economic development of the society.
While we aspire equality amongst all people in society, we must first acknowledge the characteristic differences. Because men and women are created different, their needs, behavior, and capabilities also differ. It is extremely important to put all of these factors into consideration when discussing gender issues. What may be fair to one individual may not be fair to another. If we rule one straight line and give everyone the very same things, the purpose for equality may not be achieved.
For instance, if at a certain workplace everyone is expected to report to work at 8 a.m. and close by 6 p.m., regardless of sex, that may be seen as equality. But what about when a female employee is pregnant? Must she still follow the same rule as everyone else? If she must abide by the same rule then the rules are being unfair to her. She would be unable to carry out her duties as an employee or as a mother.
In another example, a sick employee may be given sick leave depending on the severity of his or her illness. That is social justice. In contrast, if we only considered equality, then all sick employees — regardless of the type of illness — would be given an equal duration to recuperate.
What happens when the justice system is gender bias? When women are not given the same opportunities as men, or when their complaints are dismissed as irrelevant? Then the justice system has failed, and equality is not achieved. It is of paramount importance, therefore, that strict laws are made to protect women from all forms of violations and gender discrimination. Through education, women can be enlightened about their rights and responsibilities. This would empower women, and through empowerment, women would seek justice. They would be able to demand their voices to be heard, and for them to attain equality in every aspect of society.
Isatou Juwara is reading medicine at American International University West Africa. She is a poet too.