By Rohey Samba
I am not trying to talk people into espousing my beliefs. Far from that. Neither am I trying to undermine anyone’s authority. I am simply exploring a commitment I have towards society by analysing social problems and their solutions through the lens of my experience, my observations and of course, well-established research. In a nutshell, I am merely trying to confront the issues we bury under the bridge and bring them to light cogently.
My experience have taught me that carefully construed neutrality on matters that matter are not effective tactics for popular instruction. My primary instinct therefore is to bear all out and say it as it is, without leaving room for ambiguity. I understand the vague sense of rebellion will be ascribed to me. But like fescue grass in a cow pasture, I will not get swamped by all the other noise. Thus I continue with last week’s discourse by expanding on the issue of gender today.
To date, the discussion about gender equality panned partly due to misconceptions about the notion of 50/50, but mainly because of deliberate misinformation by bigoted men, religious zealots, Islamists, ibaadus, whatever name they call themselves. Gender equality does not refer to men and women being the same, but alludes rather to women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities, and opportunities not being dependent on their respective sexes that they are born with, which even the most determined religious zealot did not decide for himself/herself.
Gender is essentially, ‘socially constructed notions about masculine and feminine roles that may or may not exactly coincide with notions of a person’s sex’. In our societies wherein gender relations have historically been unbalanced and especially biased against women and girls, overall concepts about gender are the underpinning systems of subordination and domination.
When a little boy runs out naked from the house, it may elicit laughter and perhaps the chiding of amused neighbours and family. When a little girl runs out naked from the house, these same neighbours and family are visibly uncomfortable. She is reprimanded and ordered to immediately return to the house to cover up.
Originally meant to protect the girl-child, what this teaches the boy is to be brazen about his own sexuality at an early age, whereas the girl is taught inadvertently to be ashamed of her own sexuality. This transmutes to issues of promiscuity among women and girls when they digress from the societal dictation to ‘cover up’ in later life.
Meanwhile, we are ALL so accepting of a man’s promiscuity; in fact it is nothing to be ashamed of on the part of a man. A man boasts about siring10 children with 9 different women, and it is so NORMAL. ‘Ki mom gorr lah!’ A woman has one child out of wedlock and it is what it is… “She is not a good woman”, “not a wife-material”, and so on.
In order to have good women, there must be good men in our society. Equal treatment of our children, irrespective of whether they are born male or female, translates to equal opportunities and equal rights for men and women in later life, which in turn ensures equal outcomes for both sexes.
Thus gender alludes to the ‘social attributes’, ‘roles’, and ‘responsibilities’ linked to being male or female. It goes further to denote the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relationships between women and those between men. Specifically, gender includes in its ambit all the ‘expectations about the characteristics, aptitudes, and likely or appropriate behaviours of both women and men, including what it means to be masculine or feminine.’
Apparently, gender roles and expectations ascribed to being male or female are learned behaviour over a period of time. Let’s take for instance, the role of gender in ascribing leadership qualities to men. While the basics of leadership are readily taught, even to small children, many people – male and female alike – would ascribe leadership roles to men for the mere reason that they are born male.
Women of equal qualifications and abilities as men are cast in a stereotype of weakness and incompetence in every field of endeavour, to the extent that women have to work extra hard to prove their worth and be given due regard in an institutionalised system of marginalisation that is experienced world over, and more so in sub-Saharan Africa. The issues of women having less pay for the same work as men, in countries at the pinnacles of civilisation such as the US and UK speaks volumes, and does not require any form of deciphering.
In our homes, given credence by culture and religion, the man wielding his power as a sword in the household is very common. A man is largely equated with strength, virility and intelligence. The high regard for the husband, uncle, brother and male relative in general, adds to the drive given to the role of presumption in our society for self-serving purposes, which unfortunately underlines the belief in men as the unequivocal leaders in all our affairs, whether in the familial or at the work place.
The role of neglecting women, who constitute more than half the population of this country, for mediocre, lobbyist and/or outspoken men in well-deserved positions of responsibility in our country’s work force for instance, has resulted in very poor/reduced institutions that are deprived of the right people, in the right positions. While being born female is not a mark for proficiency nor even a qualification for high aptitude, the conditions of acquired competence if met by women must be compensated by their placements in the rightful posts of responsibilities and remunerated accordingly. That’s what.
Hence, it can be gathered that whereas gender is relational because it does not exclusively refer to women or to men but rather to relations between them, gender defines certain roles that men and women play in society thus reinforcing stereotypical behaviours, connotations and expectations over time.
Because gender is intrinsically linked to everything we do, to date, many women and men are pinned down by societal stereotypes about the roles they are supposed to play to the extent that many live much unfulfilled lives. I grew up loving to play football, when many other girls preferred to play rounders. I know of boys who would rather braid hair, than brew attaya and so forth.
I am a woman means I am supposed to be expert housekeeper and cook, in addition to any other role I assume in the workplace. In effect, referring back to my encounter with the belligerent dock worker about fifteen years ago, who called out that …Marriage to a man is supposed to be the best degree I ever have; the wrongful notions about gender just permeate every level of our society. And as I alluded to earlier, women and girls bear the brunt end of the injustice.
Thus, gender in particular is generally a broad social and political issue that intricately determines men’s and women’s rights, participation, access to power, and social and political status among other things.
Before the Second Republic, I never in my wildest dreams conjured that women could be given such positions of responsibility as heading a Ministry as Minister of State. Inquiries resulted in knowledge about two or three persons who got high in the pinnacles of power before that in the first Republic. Yet I learnt that the earliest a woman got a PhD in The Gambia goes as far back as the 1920s. When I first heard about that in a lecture given by erudite Gambian writer, Nana Grey Johnson, during WAG’s commemoration of Writers’ Day last year, I was astounded. I could not help but ask, what happened in between that a new impetus for girls’ education had to be injected into the educational system by introducing free education for girls.
The answer is simple. There were no tangible effects to show for the worth of education for girls over the years. No success stories at all. If due consideration was given to educated women then, by suitable placements in positions of responsibility, it would have been enough PR to identify with. In short, the recent notion that women could be minister of every given post in the echelons of power and/or a permanent secretary is what it is, very recent.
Seeing the female ministers especially the former Vice President of the Republic, who happened to be the longest serving minister in the Jammeh era, imbues women and girls with the audacity to hope, to conjure these notions in their minds and to work harder still to achieve their dreams-whatever they may be. They are imbued with the hope that they could be placed in any posting of responsibility in The Gambia if they work hard enough in the meritorious society espoused by the current President Barrow…
We hope and pray that that is the case…
Rohey Samba is an award winning Gambia writer and author of 3 books, with experience working as a media analyst, press and public outreach assistant for the EU Election Observation Mission in The Gambia National Assembly Elections, 2017. She owns a publishing company and works as a maritime specialist, specialising in maritime safety and environmental administration at Gambia Maritime Administration.