08.12.2008 Feature Article

African sisters, rise up!

African sisters, rise up!
08.12.2008 LISTEN

For centuries, across many communities around the world, women have played second fiddle to men. The notion that the female of our species is the 'weaker sex' has meant that they've been often belittled and sidelined for generations. This was the case in even the so-called 'advanced' communities, where until relatively recently, women didn't have some of the rights that they take for granted today. In developed countries, some concerted effort was applied for decades to balance things out and ensure that women are seen and treated as 'equals'. This effort is still ongoing, as there are still pockets of unfairness toward women. Ironically and arguably, there is now a danger of the pendulum swinging too far the other way, with the resulting imbalance favouring women – but that is a subject for another discussion.

Men and women are different
Men and women are different. Our differences are more than just physiologically; they go right down to the way we think and perceive. These differences are at the root of the complexities in our interactions, and given rise to such publications as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. It is unhelpful to deny these differences or pretend they don't exist, in the quest for equality. Regardless of what one believes – creationism, evolution theory, or reincarnation – men and women being different is not an accident. The very existence of our species depends on it. This fact, however, does not mean that either gender is more important than the other, or that one gender should be treated 'more equally than the other'. Men and women bring 'different things to the table', and I believe that the whole is not complete when either contribution is missing.

Effects of gender imbalance in Africa
In many parts of Ghana, and almost certainly across various other communities in the rest of 'Black Africa', women continue to play second fiddle. In some extreme cases, they are treated like second-class citizens and denied some fundamental human rights. Sometimes this happens as a response to our understanding of gender roles. While this resonates with me, I don't think the different roles played by men and women in our communities should lead to either being seen and treated as subservient to the other.

Sidelining women the way we do has implications on our communities that go beyond culture. I believe it can limit – and has limited – our socio-economic development in many ways. The fact is we've not allowed women to contribute fully to the running of our communities and our ongoing development. Many men see women as little more than 'baby-making factories' who exist to attend their personal whims. The ideas, knowledge, compassion, strength and counter-balance to the male perspective that women bring are often confined to the kitchen. Some of our communities are so male-dominated that women often have to rely on men just to get by, which sometimes ushers them into some compromising and undignified situations.

'Turkeys don't vote for Christmas'
I've had many a conversation with African women who implore men to show more respect to women and treat them as equals. This is a view I am sympathetic to, but I also know that 'turkeys generally don't vote for Christmas'. The systems as they stand – derived from our customs and traditions – suits men. They emphasize our role as the 'bosses' and allow us to get away with a lot. Though things are gradually changing, particularly in our urban areas, African women need to realise that change will be a long time coming if it's left to the men alone. There are many men who want to see more 'equality' among men and women, but there are many more who don't.

In life nothing that is worthwhile comes easy, and significant changes require immense effort and sacrifice. Some changes can be allowed to take their natural course, but some must be expedited where possible. African women need to stand up and be counted, just as women in other parts of the world fought for greater recognition and fairness. Those women who manage to get good standings despite the male dominance should do more to help other women – something that is all too rare, based on my observations. In some instances, women themselves are complicit due to their total acceptance of the status quo.

My African sisters, you have so much more to offer. The world needs your strength, your spirit, and your insights; so rise up, and 'fight' for your rights! The road will be difficult, but the experience and the destination will be rewarding and worthwhile.