Gender Equality

By Annie O’Connor of the kanga project

Fighting for them

Gender is not just about interactions between men and women in the sphere of personal relationships; it is part of the social relations that underpin all aspects of life, from access to resources to the exercise of authority, from remuneration to participation in cultural and religious activities. Gender relations describe the social meaning of what it is to be a female (or a male) in a particular society and of its expected behaviour. Gender analysis in development makes a distinction between strategic gender needs and practical gender needs.

Strategic gender needs are those that women identify because of their subordinate position to men; for example rights to own property or freedom of choice over childbearing. Practical gender needs, on the other hand, do not challenge women’s position in a particular culture, but respond to immediate necessities. So for example, if in a household it is the usual role of the woman to fetch water, then providing a well close to the village is a gender based activity even though the whole community benefits. Providing access to micro-loans because national banks frown upon lending to women is also a practical gender activity and both are very representative of the work small charities like the members of Together 4 Africa do or fund at grassroots level. On the other hand, most of the strategic needs of women can only be addressed by empowerment and internal political activism such as expressed in the following extracts.

“African women have long been the poorest and the most neglected group in their societies. So poor as to be almost non-existent physically, socially and spatially. Gender bias in the African lifestyle is rooted in the African concept of social order and form, buttressed by traditional spirituality. The marginalisation of women in Africa is taken for granted and argued forcefully on the premise of ‘our culture’ and partriarchy.” From Hope Chigudu in “Composing a New Song – Stories of Empowerment in Africa.”

An African woman's life

“Resources for African women constitute a complex and broad concept that goes beyond a laundry list of assets that would not go far in empowering them. More important are the institutional and ideological factors that inhibit women’s access to and control over resources. For any talk of a renaissance to hold substance in Africa we must seriously address issues of gender inequalities. This means that African leaders and the populations at large must be prepared for changes of revolutionary proportions.”
From Sylvia Tamale. Full article on http://www.codesria.org/Links/conferences/gender/TAMALE.pdf

Many African governments  let women’s rights to education, healthcare, legal status, political representation and fair pay languish at the bottom of their list of priorities unable to accept or comprehend that addressing their plight is not just a question of natural justice. It is what will drive the process of development in Africa. For one thing, most of what they earn is spent on the household and children; men, by contrast, spend a significantly higher amount on themselves.

Yet, there are signs in countries such as Tanzania that the ground structures are being put into place for women to take their equal place in society. But what the Law says and what happens on the ground is still very different. It will take time, may be several generations. The only thing that can speed up the process is education.