Years ago when I heard the word ‘woman’, my head gets filled with mental images of someone saddled with the weight of the world, doing endless chores and still not being appreciated and for a long time I thought that was ok, that is how it ought to be.
As I grew in both age and self-realisation, I realised that the woman was a far cry from those stereotypes, and I began to see her as a being equal to her male counterpart.
Most religions and cultures across Africa depict the ‘woman’ as the weaker one and the ‘home maker’, who should not be seen or heard. Many people have grown up with such beliefs and therefore view women who challenge and defy the norm as deviants – westernised rebels. In some cases, this engenders violence against them if only to force a change of attitude but also to deter others from following in their footsteps.
Society has made adequate room for the man to excel: HIStory, HEro, etc. But I feel and believe that the time is right to try HERstory? And what should an ordinary woman who has achieved extraordinary feats be referred to? Why don’t we try Shero? It is time to shift and even rattle the status quo. Women deserve their stake and rightful place in our society.
During one of the "You And I Teach Each Other (UNITE)" program sessions that I co-facilitated, about 30 students who participated talked about Man vs Woman. When asked what comes to their mind when they hear the word Man, a lot of them answered: father, strong, bully, doctor, discipline, God, carpenter, strong-willed etc. However when asked what comes to their mind when they hear the word Woman, they responded: care-giver, cleaner, nurse, mother, teacher, hairdresser, emotional, weak, loving etc.
In comparing Man to God, it was as if they were asserting that any being that is intelligent and strong and has the power to create something as vast as the universe must be Manlike; and conceding that a woman could not have such attributes. Ms Erica Licht (Facilitator) pointed out that it was very possible for both sexes to have these attributes as they were not innately pre-programmed into the bio-physiological makeup of the man or the woman.
Within the UNITE sessions, the word gender was analysed and broken down as a "socially constructed phenomenon", in other words, these are roles that we have learned over time, that have been imbibed in us, that we have been made to role play either through customary traditions, religion or even through ‘formal’ education’. The point is that we accepted these ‘half- truths’ without stopping to ask or think – do I really agree with this role bestowed on me?
It is almost as though the woman is forbidden to rise above defined ‘expectations’ and venturing out of the ‘confinements’ would be regarded as delinquency and she could be seen as a ‘black sheep’. In some ways it is as though, she has become a perpetual mental slave to religious and cultural ideals and a concomitant dread of challenging the norm.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that if we collectively want to put an end to gender- based violence, inequality and discrimination, we must learn and teach others to see the woman as first of all a ‘Human Being’ equal to any other whether male or transgender and not as a slave or weaker being who exist only to do the bidding of her 'master'. By so doing, her place and contribution to modern society can be established. Only then can women be viewed as partners and as equals and as stakeholders in the future of our world.
This article was originally published on www.socialwork4action.blogspot.com on the 23rd of March 2013.