A friend of mine received some wonderful news on International Women’s Day 2017. She had been accepted to pursue her graduate studies at the prestigious Harvard University. She grew up an orphan and worked hard to get to the level she was at now in her career. As an educational consultant, she was both amazed and proud of her work. She had never imagined ever studying at a university such as Harvard. But, she had applied as she did with so many other opportunities and waited for the news.
The excitement however, died down just after reading the email of acceptance to the school. You see, she has 2 children, a boy, and girl. As a single parent, her next thought was about her children. Does she take them with her to the United States? Is that even allowed? Who will help take care of two children if she is to pursue her graduate studies and advance her career?
I began thinking about my own choices and the choices of other women in my country and worldwide. I reflected on the opportunities and barriers in both urban and rural areas Zambian and the world at large. The choices women and girls have to make to advance their education, their career, choices on marriage and basic human rights. As I considered International Women’s Day commemorations, I pondered on what could be done to aid my friend’s situation. I wondered whether if she had had a partner if that would have made a difference. I have a few other colleagues who are married or have partners who would echo the same sentiments and my friend who is a single mum.
What of men? Do they have the same thoughts when given similar opportunities? Do they think first of their children and careers next?
I spoke about my friend to another colleague. The second colleague shared her experience. She did not live with her 8-year old daughter. Her ex-partner had sole custody of their daughter. She explained how people, including some friends and family members thought she was not being a good parent by not taking care of her daughter even though, she did not have the financial resources to do so and was still in college.
She asked “Does being a father or a mother not make both parents? Is being a parent 25% for the father and 75% for the mother? Is a father less of a parent? Are they not both capable of raising children?
As we continued our discussions, I too asked a few questions of my own. How are we treating our partners? Are we giving room to our partners to be real partners? Or as women, are we ‘acting’ on what society has labeled us to be? Are we taking on the role of caregivers and more? Are we being super women and not giving men or our partners an opportunity to be real partners and share the responsibility? Are we letting our partners play their role in supporting our dreams as we do theirs? Or are we for example, like the mother who goes out of town for work but constantly calls home to check if her partner had given the children a proper meal and a bath before ?
As women, I feel we need to step up and be bold for change. We can do all we want to do, that has been proven by the amazing women we celebrate on Women’s Day. As we fight for more inclusiveness at the table, for gender rights, let us create space for where the men can come and take the positions we leave behind as we move up. Each one of us has something important to contribute and a role to play and we cannot do it all on our own. Even super woman needs a sidekick!
So, what are you going to do? Are you going to work together for gender equality in your home, as you demand for it in your community and on other platforms? A place where our children see how we raise both boys and girls and the roles we place on them that determines whether the cause we are spearheading is worth it.
I have decided even in my African context, to treat my daughter the same way as my son. To give my nieces and nephews the same opportunities. By teaching and raising children especially girls, to understand that they have equal rights and can access the same opportunities if they both work hard is to me a big step towards gender equality.