All over the world, numerous campaigns and interventions have been instituted by government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fight gender inequality. Gender inequality affects women the most and spans across different spheres of human life: education, work, health care, sexual violence, representation in political and economic discourse, opinion, marriage, social status and access to property among many others.
The latter indeed justifies the need for carefully-thought "women/girls' empowerment" initiatives.
It is undeniable that women have a critical role to play in sustainable development. However, over the years, the narrative for the "women empowerment" movement has been one-sided. Men are merely regarded as chauvinists and anti-women. Women empowerment campaigners and various government interventions have failed to see men as collaborators. But how far could we go with this same old narrative of inequality against women where men are regarded as chauvinists and anti-women instead of collaborating with them to push forward this issue of women's rights?
Women's rights are human rights – and for that matter everybody's right. Gender equality is a human right and achieving it means doing away with society's rigid ideas and notions about what it means to be a woman. That also means getting rid of the limitations that surround what it means to be a man.
The United Nation's Development Program's Gender Inequality Index (GII) shows that some good strides have been made in women/girls' education. About two thirds of countries in the developing regions – that is to say much of Africa – have achieved gender parity in primary education. In the area of women's representation in parliament, many African countries lag behind but for Rwanda, Senegal and Angola being somehow the exceptions, recording 57.5%, 42.7% and 36.85% of the parliamentary seats being held by women, in that respective order.
Other Numbers To Watch
In Southern Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012, the enrolment ratios were the same for girls as for boys. Women in North Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015. In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 per cent of seats in national parliaments in at least one chamber.
The numbers indicate some success, though somewhat limited. But sadly the feminist agenda has more or less now been reduced to an attack on gender roles and lacking in the idea that men could be partners in building a consensus towards fighting gender inequality. Feminist movements and women campaigns must begin to rethink what gender equality means. They must endeavour to involve men in their fights against women and girls' marginalisation.
"The idea of being a feminist: so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex, but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity." - Lena Dunham
It's about time we did more than joining in the women empowerment choruses and campaigns. A comprehensive approach is needed to increase women's participation in power and decision-making processes. The media could be used as a platform where women constructively take part in crucial policy discussions by writing, speaking and engaging in dialogues that contribute to policy making.
A good example is The Stanzers, a not-for-profit media organisation focusing on gender policy, research and public awareness and is working towards bridging the gender gap in media. This online media platform assembles African women's insights and perspectives mainly in writing on the following themes: business and economy, politics and governance, science and technology, culture and society. This shows some progress in getting women's voices heard.
We also need to have more women in politics and governance. Let's offer constructive criticism rather than destructive ones that discourage women from contesting political as well as public offices. "The idea of being a feminist: so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex, but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity," as US actor Lena Dunham said.
We ought to also move away from the conventional thinking that it isn't for women to own property or invest in businesses unlike their male counterparts. Women should begin to see having a business as a future investment to make life better. And so I implore that their access to loans and other forms of capital be made easy and simple.
In addition, government should make business registration processes much simpler than they currently are. I suggest the whole process be made digital so that everyone - both men and women, nursing mothers and even young girls alike, are more enthused about starting a business.
To achieve all of the above, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the entire educational system. The contents need to be redesigned such that from the very onset, people appreciate the need for equal opportunity for all without any prejudice or being gender biased.