Musings On Women's Day
Happy Women’s month! May we observe the month wisely. In my own little contribution towards the rightful honoring of this month I’m going to share my musings on the various questions and comments which arise regularly during this period.
1- Why celebrate women’s day?
This is a popular question asked predominantly by men, who go on to add “Is there a men’s day?” To which some smart-mouthed women would counter “99 days for the thief 1 day for the owner”. As cute as the bi-play is, it is misleading. Women’s day is not to be “celebrated” so much as observed and commemorated. It is not a “fete” as the French say it is like other international days (Commonwealth Day, International Labor Day etc) a day to honor a certain activity, or group of persons usually under-looked. As such, throughout the month of March we commemorate women who despite making up over 50:5 of the world’s population, make up just 17% of parliamentarians (UNICEF, New York: 2006, p.56), own less than 12% of the land globally and constitute over 70% of the worlds minimum wage workers.
In Cameroon in particular, women hold 20 of 100 Senate seats, 56 of the 180 seats in the National Assembly and only 09 of 66 cabinet posts.
2- Woman Eh! and Wrappa wahala is all about the International Day of the Woman…
No. “Woman eh!” and “wrappa wahala” is limited to Cameroon. We have (with much misguidance from our ministry and leaders) reduced what was to be a month of recognition and concentration on furthering women in development to a day of march-pasts, fashion parades in a variety of styles made from annually distributed fabric and of course eating and drinking.
In other countries (if we would care to emulate) during women’s month activities such as round table discussions, Take Your Daughter To Work Day, recognition of inspiring women in history and present among other things are carried out in commemoration of women.
3- Who makes up these themes?
This is the funny part. There is a UN theme for each year for us to ponder on while honoring the International Day of the woman. I realized this year that there were actually three themes. That which is listed as the UN theme on their website (Equality for Women is Progress for All), that which is popular spread as the international theme (Inspiring Change), and that which our ministry here releases at last minute and we see printed on the fabric each year (Women as Active Participants in National Integration). In a world which is working towards being a global village, you would think we would all be able to agree on a single theme for a single day right?
4- Isn’t all this talk of Gender “much ado about nothing?”
Over a century since the feminist movement took off people may now presume the movement and feminist mantra is redundant. However those people would be wrong. Like racism, sexism and the oppression of women was and has been so deeply rooted in our cultures, belief and thought systems that they cannot be simply eliminated.
The feminist movement is responsible for women now being able to wear trousers, go to work, free themselves of abusive relationships, own land, marry whom they wish or choose not to marry at all. The feminist movement is responsible for the fact that a woman who is raped can seek justice; a girl can go to school, the drop in women and infant mortality, the representation of women in parliaments etc.
There is still a long way to go. While a victim of rape can now seek justice, she is hardly guaranteed of finding it. Just last week a women was killed after being gang raped and it was considered “right” for she led the men to sin. While a a girl can got o school she will still face a sexism in recruitment when entering the job market. While women’s mortality rates have dropped, women still die more from gender violence than any other cause cancer and accidents included. While women are now represented in parliament theirs is mostly a quota representation with barely 18% worldwide.
As such the feminist movement and the fight for gender equality is NOT “much ado about nothing”.
5- What about all the privileges women have that men don’t? Isn’t it now an issue of reverse sexism?
Recent posts on a group page on Facebook states how women “have too many privileges yet complain”. It lists “the months women have for maternity leave, how men open doors for women, how men are trained to stand while women sit, how society demands that men provide for their women, how more and more women are bosses today and usually misuse their power oppressing men all the more, how women are the targets for more sponsorships, aids and scholarship just based on sex etc” as reasons for this claim that women are more privileged and that most sexism today is bias to favor women.
This is false conclusions drawn by someone who looks on the surface and little else.
The concept of male gallantry; opening of car doors, sitting by the side of the door in taxis to “protect the woman in the middle”, placing the woman behind you etc is all a mirror trick. While men claim to be gallant they restrict. The nature by which society expects the men to “gallantly” provide for the women is very similar to the western practice of giving 3rd world countries financial aid but restricting their economic rights such that they can never truly be independent. I imagine that in Saudi Arabia women don’t split wood or dig trenches they are saved from that hard labor as it is “men’s work” yet women are also denied the right to drive and are thus restricted to the home. I’m sure that women in Yemen have been “privileged to have their husbands bring them treats and such from work on a regular basis, yet I’m equally sure the women who were mostly married off by the age of 15 would have liked the right to choose if they would like to go to school, get a job and buy their own treats.
You see, women are given what we perceive as privileges but denied their rights. We are given fish and society demands that we be grateful for those gifts, but we are denied the right to learn how to fish because, well, the guys are scared we’ll get it into our heads that we can do without them.
Men are okay with the practice of paying the bills, because he who feeds you controls you, and they know it!
To say there is reverse sexism is a fallacy. Sexism is discrimination based on gender and as such there is no “reverse”. It’s either there or not. And most often it is there with a bias for men against women. To prove this here are a few facts.
· Women account for nearly two thirds of the world’s 780 million people who cannot read. (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, “Adult Literacy Rates and Illiterate Population by Region and Gender,” 2006)
· Over the past 25 years only 1 in 40 women were peace agreement signatories.
(source: GAPS: Global Monitoring Checklist PDF)
(source: GAPS: Global Monitoring Checklist PDF)
· In modern conflict almost 90% of casualties are civilians, most of whom are women and children (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Yearbook 1999, SIPRI, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 2)
· Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. At least 1 in 3 women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime with the abuser usually someone known to her (General Assembly. In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women: Report of the Secretary General, 2006. A/61/122/Add.1. 6 July 2006)
· 46% of global news content reinforces gender stereotypes, almost eight times higher than stories that challenge such stereotypes (6%).[ The Global Media Monitoring Project (2010) Who Makes the News? Highlights. http://www.whomakesthenews.org/images/stories/restricted/highlights/highlights_en.pdf]
· Women who work, with or without children, spend 15 hours a week on average doing chores, while men spend only five.[ Durrant, Sabine (2009, 11 Feb) ‘The chore wars’, The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/feb/11/women-relationships ; BBC News (2007, 23 Feb) ‘Single Women do less housework’. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6382429.stm]
· Up to 30,000 women are sacked each year simply for being pregnant  and each year an estimated 440,000 women lose out on pay or promotion as a result of pregnancy.[ Fawcett Society (2009) Not having it all: How motherhood reduces women’s pay and employment prospects, p9. http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/NotHavingItAll.pdf]
· 36% of people believe that a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was drunk and 26% believe this if she was in public wearing sexy or revealing clothes.[ Figures relate to England and Wales only. Home Office (2009) Violence against women opinion polling. Available at http://www.huiselijkgeweld.nl/doc/english/violence-against-women-poll_2009.pdf]
· 1 in 5 people think it would be acceptable in certain circumstances for a man to hit or slap his female partner in response to her being dressed in sexy or revealing clothing in public.[ Figures relate to England and Wales only. Home Office (2009) Violence against women opinion polling. Available at http://www.huiselijkgeweld.nl/doc/english/violence-against-women-poll_2009.pdf]
· An estimated 1.2m children are trafficked into slavery each year; 80 per cent are girls.
· Over 130 million women living in the world today have undergone Female Genital Mutilation.
· Only 76 countries have legislation that specifically addresses domestic violence – and just 57 of them include sexual abuse.
Given all of this, please tell me again how privileged women are?
Let us not fall for the mirror trick and let us not reduce the importance of the International Womens Day to just another “fete”