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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Patriarchy gradually paves way for gender empowerment

21st March 2012

Women in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, still face critical challenges due to a deeply entrenched patriarchal system and gender stereotypes in society.

Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold authority over and control women, children and property and inheritance is through the male lineage.

Gender stereotypes are simplistic generalisations or value judgments about gender attributes, differences and roles of individuals and groups. They are often harmful for they suppress individual expression and creativity and hinder personal and professional growth.

When people apply these simplistic assumptions or value judgments to others, they are consciously or unconsciously perpetuating gender stereotyping and unintelligent prejudice.

In some societies men think women are inferior to them and would not like to see them fully emancipated from this yoke of oppression. Some

do not want to work under a woman and others do not want to be led by a woman because they think to be man you have to oppress a woman!

The media has played an active role in reporting on women’s issues and empowering them to fight for their rights and against gender stereotypes and violence and harmful practices in line with goal number 3 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is about promoting gender parity and empowering women.

Some public leaders, parents, women role models, international organisations, gender-sensitive men, capacity building programmes, gender advocacy organisations and activists are also fighting for

women’s rights and against attitudes and practices that humiliate, dehumanise and oppress women in society.

As a result, there is growing understanding that men and women are equal in dignity and should be accorded equal respect and opportunities to realise their potential. In short, men and women should treat each other as independent.

This was said at a videoconference workshop on leadership dynamics for senior women managers organised by the Tanzania Global Development

Learning Centre (TGDLC) in collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Administration (KIA) last week.

The workshop, which ran from Monday to Friday, utilised research findings that identify key factors that have proven vital to successful women leaders.

It aims at helping women develop self-confidence to realise their career potential and internalize practical skills required to lead themselves and others effectively and targets women managers who have the potential to take senior leadership roles in their organisations and who would welcome the opportunity to develop their self-confidence and leadership skills in a supportive manner.

In this way, women will be able to handle better some of the critical challenges facing them in leadership roles, recognise self-limiting behaviour and attitudes and act with more confidence, articulate an inspiring vision, apply techniques for increasing visibility and impact at work, assert themselves and influence others more effectively and create support to sustain personal and social progress beyond the workshop.

Analysing the type of chores men and women do daily from dawn to bedtime in both urban and rural areas, Kenyan and Tanzanian participants unanimously said women carried a heavier workload than men although they counted less in the eyes of men because of the patriarchal system and gender stereotypes, which had to be fought against at all cost.

“A rural or urban woman normally wakes up early in the morning to prepare children for school, prepare breakfast, prepare her husband’s clothes and shoes and so on until late night. If a woman can manage such a heavy workload from 05:00-22:00 or beyond on her own and still have time to do other duties, it means she is a good manager,” said Kenyan speaker Jane Mwangi.

Participants also said since men had been in leadership roles for quite a long time they were afraid of letting capable women of becoming leaders and being challenged.

However, they said there were both in Kenya and Tanzania gender policy achievements. These include, more enrolment of girls in schools, an increase in the

number of senior managerial positions for women, an increase in the number of women representatives in parliament and establishment of gender desks, which they said empowered them to explore their leadership potential and contribute positively to social development.

“The stereotype view of women as housewives is archaic and has no justification. Men and women ought to complement rather than trample on each other on a gender basis,” said Dr Ellen Otaru-Okoedian, a facilitator at TGDLC. Dr Otaru-Okoedian is an educationist, who is proud of being what she is and cannot accept to be trampled on by men simply because she is a woman.

The Kenyan and Tanzanian development learning centres (DLCs) have been providing a practical platform for capacity training programmes and peer interaction.

The workshop came just a few days after the International Women’s Day was held on March 8 to celebrate women’s achievements across the world. Although much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights, nowhere in the world can women claim to have all the same rights and opportunities as men, according to the United Nations Organisation.

UN statistics show that the majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women. On average, women receive between 30 and 40 per cent less pay than men earn for the same work.

Women also continue to be victims of violence, rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women worldwide.

The first International Women’s Day occurred on March 19 in 1911.

The inaugural event, which included rallies and organised meetings, was a big success in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and

Switzerland. The March 19 date was chosen because it commemorated the day that the Prussian king promised to introduce votes for women in 1848. The promise gave hope for equality but it was a promise that he failed to keep. The International Women’s Day date was moved to March 8 in 1913.

The UN drew global attention to women's concerns in 1975 by calling for an International Women's Year. It also convened the first conference on women in Mexico City that year. The UN General Assembly

then invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace in 1977. The day aimed at helping nations worldwide eliminate discrimination against women. It also focused on helping women gain full and equal participation in global development. International Men’s Day is celebrated on November 19 each year.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Empower Rural Women - End Hunger and Poverty”. So, the theme fits well the videoconference workshop on leadership dynamics for senior women managers for that matter for it links empowering women to ending hunger and poverty.

Some women contend that, empowering women means creating opportunities that enable both men and women to access basic needs and services without discrimination and not favouring them to hold certain high positions or go for further studies.

If one can favour women to join politics or go for further studies, one can also create an enabling environment for them to explore their potential. The latter is preferable to the former.

Let us fight against all oppressive systems and practices that favour one class of gender and oppress the other for we all need each other and no gender is better than or above the other.

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