Feminism, culture and poverty: The paradox

HOPE Nyambe.

SO THAT we are within the same cognitive context, I will use feminism and the term gender equality interchangeably to refer to a range of social and political movements, ideologies, which share a common goal, which is to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes.
This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men.
Globally, feminist movements have campaigned and continue to campaign for women’s rights across the board. These rights include: the right to work and hold public office; equal pay or fair wages; property ownership; to receive education; to have equal rights within marriage, among a span of other unalienable human rights. Feminists have also worked to ensure access to legal abortions and social integration, and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence. Notably, changes in dress and acceptable physical activity have also been part of the feminist agenda.
Locally, the Zambian constitution through the Gender Equity and Equality Act of 2015 covers the aforementioned rights and does “ensure gender equity, equality and integration of both sexes in society.” Arguably, the law appears sufficient in addressing all matters related to the feminist agenda as evidenced in part in increased opportunities for the girl child and strides made in addressing gender based violence, normally targeted towards women. However, a critical analysis of what’s pertaining on the ground almost portrays all the above efforts as a mere façade.
Statistics from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2015 indicate that Zambia is ranked, in descending order, 116 out of the 145 countries. This means that Zambia is among the 30 worst countries with the highest levels of gender inequality in the world. Regionally, Zambia is ranked third highest country with cases of child marriages; 42 percent of women aged 20-24 were married off by the age of 18 years. This is particularly true of women in marginalised urban communities and rural areas. So despite policies in place that are meant to keep women afloat and improve their opportunities generally, why are women still being treated as subordinates to men, socially and economically?
Among the many reasons, one is the intrinsic relationship between culture and poverty. True to Zambian culture, which to-date is still adhered to by the majority of people, the subordination of women by men is staunchly rooted in our cultural and traditional believes. From a young age, women are systematically groomed to view and treat men as superior to them. Most cultural practices such as those carried out before a woman is married heavily concentrate on how women should be submissive to their husbands. Note the difference between mutual respect, equality and submissiveness. Likewise, men in Zambia grow up thinking women are inferior to them. Even prominent women in economics and politics will attest that they are looked down upon by their peers purely on a cultural basis.
This inequality caused by cultural beliefs and practises inevitably results in continued work place discriminations in employment opportunities and fair wages. In most countries including Zambia, despite the fact that women make significant contributions to their family’s welfare such as bringing in income and taking care of their families, women remain the poorest in their communities. They have less access to finance, technology and asset ownership in general. To mention for instance, only 20 percent of landowners globally are women. Without meaningful intervention, women are generally cocooned in a cycle of poverty. How do you right this wrong?
Both feminism action and rhetoric argue that communities and societies that give great opportunities for women in terms of economic participation, equal access to education and employment opportunities, ownership of property, have demonstrated that the benefits go beyond just the improved welfare of women but entire families, communities and economies at large. This by any measure is true, and yet despite numerous policies, interventions, the process of gender equality has been painfully slow and in some cases, even stalled.
The reason for this slow attainment of gender equality to a great extent lays in the failure to address cultural mores that are in direct conflict with feminism. There is need to actively work in particular with men and boys in addressing harmful cultural norms that contribute to the marginalisation of women and girls in our communities. The fact that culture mainly takes place in the context of the family, it is imperative that men and boys are actively part of the effort to bring about gender equality. Men have to be taught on how to build positive relationships and parenting skills that enhance gender equality. Failure to address cultural norms which generally are a people’s way of life is failure to successfully address gender inequality.
The author is corporate affairs specialist for Stimuli PR.

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