A couple of weeks ago, Nigeria’s own Beyonce, Tiwa Savage was trending in Nigeria, over her comment that she does not believe that ‘men and women are equal’. Though Tiwa went ahead to qualify that she was making reference based on the context of the home, her comments and the proceeding conversations presents an opportunity to throw more light on Gender Equality; Gender Equity and Affirmative Action.
Generally, many people understand the term ‘equality’ from a mathematical perspective. Which in the understanding of many, means that things/situations and/or circumstances are at par. In reference to gender, equating male to female is, in my opinion, a lot like saying an Orange is equal to a Lemon. Not only is this comparison baseless, it will be totally irrelevant when you understand that though both are citrus fruits belonging to the botanical family called ‘Rutaceae’, they are 2 distinct fruits with different tastes; colour; size and shape; and are optimally used for different purposes. Fruits Nutriarena captures these differences succinctly by saying “we might think that Orange and Lemon are similar with respect to nutritional value and health benefits. But the nutrient content of both fruits is different”.
Mathematical understanding of ‘Equality’ takes away from the importance of this conversation and the reasons why equality in every context is important for human development. Often times, many tend to negate conversations on Gender equality and equity because they understand these conversations to be about “women’s issues”. Concerning information on Gender, they are only two classes of people – the informed and the misinformed. Unfortunately, the bulge in the later group is much, much bigger than the former.
Oxford Dictionary defines Gender as ‘either of the two sexes (male and female), (especially when) considered with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.’ According to the World Health Organisation gender “refers to socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed”. The WHO’s definition gives us an inkling of why gender discussions are important and why both sexes should not be disadvantaged because of gender.
It is important to note that while Gender Equality and Gender Equity are complementary terms which are often used interchangeably, like Oranges and Lemons, they are different. Gender Equality refers to (provision of) equal opportunities to men and women to access and control social, economic and political resources; as well as having equal protection under the law. On the other hand, gender equity refers to consideration of the different needs; interests; preferences and realities of women and men towards ensuring equality of opportunities. Simply put, to achieve gender equality, gender equity strategies need to be implemented. Gender equity actions are often times, affirmative actions taken to address gender imbalances often times caused by structural and cultural factors.
Men and women need realise that it is not in every situation females are at a disadvantage to men. Just as they are variations in social constructs of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman across place and time, experiences of inequality varies across place and time. For example, in America’s Hollywood, male actors earn more than their female counterparts whereas in Nigeria’s Nollywood, the reverse is the case.
At face value, Nigeria does seem to be faring quite well on gender considerations in its formal Labour practices. However, deeper scrutiny reveals that most organisations have no strategy in place to ensure gender equality and this is not only as it concerns women. Most employers will not only raise brows if they receive an application from a staff for Paternity leave, they will most likely not approve it. Sound understanding of gender gives both sexes the ability to recognise gender discriminatory practices and provides the platform needed for both sexes to address these practices as it affects one or the other.
In the fight for equality, it is important Men and Women realise that the fight is not an ‘us against them’ fight but a fight against discriminatory social and cultural structures which put people at a disadvantage for one reason or more, whether it be sex, race, ethnicity or belief. Like Oranges and Lemons, women and men can exist in the same ‘garden’ without demanding that the farmer cuts down one tree at the expense of the other. We just need to recognise that the presence of both trees in the garden makes for a richer garden than having one or the other. While gender activists should not/ cannot dictate the beliefs people hold or how people choose to live their personal lives as long as they exhibit fairness to others, they can/should demand and insist that in formal, shared spaces there are equal opportunities for as many diverse groups that exist within these spaces and provisions are made for persons from these groups to access and optimise these opportunities. Real and perceived ‘glass ceilings’ should be broken and conversations of comparison only take away from the essence of gender discussions. However, comments like Tiwa’s only goes to prove how much more education is needed on Gender and Human Rights.
Wynyfred is a simple fellow yet passionate feminist who tries to apply Occam’s razor in her daily life.