The household is the primary unit forming the society we live in. This section is largely overlooked when executing campaigns for social good and inclusivity in our communities. For instance, child marriage is executed at a family level, economic independence for females depend on the family dynamic she is hailing from, and unfortunately, child labor, physical and sexual abuse is mostly perpetrated by family members. This is no different to Sexism.
A child nurtured in a home where male and female gender is treated with fairness and equal opportunities, will not need to be cultured by a positive society in order to do so, it will be second nature. A common misconception is that gender equality means that a male and female are the same – the fact is biologically we are not and cannot be. The essence of gender equality is that gender is no longer a barrier to pursue interests necessary for personal development, that before, were hard to reach because of social constraints placed on a particular gender. This is where many parents, especially in patriarchal communities miss the point.
I have witnessed in my community, many parents who are champions for gender equality, treat their daughters to a different standard than their sons. There is an expectation for a girl to get married at a certain age, a demand for the girl to care more for her face than her brain, for her to manage the household for the males even if she has a full time job – and even if the males have time and ability to pursue the same tasks when she is occupied.
A girls’ economic earnings belong to the family, and she is not independent per se until she is married and therefore is under micro-management even if she is financially free. Every decision a girl makes is to be reported, and she is not allowed to take risks. She has to build an image to upgrade her marriageability chances, and even after that, is expected to have children as soon as possible – after all, her eggs are not waiting around until she is financially stable or emotionally mature enough to raise a child. And even if the eggs were waiting, the men certainly are not.
Who is going to marry you if you are old? The idea is the longer you take to get married, the higher the chances that something is wrong with you. And sometimes this is accredited to promiscuity or lack of submissiveness; a common dogma in developing nations. It’s like we are set up for failure, then judged by family and society for our ‘fate’ because of the way we dress, the way we act, and the way we react. Woe, if she gets divorced, the blame is placed on the women for being unable to keep a girl. And a girl who has children outside wedlock is considered ‘damaged goods’ and a man can simply pay money for his err while she carries the stigma of being a single mother. It is sick!
One former headmistress at a girls school repeatedly proclaimed, ‘a girl is to be seen and not heard.’ BS! Girls are nurtured to put men first, and men are groomed to put themselves first.They get paid more, are employed first, and trusted with more responsibility in the home, politics and the corporate world. It is challenging for girls to compete in between the condescending bias, periods, and being obliged to accept living under glass ceiling. The worst part is that females in patriarchal societies are expected to sacrifice personal development for a relationship. The idea is that a girl cannot successfully have both. And I have heard men in my circles say, ‘it is woman’s fault for gender inequality… We deserve it because biblically we ate the forbidden fruit… Fighting for our rights is a sign that we have already lost… If you are too independent, you cannot keep a man…’ Oh, I have heard many women take this stance too.
I am of a mind that parents do want their daughters and sons to succeed equally. However, the idea of success for a girl and a boy is very different. In reinforcing the idea of this success, parents can tend to be sexist because personal success is given to the man, and for the woman, her personal success is not in what she can do but in which man she can be with. The girls personal success is reduced to points for her marriageability and if she is not married at a certain age, it is because she has done something wrong.
We live in a world of gender equality champions in public, yet remain sexists in their everyday little actions. This is why gender equality is so difficult to realize. And the statements ‘I won’t hold the door for you because you are feminist. Don’t expect me to pay for the meal either.’ Please, you don’t need to be an activist to be a decent human being! We should strive to be good and fair regardless of the sex imposed on us at birth. Before we are anything, we are human first.
Hadassah Louis is Founder and Project Manager of SAFIGI ‘Safety First for Girls’, a youth led organization working with online volunteers to advance the interests of girl safety, women’s health and socio-economic development through safety education and intrapreneurship. She is a member of the Internet Society ISOC and an advocate for Open Science.
Hadassah graduated Summa Cum Laude in Bachelor of Arts at the Institute of International Studies at Ramkamhaeng University. Her personal blog www.themisguidedhermit.com showcases her life photography and poetry.
Learn more at www.safetyfirstforgirls.org