With four sisters and a mother, I grew up in a family where women were respected, supported and held high. I always felt and knew I was appreciated and my father constantly told us that there was nothing a man could do, that the lot of us couldn’t. Obviously due to physical strengths, there are a couple of things we couldn’t after all do. He and my brother were the only males in the otherwise female-heavy household, and the latter in the throws of teenage hormones and on the verge of his manhood, proudly and loudly proclaimed he felt the women in the family should be doing the cleaning. Because that’s just how things were and men weren’t made to do these mundane things. No one laughed, because brother was dead serious, standing there facing six strong-willed women and his rather bemused father.
Needless to say his rather unfortunate statement taught him a lesson he loathed but whose benefits he does enjoy to this day. My mother, who had been an advocate and supporter of many female empowering campaigns and groups in Rwanda, quickly made it the rule of the house that no one else, not us girls or house helps, as long as my brother was in her house, would ever vacuum and clean. Oh, the look on my brother’s face!
My upbringing isn’t necessary the norm, especially in many patriarchies and as we celebrate the International Women Day, I realise this day hasn’t always mattered much to me, either because I was too young to understand and appreciate the struggles those who had paved the way had faced or because I felt like those courageous women had done what could be done. Somehow I felt the battle didn’t need to continue as much as it had previously. How wrong could one be?
Take for instance my adoptive country, Norway. Equality has reached such heights that many often ask how the same can be achieved in their countries. But despite being the star pupil in most, if not all, aspects of women empowerment, the pay gap between the genders is still significant (For every 100kr a man makes, a woman makes about 85kr).
This and other considerable struggles women still face were paid little (no pun intended) thought when I was younger. I felt myself equal to my male peers and why wouldn’t I? We had same rights to education, health and democracy. Everything the state provided for the boy child, they provided the same for the girl child. It wasn’t much later when I became socially aware and started working that the disparities struck something in me.
However despite my and many of my compatriots’ fortune, I’m very much aware my female peers around the world, especially in Africa, still have a long way to go before much is achieved. Girls and women are fighting every day for the right to go to school, and the fight to decide over one’s body is no longer an issue faced by developing countries’ women. Conservative politicians in superpowers like the USA and UK are still trying to lay claim to a woman’s womb with their abortion rights.
So where are we headed as we celebrate this day, would it be wrong of me to dream of the day we will actually gather around the world in celebration of the woman’s economic, political and social achievements?
No, I don’t think I’m off the mark here, and as the famous “Rosie the Riveter” proudly says while showing her guns, “We can do it“! But we will need the support from our men, if we are to reach complete equality. Unless of course there is an underlying reason why the fellas wouldn’t want us to get there. Is there?