It’s incredible to think that International Women’s Day is celebrating its 100th anniversary this week and its important to reflect on the theme: “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”. It’s phenomenal to think that feminism dates back to the late 19th century where issues of concern at the time were harsh working conditions and educational rights for girls and women- very similar issues this year’s theme. It seems, thus, that despite progress made we still find ourselves walking through a revolving door of feminist activism and I use those term quite liberally.
We have grown so much as a human race in our ability to afford women a solid and recognised place in society in various contexts though we linger with numerous legacies and regimes that continue to brutalise women. It’s important to speak about these dark places and offer some sort of hope and respite to the millions of young girls and women whose lives have been sacrificed for no reason other than their gender. It might sound lacking in insight but the basis of discrimination against women plays out within relationships, families, religious communities, societies and countries.
It is fundamentally about the absence of the Y chromosome which endows men with masculine physical characteristics, the lack of which (in women) tends to favour gender based vulnerability. In no other species are females so systematically attacked as in our species and this fundamentally is antithetical to any natural order. So often, though, the natural tendency is defend repressive practices by using the guise of religious hierarchy within the home and within religious communities and commonly as an expression of the cultural dominance of the male.
I believe many of these groups of institutions to some extent have entrenched and perpetuated patriarchal practices that if traced back and examined carefully must have evolved out of a misrepresentation their ethos to affirm life, humanity and to create clear roles for the survival of our species. It is the misrepresentation of scripture and of cultural idiom and practice that enables cruel individuals and antisocial groupings to enslave women in a grip of fear and we should resist such behaviours around the world regardless of the price to be paid. Ultimately there is no sex or gender- there is no male or female otherwise how could the phenomenon of a woman carrying a male child in her womb be rationally explained? For all of us, our origin is in a man and a woman and that ratio plays out as 3 “X” chromosomes to 1 “Y” and that’s before the chance allocation of chromosomes at conception happens. Perhaps we should be reducing such issues to their biological minutiae, else what sensible discourse can we use to justify that a century later women are still battling for “decent work “?
We know that societies built in the absence of women are instable- we are paying the price particularly in Afrika of epidemics that have evolved on the back of development, urbanisation and the creation of labour markets- from which women have largely been excluded. The stories of tuberculosis and HIV are a case in point.
Men living in mining towns, working in poorly ventilated mine shafts and substandard hostels- not fit for family environments- created communities within which nodes of infection were left to flourish, unchecked, and compounded by HIV the transmission which thrived in the culture medium of broken families of absentee fathers. The women who were awaiting remittances and sustaining homes in the frequent physical and material absence of fathers of the home were carrying and continue to shoulder the burden of compounded vulnerabilities of gender, lack of skill and occupation and oppression by ethnicity, customary law and practice.
It’s important to celebrate the successes for women by women and men in society. This is not only a battle for women but a task to be overcome in partnership without demeaning the place of women. Women’s emancipation is the emancipation of society and the reverse is true- the subjugation and objectification of women creates depraved societies and distorts cohesion. It is well known that communities where women enjoy higher levels of education enjoy better health outcomes. Education on its own is a major health and social intervention, the benefits of which are multiplicative. Where women and children are seen as spoils of war and are used as instruments of annihilating the enemy that creates ineradicable scars. These remain as painful monuments and legacies to a short period of destruction but as testament to the degradation of societies affected and left bereft in the wake of bitter struggles.
Women must be afforded access to the paths that converge on decent work- the definition of which is elusive- but the struggle is a silent one to achieve true and lasting progress and work and occupation are not a true end in themselves. Perhaps the trade off is to prioritise achievable objectives and the result is that decades and centuries of entrenched norms and behaviours roll over from one millennium into the next. The truth is that we focus on proxies and not the core of real concerns such as the disparities in how we socialise boy and girl children and the gender inequalities and inequities that we perpetuate within our own homes. We identify roles for unborn children from before the time that they are conceived. We desire with such fervour to know the sex of a child in utero under the illusion that we need to prepare yet how can one be prepared to know the nature of a child’s spirit?
All children are born with a life purpose and while understanding the complex rules of engagement in society is important, the process of understanding one’s purpose and being given recognition to fulfil that life journey is a more powerful act of validation that children of all sexes should enjoy. We make life and death decisions about the children we have conceived often based on what our own vain needs are and less frequently by reflecting on the inherent value to be realized in every human life. I hope this International Women’s Day came brought the heightened realization of a new shared life appreciation for the life giving and powerful role of women that we need to embrace and wield when our communities and nations make policies on war and peace, life and death, prosperity and poverty. It is our right to assert our womanhood and to make it count without the endorsement of international bodies. We are all the difference in the world for our children lives.