The subject of gender equality is one that has been in existence for a while, and it continues to draw attention despite the huge ground that has been covered in giving women more space in various fields, in both public and private sectors. From Africa through Asia and Europe to the Americas, gender has remained a subject of discourse and is not likely to leave soon, at least not everywhere, and because of dynamic factors like socialization, beliefs, culture, religion, education, economy, politics, etc. To have a comprehensive understanding of this subject, it has to be examined comparatively, especially considering the factors that determine and affect it, some of which are listed above.
The level of discrimination against women and girls differs from place to place, and it is usually more pronounced in conservative climes than in places that are relatively liberal. Using Nigeria as an example, gender issues are more pronounced in the northern states than you find in the south. But from all the factors that influence gender equality and/or discrimination, socialization is the primary determining factor. A man or woman, they say, is a product of his/her environment. From birth through childhood and to adulthood, a human being learns, whether consciously or otherwise, ways and manners of living from his/her environment. ‘Environment’ in this context includes parents, siblings, relatives, peer/religious groups, schools, and the media, among others. This process of learning traits, norms, mores, and beliefs is what socialization is.
It is a very important factor in the life of every human as it is the way through which one learns the acceptable manner of behavior in society and this varies from place to place depending on the prevalent ideas in each location. Its influence is so far-reaching that every aspect of the life of a country literally revolves around its socialization. Even legality and illegality are largely influenced by a society’s socialization process. And while socialization varies from place to place, the subject of gender equality and/or gender discrimination has been a universal one. Everywhere in the world, even in the most advanced societies, it is still widely claimed that women have it relatively more difficult than men.
This is why gender equality became a subject of interest to the United Nations, and why the UN general assembly, in 1979, adopted ‘’the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)’’. The convention defines discrimination against women as ‘’…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field’’.
By accepting and being a signatory to the convention, States (countries) commit themselves to undertake measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. States that have ratified or acceded to the convention are therefore legally bound to put its provisions into practice. In an effort to domesticate the provisions of the UN Convention in Nigeria, Senator Biodun Olujimi sponsored the ‘’gender and equal opportunities’’ Bill in the National Assembly, but the Bill was rejected by the Senate in March 2016. The sponsor of the Bill has been trying since that rejection, but the Bill was again rejected on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
The National Assembly has been widely condemned from both within and outside the country. An examination of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill shows that it seeks to guarantee the rights of women to access; equal opportunities in employment; equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance; protect the rights of widows and guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and the prohibition of violence towards women. You might wonder why anyone would reject such a proposition, especially in the 21st century.
However, there are provisions in the Bill that contradict its title and objective. Parts of the things the Bill seeks to provide include 35% special legislative seats for women in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, as well as 35% of the leadership roles in political parties. Isn’t it strange that the same Bill that seeks equality of the genders is also limiting the women whose plight it seeks to improve? How do you seek equality and at the same time ask for 35%, when an equal division of 100 is 50-50? The demand for Equality is a just demand, but we cannot be just if we promote one gender at the expense of the other. That is actually the origin of the gender issues, the unfair advantage of one against the other.
Now, while the Bill limits women, as seen above, it also promotes the cause of women at the expense of men. By asking for a guaranteed 35% of legislative seats for women, the Bill is literally giving women an undue advantage against men, who themselves have a right to those seats. The legislature, and any other political office, is the right of any citizen, irrespective of their gender, social, economic, or other leaning. Anyone who seeks public office should do all that the constitution requires, including getting the needed number of votes to reach the post. Gender equality means it is unfair to deny women access to public office simply because they are women, but it also means it is unfair to deny men access to those legislative seats simply because they are assigned to women.
The reason for writing this piece is to proffer an alternative means of solving the gender problem, especially in Nigeria. A good observer of events should know by now that legislation alone does not solve some problems, and gender discrimination is one of those. You can legislate all you want, but if people do not make conscious efforts toward making our world a better place, we are not likely to get rid of some things. And these conscious efforts begin in the mind, which is significantly impacted by the practices, culture, norms, and beliefs we learn through socialization. The gender issue in Nigeria is like most other issues affecting the country, and these issues are not due to our lack of relevant laws. While obsolete laws can be amended, the greatest reformation we need is that of the mind.
We need to reform our ideas about a lot of things, like gender equality, corruption, security, employment, wealth creation, citizen-leader relation, governance, etc. A change in our SOCIALIZATION process is what we need. I saw a movie, DRY, by Nigerian actress Stephanie Linus (Stephanie Okereke), a vivid account of some inhumane practices that are accepted as the norm in Nigeria. The movie reinforced the need to change our thinking and socialization, especially in certain parts of the country. Some of our cultural beliefs need to be eliminated and replaced with more humane ideas, after all, culture is dynamic.
The idea that a man is the head of a family and so should decide on all family affairs should stop, a man and his wife are partners, not superior and subordinate. This has to be taught to our children right from the beginning of the socialization process in the family, schools should reinforce it, and religious groups should reform their doctrines that subordinate the woman. The older generation has failed in this regard, but the younger generation can be the turning point. New parents/guardians should treat their male and female wards on equal terms, and prevent all forms of bias in dealing with them.
Our girls need to be encouraged to dream and be assured that they can be all that they want if they are willing to put in the effort. Children must be made to understand that marriage is no achievement, and that they can choose to not marry if they don’t want to. They must be made to know that being single, at any age, is not wrong and does not make them less human. They must be made to understand that it is better to exit abusive relationships than stay in them out of fear of what society would think or say. If we all bring up our children in this way, our boys would grow up into men who see women as partners, not as subordinates, the girls would become strong and independent women, and over time there would be no need for legislation in protecting the rights of anybody whether male or female.
More so, we need to teach our girls about responsibility, to make them know that gender equality is not only in the area of benefits. Some wrong conceptions of feminism held by some people also have to be erased, especially those that tend to see men in a negative light. Our children have to be taught to always examine information and analyze issues independently, in order to reject the negative ones and retain the positives. In this age of social media, a lot of wrong ideas are being put out daily, ideas that are good for neither the male nor the female gender. Our children should be taught to have sieve-like minds, to enable them to manage information properly. The more humane our socialization process is, the greater our chance of achieving a world of gender equality, both on paper and in practice.
Seun Lonimi (email@example.com)Writes on Politics Today
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