Africa also referred to as the cradle of humankind, is one of the five continents in the world, which has developing nations. These countries face many challenges despite having numerous achievements politically, economically, socially, and technologically. One of the major issues affecting Africa is promoting gender equality among different countries in Africa. Gender refers to socially, constructed individuality of men and women. Oyewumi states that gender defines roles and responsibilities of an individual in the society. Promoting gender equality and empowering women are among the third goal of the Millennium Development Goals convoked by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and endorsed by other groups. This paper analyzes various gender issues in Africa and their effects on the community socially, economically, technologically, and politically.
Gender and Education
All over the world, education stands out as the key to success. Every individual has the right to study and gain knowledge. However, in some countries in Africa, that is not the case. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics “Data Centre”, 76% of men in Africa are literate compared to 65% of women. Boys, on the other hand, are given high priority to go to school, unlike girls who are left to stay home to carry out household chores, makes poverty feminized especially here in Africa. The issue mentioned has even affected the gender balance in science-related disciplines, whereby girls are discouraged to take such courses in the sense that they are hard and meant for the boys.
Gender Stereotype Roles and Responsibilities
Another issue, which contributes to unfairness in the society, is a distribution of functions and responsibilities in the household. More chores distributed to girls than boys who sit around waiting for food on the table due to the social norms. In some cultures like in Somali, men are not allowed to cook, which seems uncultured. Helping one another in roles like cooking and washing clothes does not make a man become a woman and vice versa, it just brings out some sense of collective responsibility, which is necessary for development.
Gender and Employment
Employment sector also affects equality between the sexes. In the formal sector, everyone in the in the office has the right to fair treatment concerning salary payment, promotions, bonuses, sick off, and leave days. However, in some cases, women are entitled to a lesser pay than their male colleagues, yet they carry out the same roles and responsibilities in the house. Promotion is sometimes given to men while women remain in their same positions for a long time. This sense of unfairness does not promote development instead; it contributes to the lagging of development in most African countries.
Gender and Marriage
Marriage should be an agreement between a man and a woman for its prosperity. Couples should date for some months or years and then decide to take their relationship to the next level. However, in some communities in Africa that not the case, in Maasai society, girls are seen as a sense of wealth while boys are brought up to be warriors and protect the community. According to Jepkemboi, once girls reach puberty, they are forcefully married off to richer men in the society who in return present several cattle to the parents of girls as marriage gifts. This behavior undermines girls’ self-esteem since they believe they do not have any right to define their destiny, and their role is to get married and give birth to children.
Uncultured Practices on Girls
Practices like retrogressive Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) done on young girls in some communities in Africa endanger their lives. It involves partial or total cutting of the external genitals on women for a religious or traditional reason. Some communities believe that it helps in reducing cases of early pregnancies and transmission of HIV. These practices can lead to massive bleeding of the girls and death. Several campaigns have been carried out by human rights societies to protest against such behaviors, which are encouraged by male elders in the community. According to Women and Girls at Risk of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in the United States, FGM mostly practiced by some communities in Guinea, Djibouti, and Kenya. America has taken an initiative to protect girls who are born in the country from going back to Africa to be cut.
Decision-Making in the Society
In Somali community, women are not allowed to make major decisions in the society. They are less viewed as opinion leaders, hence not involved, thus leading to slow progress in development in Africa. Ideas contributed by everyone in the society leads to its growth and development socially, economically, or politically. Women are known to be the best advisors in the world since they know how to take care of their children; they can take care of the society too. When women are not engaged in decision-making, their knowledge remains untapped hence leading to slow economic development in the community. At times, women are known to be their worst enemies and even if the elite women have a chance to represent the rest, their needs conflict with the poor women; they conflict with each other especially the senior and vulnerable women.
Patriarchy and Patriarchal Control of Resources
Owning a piece of land and other resources are everyone’s responsibility to the community. However, this has proven to be futile in Africa, especially in Cameroon where women do not have a right to own any piece of family land. Oyewumi states that women denied a chance to inherit their family resources while men are entitled to everything. The issue mentioned has contributed to poverty in the region. Hence, the life cycle continues up to their children. When it comes to fertile lands, men prefer to take rich soils while giving women un-fertile places hence low productivity in the areas.
Such decisions have immensely affected the agricultural sector, whereby each harvesting season-low production of farm produce has been a norm for decades. Women who are most concerned when it comes to land distribution include the widows and unmarried ones. Selfishness on community part immensely affected the agricultural sector, whereby each harvesting season-low production of farm produce has been a norm for decades.
Social security has proven to be a major concern especially when it comes to women protection. It is a bit unfair that men can walk and go to all places regardless of time without having any problem, unlike women who fear being robbed, kidnapped, or raped. Mentioned issue created fear in women that they cannot walk alone at night without their male counterparts accompanying them. Social security in the communities also has high expectations for a behavior of women than men. Women are expected to commit no mistakes to protect their reputation when it comes to finding a suitor, unlike men who misbehave at times, In instances where a woman is seen to have undesirable behaviors, she will find it hard to get a husband hence married off to elders in the society.
Leisure and Recreational Activities
Spare time activities also remain a significant problem to gender equality since they are gender specific. Such activities include hunting, fishing, and herding. Women activities are also bound to them like cooking, weaving, and singing in ceremonies like a three-quarter wedding. In instances, where the head of the family dies, the wife tends to suffer since she will not be allowed to do her husband chores, this leads to a lot of suffering on the household of the deceased especially if he did not have a boy who can take care of the responsibilities.
In African societies, men are allowed to be polygamous hence marry as many wives as they can feed them. According to Oyewumi, this is done to protect their lineage and have many children, since many children signify great wealth in the society. Polygamous men are given much respect, unlike their counterparts. Created much strain to the women especially in sharing of resources amongst themselves, polygamy also leads to a natural spread of diseases and HIV.
Myth of Men as Sole Breadwinners
The myth of men being the sole breadwinners in the African society undermines women’s responsibilities in a family. For instance, when a woman is hard working, and the man is lazy, all the credits go to the woman. In a just society, a sole breadwinner should be a person who provides daily to his/her family on a daily basis despite the hardships. Everyone’s effort in the household should be appreciated.
Despite all the challenges women undergo in the society, women constructive role in a family stands out to be the greatest one. Women are expected to give birth in the community for the continuity of clans. Women involvement in participatory in unpaid work leaves them with no income hence depending on their husbands. The society tends to be unfair to women who have not given birth since it looks down upon them in the society hence not giving them respect. Barren women who cannot give birth to children viewed as Curse or Bad luck, community despises them and ridicules them. Their reproductive roles limit them to participate in decision-making and in politics too, hence not engaging in matters of community development.
Health refers to the state of complete mental, physical, or social well-being without the presence of diseases. Health gendered according to either masculine or feminine. In African society, men tend to have a lot of stress as compared to their female counterparts due to the family expectation of being a breadwinner. He tends to work hard and look for ways to feed his family. In sub-Sahara Africa, the rate of women who are HIV/AIDS infected is 57%, and nearly three-quarters of those infected are between 15-24 years old. Men tend to be reckless in having extramarital sexual relationships than women hence easily spreading diseases to their wives.
African culture on dealing with issues like violence not taken seriously, women are mostly the victims when it comes to domestic violence. The leaders in the community tend to solve such issues domestically without taking legal action on the violent men. Thus encourages such action to be frequently repeated. Violence cases concealed due to victims fearing gossips, hence preferring to solve their problems privately. For violence stopped, jail term given to people who engage in such behaviors for them to learn the consequences of their action. The women from abusive relationships face a lot of stigma and neglect hence need a lot of support from the community.
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, women suffered a lot from sexualized violence used as a weapon for war. The Hutus who were controlling the government fought against Tutsis, to eliminate them from the country. Rwanda has three ethnic groups, which include the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas. Rwanda states that the Belgians, who favored the Tutsis during the colonial period by giving them privileges, unlike the other two groups, hence creating rivalry amongst themselves, instigated the war. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Rwanda Rene Dennis-Segui estimated in his 1996 report that 250,000 to 500, 0000 of women raped during the genocide. Most of the women were forced to early marriages, rape, serving as prostitutes, and group sex slavery. Unfortunately, the war ended, and the ICC has proved those who were responsible for the violence guilty and some are still on trial.
Finally, for the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 3 in Africa and sustainable development ensured elimination of gender inequality authorized at the same time. Everyone needs to be treated fairly regardless of his/her gender, applying to decision-making, education, employment, reducing stereotypic roles and being fair in judgments especially in allocating resources. Africa being a developing nation with the highest number of poor people, should embrace gender equity to promote development for its future and future generations. Equality between the sexes and women empowerment goal three is the key to other remaining goals, hence when achieved the other will succeed.