Saturday letter1

From the very moment the woman steps into the market, she is assaulted; hands grabbed, buttocks slapped, names called and whatever else you can think of. It’s the same thing when she commutes daily to work, even in the office dress and all. Or even when she just takes a casual walk down her street. Whether it’s the bus driver, classroom lecturer or randy boss at work, she must contend with a panoply of these every day. In certain instances, she will be threatened by the ‘street boys’ for just passing by like that and not greeting. She is the victim of objectification, on the TV, in comics, on the streets, and now even in cartoons. She is also the same one that when it comes to taking up strategic corporate positions or holding political offices is not considered, for the mere fact that she is a woman.

The bias against womenfolk is so default that even in enlightened circles where people boast of gender balanced and sensitive populations, in selecting team leaders, the male is made to lead and the female to assist. This way of thinking is regular in primary and secondary schools, the bedrock of any culture, ideology or value system. Thus, the average woman has come to accept what she has seen both at home and in school; that she cannot lead; that she can only be subordinate and provide welfare services to the men around her.

This is not surprising, especially when the woman as a girl had it sounded to her that the essence of her life was to ‘prepare herself for her husband’ and all the movies she had seen had the storyline of a village girl preening herself to be noticed and getting married off by some septuagenarian king or young prince who would often be ogling a ton of other ladies all the while.

Thus, the scale is constantly tipped; the society’s default mode has the woman as the victim, the subject of male domination. Every inch of society tells the woman she can’t. Politics, religion, business, culture, and the stereotypes have existed so much with us, that they are subconscious leanings, things we do without even knowing we are doing them.

It is for this reason that March 8 was set aside to celebrate women all over the world; to recognize those who are breaking barriers and to make way for others who haven’t quite been given that opportunity. This year’s campaign theme has been tagged ‘Balance for Better’. This cuts across all spheres of life, and simply means that gender inclusion has to mean something to us; that we have to begin to consciously change the narrative and find a gender balance to ensure a better economy, better governance, better policies, better solutions.

The National Bureau of Statistics 2016 report has it that 49.5% of Nigeria’s population is female. Also, women account for half of the world’s working age population. Yet, with such a large percentage (almost a full half of the population) being female, women are being kept out of the room when it matters most, and are poorly represented at all levels. While things are changing slowly, the pace at which it is not good enough. Leaving women out of the conversation is a terrible mistake and the society we aim to create is one with a government passionate about women representation at all levels.

We have left women out of important conversations like climate change and how to mitigate or adapt, so we have climate and environmental responses not tailored to meet the needs of female folk, as with other laws and policies, creating a gaping vacuum in our laws, policies and systems; lopsided legislations and programmes that do not take into consideration the peculiar challenges of womenfolk.

My proposition, however, is a He-for-she response. Men are the flip side of the coin in the gender discourse. We need more men to start standing up for women, more men to start respecting women enough not to harass them at the slightest opportunity. We need more men who will fight for the rights of women and see them beyond the confines of sex, a meal and welfare. We need more men who will stop being intimidated by women rising, and instead support them and hand–in- hand build better societies. We need male clergymen, male elders, male politicians, fathers, brothers, husbands who will stand up for women and encourage them to climb to the heights they aspire.

We need more non-violent men, men who are groomed to respect the woman, who are taught to do their own dishes and fix their own meals and not assume that those things are reserved matters, exclusively within the confines of womenfolk. We need more men who will stand up against rape, more who will pave the path for women to take up political offices.

Caleb Adebayo, Lagos

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