Aug 27, 2012

Easy living, pampered women!

WOE betide all poor parents of boys! A new and worse form of gender discrimination has emerged that is heaping attention on the girl-child and completely shutting out the boy-child in empowerment programmes. Is your household crawling with boys like mine? I pity you, unless you are a businessperson or one of those lucky workers earning a seven-zero net monthly salary.
The above is the opening paragraph in a piece that was published in the Sunday edition of Zambia Daily Mail on August 26, 2012. This lovely piece was authored by the deputy news editor, Charles Chishala. Chishala spends approximately 1,200 words lambasting initiatives targeted at achieving gender parity in Zambia’s education because this is a form of “pampering and spoiling girls” at the expense of boys. You can read the full article here.

Chishala further challenges “girl pampering NGOs and other institutions to produce gender disaggregated baseline information on which they have been basing their gender discrimination against the boys.” Apparently we are just puppets for a western-driven agenda.

To say I was vexed while reading this article is a gross understatement. Appalled and angry is a more accurate description because this article was published by a national newspaper by an editor clearly out of touch with the realities of gender inequality and how this affects not only women and girls but society as a whole. In framing this as an “us v. them” argument, he exemplifies the very reason why the fight for gender equality exists in the first place.  

It’s interesting that Chishala at no point acknowledges that many Zambian girls are often denied their right to education. Even in an age where school fees are abolished for Grades 1 - 7, the indirect costs such as clothing, sanitation, safety, and transportation present substantial barriers to access.

Furthermore, studies done in Zambia show that “girls spend more time on productive work than any group of adult men (Allen 1998). Thus the opportunity costs – in terms of lost household labour – of sending girls to school are extremely high.” The incentives for keeping girls at home are reinforced when the quality of education is poor, fees are high, the learning environment is unsafe or lacking, and the likelihood of completing secondary school is low.

Is helping remove said barriers and ensuring that more girls are able to realise their right to an education, which has a direct impact on their social, political and economic rights a means of pampering and spoiling them? Hardly! And the charge that most girls are only interested in “easy living” is extremely belittling and insulting. 

There is no easy living when you're sent off to marriage soon after puberty and start having children before your body has matured. There is no easy living when you have no capacity to speak for yourself due to the disempowerment that comes with the lack of independence.

Let’s get to the numbers; Chisala asked, and he shall receive. Below are figures provided by the Ministry of Education showing indicators in primary education:




From the data above we have clear indications that net enrollment for both girls and boys is improving steadily. This counters Chishala’s wholesale argument that the improved access for girls is being done at the expense of boys. There is more work to be done in improving access to primary and secondary education for all children in all areas of Zambia, as well as improving the quality of education.

There is no new social order in which women are on top of the proverbial food chain. It’s hard enough convincing some families that both girls and boys are of equal value, without having to deal with heretics like Chishala who are screaming that the sky is falling.

The only resentment being spawn about this changing world is within Chishala and his ilk who clearly resent the fact that women can be more than vessels to carry their progeny; and that through many years of struggle many women and girls are realising their dreams of being equal partners in our human development.

I feel shame when Chishala states that achieving gender parity is a “recipe for perpetuating gender based violence” as marginalised boys/men act out their frustration. It is clear he perceives gender equality as a threat to his privilege and way of life. In such a context this loss of power may be a catalyst for violence. Pity he cannot see himself as a potential agent of change.

As a society we must look out for the inequalities and barriers to education that face all children. We cannot ignore the different needs and capacities of women, girls, men and boys, as we all have a role to play. This perhaps was the point Chishala set out to make but instead we were on the receiving end of an anti-women rant. We are allies not enemies.

5 comments:

I might have missed out on Chisala's article. But this answer is both balanced and clever. "We are allies not enemies."

Lawd I loved this piece. I read the editorial and it was abhorrent to say the least. I could not fathom his insensitivity. I was raised by a single-mother who worked so hard to educate her 3 children and take them to decent schools. I am only 23 and I am now 2 years shy of being a medical doctor. All my success, albeit being a man, I owe to my mother. Chishala has clearly lost touch with reality. Whatever happened to the saying "When you educate a girl, you educate a nation".

And the school of thought that we need to dominate the fair sex is running wild among Zambians. Only yesterday a man wrote in a facebook group The Zambia We Want: "The Zambia we want were we men will be head of families, stop being ba john solye bwali, mario, give us jobs and business so that our wives can be less burdened" He further went on in self-mortification to say "yes because men have been relegated to being house husbands, if you are a supplier you find women are being given business, if you go for a job interview the job is given to a woman because of gender. As a result a lot of able young men are now marios or john solye bwali yet they have enough strength and lnowledge to work"...

We have a serious mindset problem at hand

I would never have thought that programs designed to increase educatation opportunities for girls could be criticised until I read Mr Chilanga's opinion piece. For the record, from the first sentence I was in a permanent side-eye mode.

At some point I had dismissed the piece as coming from a man who was clearly ignorant of the topic at hand and I sensed a slight bitterness because he could not find any assistance in paying for his son's school fees or help raising funds for his further education.

However when I came across this part:

"Please, don’t rush to label me as a male chauvinist. I am an ardent gender activist who has participated in gender programmes at regional level, and has helped one southern African country to develop a national gender strategy. I was also part of the regional working group that was tasked to draft the current SADC Protocol on Gender and Development."

The brakes in my head halted to a screech. Wait a minute, this man was a gender activisit? I couldn't believe that someone who clearly should know better, simply didn't.

To then go on to imply that Gender based violence would be the outcome of a supposed imbalance? Pfffft *throws chair out the window*. What kind of reasoning is this from a self proclaimed Gender activist?

As the previous comment noted this is a serious mindset problem. Here is clearly an educated man who should know enough about gender issues to appreciate why these girl centric programs have to exist and have increased. His mindset is that of a person in a privileged position.

It's similar to the priviledged mindset of Anglo saxan Australians who question why there is Affirmative action programs in place for indigenous Australians. This might be extreme but if you want to see what happens when you don't try to redress imbalances in education take a look at how the education system has failed Aborigines in Australia.

There’s much to be said about mindset. For as long as we don’t change the way we think, we certainly won’t change the way we act. It starts with us as individuals letting go of old ways of thinking, and embracing a world in which every child, regardless of gender has the opportunity to attend school, live out their dreams of a future and to of course have a future.

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