Demystifying Gender Perceptions
Women Empowerment is a significant topic of discussion, mainly in Africa and other developing regions. Leaders have lately realised that the development that they aspire to cannot be achieved unless we achieve gender equality by empowering women. The economic empowerment of women refers to their right to control economic decisions, income, assets and other equivalents; improving their economic and social status.
Women Empowerment means promoting women in their social, political and economic development; providing them equal opportunities of employment, education, economic development and allowing them to socialise - the freedoms and rights that are in equal terms with male counterparts. It is the process which empowers women to believe that they too can achieve their aspirations as do the men of society.
Patriarchy has done well to create a myth that motherhood and chores around the household are the only spheres ordained for women. Being considered the natural bearers of life, it is taken for granted that women are to fulfill the roles of child-rearers alone too. Patriarchy celebrates this innate capacity of women as'woman power'.
It indulges in an exaggeration of the motherly values of nature. Self-effacement, unconditional love and devoted service are demanded from women for the perpetuation of patriarchal norms. This results in an idealisation of motherhood which confines women to the roles of nurturers. Feminist movements recognise this as the trap - patriarchy elevates motherhood and misleads women in order to exploit and circumscribe them.
Feminism movements attribute motherhood (as a construct of patriarchal society) to be highly oppressive for a number of reasons. One of these is because the patriarchal version of motherhood is far from a liberating or enriching experience. It's an expectation. This makes it even more important for patriarchy to receive contest from society. After all, why should it be acceptable that a woman be forced to pursue a man's perception of what happiness should be for her?
Betty Friedan relates the true essence of motherhood in her book, The Feminine Mystique. Motherliness is a way of life: it enables a woman to express her total self with the tender feelings, the protective attitudes, and the encompassing love of deep-rooted genetic tendencies that go with motherhood. But patriarchy misuses it as an instrument to subordinate women as a whole. The experience of maternity has been channeled to serve male interests and to stabilise patriarchal laws as the universal law for women.
In addition, the sanctity of motherhood is accepted only when acknowledged by matrimony. The man-made society commands that motherhood is valid only within the bounds of marriage and it desecrates unwed motherhood as a curse for women. What about the irresponsible men who father children out of wedlock and walk free without the responsibilities or child maintenance lingering in their minds?
Women across the globe have been taking the world by storm through leadership and empowerment, yet the urge to tear down the reputation of others still hasn't left us. Both men and women are guilty of degrading women in our society. Instead of being shown appreciation and encouragement for having the strength to go out, work and advocate for meaningful empowerment, they are slated for neglecting their families and homes. There's also the case of those who cannot go out spewing jealous words out over those empowered with the ability to do so, and take every advantage.
But let's revert to explicating patriarchy. We have men who claim to want to provide for women and permit them the freedom to follow their dreams, not willing to consider that a working life may very well be exactly what women are driven to build. The threat of potentially being overthrown as the breadwinner is sometimes what drives the overbearing attitude of men, toward women who pursue professional qualifications and choose higher-paying intellectual careers over the opportunity of assisting their family or hunsbands' families' businesses by contributing in operational or trade-based roles. Our entire society would be better off recognising the profound potential of such women, instead of trying to contain it.
Here in Africa, we face a few unique challenges too. A woman who steps out defying the norms of the society is considered to lack virtue. This is one of the major barriers to the empowerment of women in society. Though women in metropolitan areas and other cities around the world have joined various professions and are making it big in this male-dominated world, people living in the rural areas are still not open about the idea of women seeking education and working. In some instances by virtue of having a different gender from male it is enough reason not to be given the basic right to education and have no say in the family or business matters.
Women empowerment is a serious issue. Women must be empowered so that they can lead a better life. They must be educated and trained to be financially independent. In addition to it, they must be provided a safe environment to live freely and independently. Women empowerment is not only essential for the growth and uplifting of women but also for the overall development of our nation. It would increase the literacy as well as employment rate of the country and help it prosper.