Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is one of three mission areas that ActionAid Uganda focusses on in its programming.
As an organisation we don’t get lost in the many abstract notions that sometimes drive us away from simple facts such as the reality that 80% of food that feeds this nation is produced by small-holder women farmers, that 89% of gender based violence is towards women and that women, although largely absent from the frontline, practically run almost everything behind the scenes.
As part of the activities to mark the International Women’s Day (IWD), ActionAid Uganda teamed up with a number of dedicated young women and men bloggers and tweeps who spared their public holiday to organize a highly successful Twitter Rally at the ActionAid Boardroom. We had a great day, listened to moving testimonies from survivors of gender based violence that ActionAid is deeply honoured to have supported, shared our work on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and debated the progress Uganda is making in the fight for women’s rights! We ended the day with a panel in which I presented what I consider to be the most important frontier in the long-term and sustained struggle for gender equality, justice and peace, and that is the need to liberate both men and women from the ancient claws of patriarchy.
While the international theme for IWD was gender parity and the national theme was economic empowerment of women, I contend that both can only be achieved in the long-term if we challenge patriarchy and let free human imagination to overcome injustices that women face in our largely patriarchal societies.
Our societies are patriarchal to the extent that they are male dominated in terms of positions of influence in politics and economy, male identified and centred in as far as the core cultural ideas of what is good, desirable, preferred or normal is associated with how men think.
Patriarchy is generally not an explicit ongoing effort by men to dominate women, rather, it is a longstanding system that we are born into and participate in, often unconsciously -
So parents who visit a toy shop are likely to buy a toy pistol, water gun, toy car or aeroplane for the boy-child and a doll, flower or a princess for the girl-child. The effect of such socialization is the start of the gender divide that we struggle with for life. Perhaps the bedrock of patriarchal ideology is the belief that it is necessary, socially desirable and rooted in a universal sense of tradition and history. In short, we are made to accept it as normal!
The economic empowerment of women in Uganda is a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve gender parity.
In fact it is not the most important in my view. What we must do is confront the ‘elephant in the room’ -the shackles of patriarchy. Like one scholar argued, we must ‘think small, humble and doable, rather than large, heroic and impossible’.
The struggle for gender parity and harmonious being is a marathon and not a sprint and for this we need stamina much more than speed, think long-term rather than short and deal more with the mind rather than might!
For a start we can consider the simple actions below.
First, we must challenge patriarchy, a system of thousands of years by seeking to understand its key pillars and defining a pathway out of it. We know that 50% of the solution to a problem is first understanding it. If we did, a lot of our energies would not go to waste in the ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach that has met a lot of resistance especially by men.
Secondly, we must take little steps to break gender barriers in the way society runs. This will range from simple things such as having women and men sit together in social functions to stopping the destructive socialization of men as superior and naturally inclined to violence, among others.
Third, we must actively promote change in the way systems are organised in our society around patriarchal values and male privilege. We can have women chairs, team leaders and men secretaries and vice chairs.
Fourth and final, we must make a deliberate effort to rally men alongside women to challenge patriarchal practices.
In fact, I believe that men should do more in this struggle as they wield more control over social systems that need to change. ‘It is not fair and neither is it effective to expect members of the under privileged group to do the heavy lifting’.
The writer is the Country Director of ActionAid Uganda