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Gender101: What It Is, What It Is Not And Why That Matters
 
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06-Jul-2017  
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Gender. Ghana’s President just scooped the African Union Gender Champion 2017 award. It ‘recognized his efforts in gender equality at the Continental level’. President Akufo-Addo has also been named Chairperson of AU’s Committee on Gender and Development.

This requires careful scrutiny.

Can a president who has been in office merely 6 months be lauded for his efforts on Gender?

Since the award is for his ‘efforts in gender equality at the Continental level’, it is worth exploring and identifying what those efforts are.

In Ghana’s government, out of the 133 women who contested 102 parliamentary seats, 29 have been sworn in as legitimate parliamentarians. That is 21.8% of Parliament. If gender were purely a numbers game, you could draw conclusions about progress or lack thereof by simply analyzing the numbers.

But gender has never been merely a number crunching exercise. Let’s be clear, numbers – like words – matter. In Parliament, it matters because the political leadership of a nation should reflect the citizen’s make up. 51% of Ghana’s citizens are women, so if half of Parliament were women, that would be a reflection of a nation’s make up.

Certainly data is used as a measure in the Political world of making change in what has been a previously male dominated arena.

But gender is not just about numbers. When it is reduced to numbers, as a nation we struggle and suffer. This is also bigger than an award. Gender, for me, is a matter of nation building. And gender in Ghana would benefit from some scrutiny.

I am struck that in Ghana gender is treated as ‘this woman thing’. It is seen as this false notion that women’s progression equals men’s regression. That sets up conditions for battlefields not for building blocks.

What is gender?

Gender is about the construct of masculinity and the construct of femininity. In other words, how you learn to become a boy and man; how you learn to become a girl and woman – that is the definition of gender. That means gender is as much an issue for men as it is for women.



Boys and men; girls and women are taught what it means to live within their gender construct by all of our society. In other words, Gender is about how society raises girls and what it teaches boys – and how that teaching shapes who they become, what they expect, how they move through the world and how that movement impacts us all.

That societal teaching means culture. And culture is us: it is parents, Media, Church, family, school, work – all of us. None of us are immune from gender constructs.

The good news? If we all have a role in constructing gender, then we can make the kind of change that can transform and inform.

Why does that matter?

Examine how Ghana deals with women and men on issues like sexual violence and you begin to see why this construct contributes profoundly to how a society functions or fails.

For too many girls and women, Ghana is not safe. They must take care always, be watchful always. Global statistics show they are liable to become a victim of some type of sexual violence. And if that happens, they are likely to be blamed. Very little will happen to the man.

From the informal sector where the women porters – known as the kayayei – are routinely subject to sexual violence to school girls dealing with sexual propositions from their teachers to women in the work place being sexually harassed by male bosses – our relationship with gender in Ghana is fraught with dangers for women. And it is a power trip for men.

That is about gender.

Sexual violence is not about sex, it is about power. We often conflate these two. This is something boys and men need to be taught.

Boys and men are taught that giving in to temptation is simply a ‘man’ thing. That their lust and desire is natural, it makes them a man. Girls and women are taught their lust and desire is sinful – and outside of marriage – it makes them a whore.

That too is gender.

Transactional sex, the expectation of being harassed, coerced or propositioned by men is simply something that women and girls are taught they must endure, evade or somehow escape. Too few boys and men are taught that to be a man is also about self-control, respect and honoring not just your own body, but that of girls and women. If they were, how might that change the working experience for millions of Ghanaian women?

Gender is a matter of nation building. What kind of world are we building and have we built for girls and boys and men and women?

Our masculinity construct is fragile and dangerous. Boys need to learn different lessons about what it means to be a man. Men’s strength is not dependent upon women’s submission, or our weakness. My strength is not a threat to your masculinity but an asset to building a nation.

This is a global issue. It is not limited to Ghana. Right now America has a president who manifests the most fragile of masculinities and is wreaking havoc with notions of leadership. And yet I consistently hear him described as strong, as a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of leader, as an ‘Alpha’ male. If we think that is what Donald J Trump manifests, then that is evidence our gender constructs are profoundly flawed. That is patriarchy. And it is a global beast.

In Ghana, our problematic gender issues are in step with those of so many nations in the world. That is nothing to be proud of.

This does not mean we have not made progress. We have. That progress is not limited to this President, or this party – so measuring progress should be a national exercise – not a party political one. All Presidents have made speeches about how much gender matters. If speechifying equaled nation building, Ghana would be a super power.

We must also recognize the ways colonialism has shaped our understanding of gender. And that understanding includes the role of tribe, religion and Pastors.

Gender is about labour. That labour is physical, political, emotional and economic.

If you take labour as the literal act of women bringing children into the world, then how does Ghana fare? We are a nation that reveres motherhood. But the act of bringing children into the world is plagued with poor health care and for too many women it can be a death sentence. Children are conceived by women and men – and yet giving birth is reduced to an issue that solely affects women. No government – irrespective of party – has ever prioritized changing this. All have paid it lip service. All have lauded mothers and paid tribute to women.

Nation building requires more than that. Labour means work. What work are we doing as a nation to ensure we progress?

There will be inevitable comparisons of this Gender award to that of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to America’s first Black President, Barack Obama, in his first nine months in office as president. The Nobel Peace Prize wrote that the award was due to: “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics.”

Scrutinize this rhetoric in comparison to the actions of President Obama and he really won this award due to his campaign and his inaugural speech – because at that point little else had been done. And I am not suggesting words don’t matter. They do. As a journalist and global media communications expert, my trade is language. They matter deeply.

The challenge in the world of presidential politics is that words can be treated as if they are policy. You can talk peace and wage war. You can talk transparency and practice corruption. You can talk progression and practice regression.

The President’s award reduces gender to a prop. That is dangerous.

Gender is a matter of trade, economics, education, health, and politics. It is an issue that impacts all the people. Nation building from the political realm is a question of implemented policy – not just from a Gender ministry - but from all the Ministries for whom actionable policy transforms lives.

We are an interdependent people, not an independent one. We rely on, need and depend on each other to really progress. Nations are not islands.

Ultimately, gender is about girls and boys, women and men. It is about how we build the nation we say we want.

And nation building means policy, process and practice. Not premature award nomination and collection.

 
 
 
Source: thebftonline.com
 
 

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