Thursday, March 20, 2008

To achieve gender equality, target men

To achieve gender equality, target men

The Ghanaian Times, Tuesday, March 20, 2008. Page 8

Yela Awunyo-Akaba –Through My Looking Glass

Our laws say women and men are equal but in reality, several disparities exist in the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. As we work towards eliminating all forms of gender based discrimination, we’re apt to ignore the underlying reasons that make men perpetrators of abuse against females.

Sure, we have the Domestic Violence [Law] and [have] established DOVVSU but more incidents of rape, incest, wife beatings and other forms of harassment make their way into the news daily. If trends in the West with stricter enforcement of human rights laws can service as a yardstick, we are losing this war.

Few of our gender initiatives focus on men as the engine of changes even though our male dominated society offers the enabling environment allowing all forms of discrimination to thrive. Presently in Ghana, large proportion of women from all socio-economic backgrounds remain economically dependent on their male partners and most legislative decisions and social norms are crafted by male political, religious and traditional leaders.

In recognition that it’s still mainly a man’s world, how should we be navigating the struggles to level the playing field for both men and women? We’ve burnt our bras to signal an end to traditional restrictions, campaigned for equal pay, contraception and reproductive rights and criminalised abusive behaviour successfully. It wil be diffucltu to find too may Ghanaian men who can publicly win a debate justifying biases against women. But still the prejudices abound despite all the noise we make about it.

The perpetrators have taken their activities underground and unless activists change their strategies, we will make no further progress. It seems our widespread vilification of men as the cause of women’s woes has produced a generation of young men who will not voice any contrary views about female empowerment for fear of being labelled bigots.

I realised that the male students in my Gender and Health class were reluctant to rock the boat during our class discussions. They expressed their outrage about the existing traditional practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM), the trokosi system, child marriage and harmful widowhood rites. Missing in their opinions however was the male perspective on abuse, power sharing within marriages and bridging the gender divide.

Since I cannot understand why a man will beat a woman he loves or why he would be reluctant to succeed encourage his wife to succeed in her career, I would appreciate some candour from our men. The debate should not be skewed to represent what the women want but what men should have the courage to express their true opinions about female empowerment.

Though a woman, I believe it is unfair that men have limited rights to their unborn child and cannot override medically sanctioned abortion if the woman favours one. Our courts are more likely to offer an ex-wife primary custody of a child and we more easily dismiss reports of spousal abuse committed by wives.

Even if such situations remain in the minority, the absence of activists urging all of us to consider, the situation from the male point of view leaves our gender policies and positions seriously flawed. The cracks show up because our mothers still feel unable to leave an abusive relationship even when social support is available. Career women are more likely than men to be single, divorced or childless? The rising rates of violence against women also tell us something is wrong with our action plan.

The law to punish perpetrators have been tightened and advocacy efforts have increased awareness within the general population. The main method used to stop the violence against women and children is criminal prosecution and incarceration. While it is necessary to punish wrong doing especially when it violates others’ human rights, the statistics should tell us the status quo is not working.

All the men who perpetrate any form of abuse were once innocent babies incapable of hurting a fly. Along the way, they morphed into hulks capable of harming the women and children in their lives. Why have we not clamped down on the mothers who excuse every form of unruly behaviour in their sons with the pet phrase, “boys will be boys”? Isn’t it mothers who hold their little girls and allow their genital parts to be mutilated and together their husband give their young girls away in early marriages?

Many of these gender initiatives that have made any headway enjoyed the approval of the men at the helm of affairs. Even before the trokosi system was outlawed, advocates who were often male held extensive discussions with fetish priests. They sought to sensitize the priests to the detrimental effects of enslaving girls and persuaded them to accept alternate forms of compensation. This led to series of consultations with the deities and painstaking back and forth dialoguing before the priest agreed to release their slaves.

The increased reportage of FGM cases in northern Ghana was largely due to the advocates who sought the support of chiefs and opinion leaders in these areas to champion their cause. When the leaders understood the health and emotional risk of FGM, they endorsed the arrest and prosecution pf the practitioners.

If we get past out opinion that most men are Neanderthals incapable of changing their ways, we can then begin to solicit their views to help end all forms of discrimination against women. It is possible that because of the socialisation our men, we have to try to effect behaviour change using other means than aggressive confrontation? It is possible if we begin to look at abuse as a crime that affects even the perpetrators, we can encourage men to seek help instead of concealing their weaknesses?

Whenever abuse or violence occurs within a relationship or family, its far reaching repercussions affect all of is as a society. We can choose outright condemnation or include male participation as a key component in our initiatives for change.

1 comment:

John Manuel said...

I truly believe everything will change, just give it time.
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