African society has a role to play to ensure gender discrimination is a thing of the past. How does societal involvement enhance the realization of gender equity?
I. Policy development
Policies have a huge role in spearheading development of a nation. Once a policy is enacted, then the society is compelled to ensure its implementation. There are several policies that have been put in place in Africa to address the issue of gender equity and equality. The African Union came up with the directorate of women and gender development in 2000, whose main objective was to advocate for the promotion of gender responsiveness and practices as well as the enforcement of human rights, gender equality, and women empowerment commitments made at international, continental, regional, and member states. This has ensured that over 70% of the member states have gender policies. Zambia drafted a national gender policy in 1997, which was adopted by cabinet in 2000. In 2011, the anti-gender based violence act and the matrimonial caused act were adopted, followed by a national strategy to end child marriage in April 2016. These acts have ensured increased involvement by women in the society. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2014, Zambia had 20 female legislators. In addition, readmission to education system for girls who fall out of school due to pregnancy has increased to 54.7% between 2011 and 2014. Ghana adopted the national gender policy in 2004 which focused on women empowerment and livelihoods, women rights and access to justice, women leadership, and accountability governance, economic opportunities for women, and gender roles and relation. The Kenyan government has a national gender policy, which has seen the birth of national gender and equality commission in 2011, with the objectives of promoting gender equality and freedom from discrimination. Gender equality in Kenya has been addressed in a variety of forums. An example is the successful affirmative actions embedded in Kenyan laws, such as inheritance of land by females, eliminating early child marriage traditions and recently the two-thirds parliamentary gender rule which has generated all sorts of discussion concerning the female gender.
Due to these policies, great strides have been made regarding gender equity. In the United Nations report on sustainable development, the proportion of women in paid employment has increased from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015, in 46 African countries, with women holding more than 30% of national parliamentary seats in at least one chamber. These percentages can still get better if more effort is placed on implementation of policies on gender equity.
Women have a great potential in steering the world economies. A study done in 2010 on increased education attainment by women and its effects on child mortality by E. Gakidou showed that for every additional year of education for a woman of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5% which is estimated to save developing countries about $5.7 billion in maternal and new born healthcare costs. A report on gender equality and education done in 2012 by Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), indicated that increase in women and girls’ education accounts for about 50% of the economic growth in OECD countries. In 2014, McKinsey and company report on women matters revealed that companies greatly benefit from increasing the leadership opportunities for women. The latest World Bank enterprise survey report shows that one in twenty six salaried African women is employed in senior management position and 70% of the informal economy is serviced by women. All these gains are due to the gender equality policies and frameworks that have been put in place to propel the inclusion of women in all spheres of development and growth. Though we are still not at 100%, the enactment and implementation of more policies that stress on gender responsiveness will ensure that the dream of gender equity is realized.
II. Leadership in organizations
Organizations have a massive role in ensuring gender responsiveness within their ranks. Organizational principles and policies ensure both genders have an enabling environment to contribute economically. Organizations should take concrete steps to adopt and implement policies and practices that promote gender equity.
In employment and compensation, organizations need to ensure the recruitment process is not discriminative in any way with regards to gender, religion, and marital status among other issues that, most of the time, lock women out of employment. They need to ensure a minimum wage is paid and promotion be based on achievements of all the employees regardless of their gender. Most of the time, companies tend to hold back from promoting women of child bearing age. This is because they see it as an expense to the organization as they will at one time take maternity leave which the organization counts as a loss. Since there is a low percentage of women in formal employment, organizations need to come up with policies that ensure more women are recruited and retained to ensure gender balance. This has been practiced in government parastatals in Kenya and has seen more women earn gainful employment and is currently being adopted in the private sector
There is need to undertake and provide verifiable actions to enusre balance in both professional and private life. There should be provision for family leave, childcare support, and dependent care. In Kenya, for example, Safaricom Ltd has established day-care facilities and also provide mother friendly working hours for the employees deployed on shift basis. This has ensured the comfort of both mother and child and thus enhanced productivity of the womend. Consequently, retention of women in these companies is high.
Provision of equal opportunities for professional development opportunities both formally and informally should also be available. By taking the lead in recruiting and positioning of competent women as part of decision-making, organizations will be directing society in acknowledging and accepting the important role of women in society, and hence encouraging gender equity.
III. Male involvement
Traditionally, men in the African society were the decision makers, policy influencers and overall, more trusted in leadership roles. So, how can men use this opportunity to enhance gender equity and create a more gender responsive society? Men can also participate in gender campaigns and civic education in their communities to enlighten their male counterparts on the importance of having women sit at the decision table and be involved in all issues affecting the society. When men address the gender equality issue, they put them across as human rights and social justice. This ensures that fellow men see the increased engagement of women in decision making as an action that improve human rights and not diminishing their own privileges.
Men are the heads of families and real change begins at home. If a boy sees his father treating his mother with respect, allowing her to be part of decision making process at home, taking his sisters to school, and treating everyone in the family as equals and valuing all their contributions, this boy will grow up valuing women in the society and thus promoting gender equity. Male involvement is, therefore, critical to achieving a sustainable gender equitable society, as it ensure a life cycle approach to ensuring gender equity. Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN) is a network of men and women activists in Kenya, who engage in community education work, advocacy and campaigning, in order to challenge unequal gendered power relations, transform harmful masculinities into positive ones, and put an end to gender-based violence (GBV). They have achieved much in terms of pushing for enactment of acts that are gender responsive, offering civic education to communities on gender issues, ensuring speedy administration of justice to victims of gender biasness and championing for the need of involving men in gender discussions from family level.
Enacting policies and ensuring their implementation, involvement of organizations and male involvement will see great strides in achieving gender parity. But still, since the issue of gender imbalance has been around for a long time, affirmative action still needs to be put in place and implemented to bridge this gap; to ensure more women are employed, and more female admission into tertiary institutions and especially in STEM courses. This will ensure gender equity dream becomes a reality in the near future.
About the Author:
Faridah Odhiambo is a Mechanical Engineer working at Plenser Ltd., Kenya as a projects engineer.