Gender Equality, a Never-Ending Debate?

To mark the end of women’s month, I would like to raise several questions related to gender equality, a subject on which men, women and children often disagree.

Gender is both a biological and an acquired characteristic

Before engaging in debate, let’s agree on a definition of a key term related to equality: that of gender. As it is often the case with regard to parity, opinions are very divided. On one hand there are those who believe that gender is innate: a child’s gender depends on his or her biological characteristics. On the other, there are those who think that gender is acquired; that it is determined by one’s upbringing; that it is a question of culture.

Experience and knowledge are intellectual, physical or behavioural attributes that a person acquires throughout his or her life. They are relative to education, culture and environment. These experiences vary from one society to another, but traditionally we link women more with tenderness, motherhood, etc. and men with virility, courage and so on.

I believe that the best stance is a harmony between the two: between the innate and the acquired. To educate a child in opposition to the characteristics of his/her gender could risk rejection by his/her community and cause him/her problems. Every person is born with biological characteristics, which can be strengthened with experiences that do not contradict them. With this introduction, let’s get deeper into the subject.

Gender equality dominates societal debates

Men and women from around the world constantly discuss this topic, which according to some, will play a deterministic role in the future of our modern societies.
From the cooperative « Women in Action in Africa » to FEMEN to Pussy Riot in Europe, many women are pursuing a quest for equality, where the consequences on societies few of us can imagine.

Despite this awakening of women to claim their rights, they remain the victims of discrimination, of violence and of all types of abuses. One needs only to follow the news to see the hundreds of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, who no longer have the right to study, to realize the severity of the situation.

Considering all of these problems, even African women, who until recently kept with certain traditional customs, have understood that equality of the sexes will not be obtained by sitting passively.

The same opportunities must be given to boys and girls to grow in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which advocates the equality of opportunity and non-discrimination.

As a young reporter, I must fight for equality

I must fight so that we can all enjoy the same rights and privileges. But before throwing ourselves into it, we have to know exactly what we are talking about. As children, we are often confused:

Is it simply an equality of opportunities? Does it mean having the same number of men and women in the socio-political-administrative organizations? Does it mean that women do the same things as men? To answer these questions, I decided to ask the opinion of several people at UNICEF.

Different opinions on gender equality

For Yves, ‘gender equality’ is not the right term, rather we should speak of ‘equal opportunity’ because men and women are very different from a physical point of view. It is what I call the biological characteristics. If we were all equal, we would all think the same way and there would be no distinctions. It is diversity that leads to development.

For Didine, equality means having the same competencies between men and women. Intellectually, we are equal. It is our societies that create the difference due to customs often discriminatory towards women.

She told me that one day while driving to work another driver honked at her at a red light and said “you are not made to take the wheel, your place is in the kitchen” before then running the red light and being stopped by the traffic police. Didine replied to him “you do not know the traffic laws, it is you who should be in the kitchen!” For me, this example correctly illustrates prejudices against women.

For Esther*, equality is giving women the chance to have the same jobs as men, but in a marriage the woman is an aid to the man: she cannot be his equal, it is the man who leads. But this does not mean that the man must dictate what she should do, they should make decisions by consensus.

I would say, for me, that gender equality means to give women the same opportunities as men.

It is a question of justice and of sharing responsibilities, as much in the family as in society. If our understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a person is only a function of his/her gender, this can lead to discrimination and limit opportunities.

Do traditional customs go against women ?

Some people think that ancestral African customs aim to make women slaves to men by condemning them to working in the fields and to staying at home to take care of their husband and children. Well I do not share this opinion. It is simple to explain.

Historically in societies, due to their physical strength, men led a warrior life to protect their clans and carried out tasks requiring great physical effort. Because women bear the children, they stayed at home to take care of them, cook and serve their husband.

Boys were prepared for combat and girls stayed to help their mothers and learn from them. As it was a time of survival of the fittest, men were responsible for the bigger functions. That is my understanding.

You know what they say: habit is second nature. These habits became customs and any change to them was considered an obstacle to society. I want to show you that men did not sit under a tree wondering “what can we do to discriminate against women?” – it was a way of life that become customary.

The thing is that it was relative to the context: there was no democracy, everyone was at war and work was different. Now with development, women are no longer forced to stay at home while their husband goes hunting or to war.

Gender equality in the workplace

In my opinion, certain feminist militants made mistakes by devaluing traditional occupations of women because for them women could only be valued and claim to have gender equality when they had the same professions as men.

But for me, certain jobs were held by men because of their biological characteristics. For example, industrial jobs that required heavy lifting. With technological progress, the work is not as strenuous and women can have the same jobs as men.

But let us not reduce equality to employment: a woman can choose to stay at home and this does not make her inferior to a man.

Men and women, girls and boys, we are all equal

We should all benefit from the same rights and opportunities guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In order to achieve that I think we need to:

* Raise awareness of equality between men and women, in particular amongst students, so that they understand its true meaning and push for a change in mentality.

* Organize conferences or forums in which children can exchange and discuss, at national and international levels, the question of gender equality, in order to move the debate forward.

Men and women must be on equal footing. This is what we, as children, must retain. 

* Name has been changed.

Photo: UNICEF RDC 2014 Pudlowski.

Translated from French by Lisa Berthelot.

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Carmel a 15 ans et il est enfant reporter de Kinshasa. Cycliste et constructeur de robot, il aime le football et Cristiano Ronaldo. Sa devise? "Malgré les tempêtes, il faut aller de l'avant".

Carmel is 15 years old and is a child reporter from Kinshasa. Carmel is a cyclist, builds robots and likes football and Cristiano Ronaldo. His motto is: ‘Despite the storms, one must move on.’

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