Discrimination against women and girls is one of the biggest challenges the world is facing. Just like elsewhere in the world, women and girls in Africa had gone through thick and thin due to gender inequality on the continent. And the menace is hardly far from being eradicated in modern African society.
Gender inequality, which is a by-product of the sexist ideology, which maintains that the female is inferior to the male, persists through the enaction and (re)enforcement of sexism, via the ideological state apparatuses such as the family, educational institutions (schools), media, court, police, law institutions. These institutions are used by the states to transmit its value, through control and the coercion of individuals, to reproduce preferred values and maintain psychology of gender. By so doing, the states, society or culture (re)creates a social formation and preserves the status quo. This process makes gender ideology, and indeed gender inequality, part of our everyday reality.
Discriminatory laws that favour men over women exist in many countries. A whopping percentage of women are side-lined when it comes to decision making in many issues in different countries, as well as in families. It is not strange to know that some cultures, even have rigid control over how women and girls dress or their interaction. Furthermore, women are prohibited from driving, working, expressing love or choosing their husbands in certain African cultures. Restrictive access to education, economic discrimination, reproductive health inequality, land ownership prohibition, professional obstacles, custody rights, freedom of marriage, early marriages, early childbearing, and discriminatory divorce rights are some of the subjugations of gender inequality. Gender inequality subjects women to economic, social and psychological dependence on men, which leads to the male exercise of power and control over the female.
In January 2020, UNICEF reported that a third of the world’s poorest girls are denied education, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. This denial is possible because public education spending is disproportionately skewed towards children from rich households, compared to the poor. Guinea, Central African Republic, Senegal, and Cameroon are some of the countries having a tremendous gender-related academic imbalance. Discrimination against women has also extended to the economic sector. Many companies and institutions are dominated by males, limiting eye-bogging 70 per cent of women to the informal sector, with low pay and difficult working conditions.
Psychology of gender equally produces gender-based violence. Gender inequality and discrimination manifest in the form of female genital mutilation, human trafficking, sexual violence, to mention just a few examples. According to the United Nations Population Fund, forme rly the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), gender-based violence ranges from physical, sexual, emotional abuses. A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) found out that one in two women experiences sexual violence in their lifetime either from a stranger or somebody related to them. The East and Southern Africa regions have the highest number of women and girls who have been sexually abused, according to the UN study. The study further showed the cases of sexual violence are high among girls aged 15 and below in conflict and post-conflict countries of the DRC, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. For instance, research shows that violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in Botswana; 67 per cent of women in Botswana has experienced it.
Gender inequality comes with its consequences; some of them can cause irredeemable damage to society. Hindering women and girls from accessing education can increase the level of illiteracy which hampers development. When many people are uneducated, the formal sectors are likely to struggle to find workers, which will translate into lower SDG for a country. Some countries are less developed because of the lack of women in leadership positions. Many research findings have shown that there is a high probability of development policies and implementation in a country when women are holding leadership positions. Equally, the study shows that societies, where women are in leadership positions, are associated with positive health outcomes such as the promotion of women high life expectancy and reductions in both maternal and infant mortality.
With the overwhelming evidence of the advantages of women participation in social development, various human rights agencies have intensified their campaign to create awareness of the need to correct the gender imbalance in the world. Many rights groups are advocating for equal rights and treatment for women and girls, including in the areas of education, socio-political and economic participation, law ownership. Many governments have also enacted laws that enshrine gender equality. African countries are equally trying to eliminate gender discrimination. For example, in some countries like Cameroon, the Penal Code has been amended; now, both men and women have equal rights to sue for divorce. The attitude towards the female gender is positively changing, thanks to the human rights groups relentless efforts. Many girls can now acquire education up to the university level; numerous women have gained employment in popular companies, with some holding managerial positions and earning good salaries.
Botswana has been one of the few African countries, making positive efforts to balance gender inequality. The government has approved the National Policy on Gender and Development to address social inequality in society. The fight against women discrimination in Botswana received a boost recently after its President Mokgweetsi Masisi abolished a Land Policy that denied women rights to own if their husbands had some. The new law means that every woman in the South African nation is now eligible to acquire one residential plot in any part of the country of their choice, on both state and tribal land. That is not all. The new law empowers women and provides them with another source of income and livelihood in case of divorce or death of their husbands. Before the amendment of the 2015 Land Policy, only unmarried women and wives of men who did not own land were eligible for land rights.
“The Botswana Land Policy 2015 was discriminatory against married women and did not give them equal treatment with men, and I am happy to report that this discriminatory sub-section has since been repealed,” Mokgweetsi Masisi said.
The historic decision by the Botswana President is a positive example for other African countries to emulate. The new law in Botswana encourages countries on the continent to abolish all laws that discriminate against women.
The best way to measure the level of development any country enjoys is to see how it treats its minorities. African still has a long way to go when it comes to gender discrimination. It is painful and disgusting to see women being treated as second-hand citizens in some countries in this modern age and era due to customs and laws enacted and influenced by the psychology of gender.
It is not too late to cast away our gender prejudice. Until we accept that we can achieve more in our various societies if women are actively involved in the social formation and economic development. This much-needed development can only take place if we cast away our sexist views and treat women as equal and dignified human beings.