Updated: Nov 10, 2021
Many countries are experiencing a ‘shadow pandemic’, unacceptable levels of gender-based violence. To ensure a sustainable world, we need to keep girls and women safe.
Historically the role of women has not changed much over the past few thousand years, or it has changed dramatically, depends on whom you ask. Egyptian women were powerful, and many attained the highest office in the country. Roman and Greek women, who came after them, were not as fortunate. Gender norms and discrimination starts at birth- some places before then- in the form of infanticide.
Some communities limit the movement of girls and women and strictly prescribe their behaviour, dress code and even life choices. During childhood, some young girls are denied sufficient food, or adequate care, in favour of more valued boy-children. The same attitudes exist where schooling for boys is favoured when finances are scarce. Some families and communities could argue that educating a girl is a waste of money as she will marry and join her husband’s family after marriage.
The status of women in modern-day society was greatly influenced by the patriarchal Western society. The Judeo-Christian religion refers to man being created in the image of God and woman from a part of man. It places women at the periphery of society. According to Kalu (Kalu, 1996), African myths and legends place women at the center of the African community or at least acknowledges women as an essential element of the community. Within the Igbo tribe (in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea), women were not seen as a complement to man, but as a complementary opposite to his existence. Kalu believes that the status of women, in the African context, only changed once the colonial powers arrived on the continent, bringing their patriarchal and hierarchal norms with them.
The popular media has been instrumental in entrenching the acceptability of objectifying women by (only) portraying images of desirable women (to men) as the ideal version of women. The ongoing quest of acting and looking like the ‘desired’ version of a woman, has relegated women to the realm of ‘resource’ rather than that of an equal. Objectification of women has stripped them of their power and their ability to pursue their passion and true potential in life. Denying women equality, including financial equality, means that they have limited opportunities in life and diminished power for decision-making, which impacts the health and survival of their children.
Abusing or mistreating a woman is a human rights violation, and it carries tremendous cost implications. There are economic costs of marginalizing women, impacts and costs for the justice system, healthcare, education, to name a few. The collective trauma the community suffers lasts for many generations. Young children and youth witnessing or experiencing gender-based violence often exhibit behavioural problems, and they can become abusers themselves, potentially becoming another ‘lost generation’.
How do we then address this inferior role of women in so many countries, as well as the abuse and rape culture which has resulted in a ‘shadow pandemic’?
Sustainable Development Goal number 5 speaks to gender equality. Our children need to be taught about the value of human life, that men and women are valued equally. It needs to start at a young age. We will need community-based solutions, where communities work together to protect the women in their communities. Empowered women are stronger women, and they create strong families and communities. They instil values of equality in their children.
Teach the Future addresses gender equality in workshops for children and students of all ages. They are asked to question their existing beliefs, explore their assumptions and the role responsibilities of men and women. Understanding that men and women have equal value (and rights) is critical for building a sustainable world.
Redefining societal values require the buy-in and mobilization of entire communities, Governments, the private sector, civil society, teachers and educators, religious and community leaders, the medical community, the youth, and children. Let us work towards a united and equal society for the sake of our children’s children.