Having recently moved back to my beloved Africa, I found myself being so disconnected with my continent as a result of outright and subtle nuances that trigger gender inequality and bias.
Coming to Africa: Observing the African Gender Dynamic
When I moved back to the motherland, I was very startled to see and hear the most absurd gender nuances that forced women to take a subordinate role in society. I have had male friends tell me that I have to limit my feminist outlook otherwise I will never get married; I have heard and seen women ridicule and slut-shame other women for their clothing choices; I have seen how women have had to become the biggest pretenders and liars in a society that denigrates them for simply liking to have sex; I have had both women and men tell me that I can’t say certain things because it is not what women do; I have seen women reduce themselves for men in a relationship because women are always told you endure, but never men; I have witnessed both men and women normalize abuse of women and lastly, I have seen women submit to dependence on their partners, because society makes it difficult for independent women to thrive.
From my observations, it is clear that most African men subconsciously do not see women as equals and many African women, are teaching themselves to be content with the patriarchy that is frequently supported by culture and religion.
The African Gender Dynamic, Culture and Religion
The lack of a constructive justification, behind this propagation of gender inequalities and rigid gender roles is most damning. It seems like justification usually falls into two categories:
Culture and religion constitute a very large and important part of our African identity. However, to use religion and culture to justify indirect and direct discriminatory practices against women, is not only hypocritical but also unreasonable. Unfortunately, both rationales have found comfort and acceptance in our African society and exist from the grassroots level of society to (startlingly) the leadership level – If you can recall most Senators in the Nigerian Senate cited religion and culture as a basis for their denial of a second reading of the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill.
If we want to talk about African culture, we have to examine it before colonization. That is before Western values and religions were imposed on us, because that is true African culture. When we and no other external persons defined our identity and values.
We had very matriarchal societies where women were heads of households and communities. Women were the primary decision makers and held most of the wealth due to their positions in society. This is evident in the Ancient Egyptian civilization, the Ashanti tribe in Ghana and the Nazzun tribe in Nigeria. Consider David Livingstone’s observations of a tribe in the Congo, where he documented his shock that women held positions that ranked parallel or higher to that of men. On clear examination of Africa pre-colonization, it is evident that African culture then, did not always support the patriarchy and unequal gender dynamic that African culture of today perpetuates. Our African culture stood by principles of natural justice, togetherness and equality of people, whereby the culture of the colonialists, was a jilted one, whereby people were viewed as “agents for some particular function either to one’s advantage or disadvantage”, as Steve Biko famously asserted. This is something that African culture now underpins, as women are undervalued and viewed as supplementary agents, required to elevate the power and influence of men.
When the colonialists came, they imposed their religion on us and we consumed it.
The colonialists used religion to justify segregation and the suppression of matriachy. They used religion to support their oppressive and discriminatory policies, yet we are perpetrating the same kind of rationale, as a means of oppressing our own African women.
With racism, we are quick to point out its unconstitutional nature and it’s perversion of natural justice. But it is discriminatory, just like sexism. How can we be moral and religious absolutists when it comes to racism but not sexism? When we choose to commit adultery, lie, steal and engage in premarital sex, religion eludes us, but we suddenly become the custodians of religious teachings, when justifying gender bias and rigid gender roles.
Religion is not a tool for oppression, so why do we mimic our colonizers and engage with it as such?
Can We Just Do Better, Please?
This myopic way of perceiving things and using baseless reasons to support oppressive practices, is quite typical of us Africans. We do not actively question enough. We just consume and adopt. Then ardently champion a movement, without having a real and justified reason to do so.
We hold onto culture and tradition so tightly because it is what defines us as Africans, however, we need to understand that it is okay to do away with tradition, if tradition forces a group of people to frequently assume a subordinate role.
Today, our Western counterparts are using all sorts of methods and theories to promote gender equality and advance women’s rights but our African brothers and sisters are still holding on to the same structures that our teachers are trying to eradicate.
We must understand that maintaining gender disparities in our African societies is a great disservice to our development and future. We have to collectively work together, in order to permeate all levels and change the narrative of our African society. We just need to do better as Africans.