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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View:Gender injustice is a problem on the world’s conscience

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

On Friday I went to a lecture by Zainab Hawa Bangura in which she talked about her work fighting for gender justice around the world. It was a powerful speech, and it was encouraging to see so many people present, both men and women, cheer for the cause of gender equality.
Of course, this momentary inspiring moment wasn’t enough  no moment is, however ground breaking. Misogyny, sexual violence and gender inequality continue to persist around the world. They’re slippery problems, because no matter how much progress a society achieves, they can never be fully eradicated. No matter how powerful a woman becomes and how many barriers she breaks, legions of men will still hurl misogyny at her.
Like most Americans my age (I hope), I’m not a “traditionalist” when it comes to gender. I don’t believe a woman’s most important role is as a wife or mother. I think a woman’s place in society should be whatever she wants it to be. In the United States as in Sierra Leone and so many countries around the world, this idea hasn’t caught on. When I was studying in Jerusalem last year, one of my Arabic teachers was an older Muslim woman who believed the wage gap between men and women wasn’t too much of a problem  since women work hard at being wives and mothers, why should it matter if they don’t earn quite as much money as men? Some other Americans in the class shifted uncomfortably at the idea  but notably, an American Catholic in the class said he agreed with the woman.
My teacher said she chose the role of a traditional woman  no man forced it on her. Maybe so  but that in itself is the problem. Women themselves are often complicit in beliefs and practices that hold women back. From what I’ve read, harmful practices like female genital mutilation are mostly propagated by women. In the United States, many women are against providing access to birth control and abortion for women.
When people say women “choose” traditional gender roles, this sometimes seems like a perversion of the word “choice.” What would life be like for a young girl in a traditional society who wanted to follow her own path, and never wanted to marry or have children? What if she wanted to dress in a way society didn’t approve of? We know what would happen, because in many such cases, women have been killed, injured, raped, shamed and ostracized for wanting to follow their own destinies. Due to the powerful prejudices of society, it would be dangerous, and so for many women, unthinkable. How exactly is choosing the role society pressures them into a real “choice”? If they aren’t aware of any other options, this literally falls short of the definition of the word.
The laws of all nations need to guarantee gender equality and the health, safety and freedom of women. And just as crucially, ordinary people need to follow these mandates, no matter what traditional customs say. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, but if tradition doesn’t accommodate gender equality, it needs to evolve and change.
As National Electoral Commission Chairman Mohamed N’fah-Alie Conteh put it, speaking about allowing women to become Paramount Chiefs, “The tradition that worked over a century ago, that tradition can’t continue to work in the twenty-first century.”
The modern women’s rights movement is less than 200 years old. We’ve made a lot of progress around the world since then. But there’s still so much to do, and true gender equality may never be achieved, because individual prejudice will probably always exist, and seep into policy, society and culture. We all need to mitigate it, and be conscious of our own actions and beliefs.
It was great to see a powerful spokeswoman for gender justice, given such an audience in Sierra Leone. But for everyone all around the world, there’s still a long way to go.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Monday August 15, 2016

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