“Gender equality is a shared vision of social justice and human rights”
–Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director.
The 8th of March is the International Women’s day; it is a day when women are recognized and celebrated for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potentials and opportunities that await future generations of women, also to address the numerous challenges that the female gender is faced with. This is a day which some people celebrate by wearing purple ribbons.
Regrettably, one of the challenges that the feminine sex is faced with is gender inequality, the unavailability of access to equal opportunities that men enjoy. Many disparities persist between women’s legal rights and their economic status.
In a typical African home, the male child is automatically made the heir apparent and the sole administrator of the family’s estate, so he is ultimately provided with the best education to the detriment of the girls under the same roof because most parents believe that they would eventually get married off to a suitor.
According to reliable statistics, women make up half of Africa’s agricultural workforce, more than half in several countries and these women, depending on where they are from, produce up to two-thirds less per unit of land than men but it is not because they are less able than men. It is not because they are less resourceful and it is certainly not because they are less motivated. It is because they do not benefit equally from things like fertilizer, training or labour. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has said that if women worldwide had the same access to productive resources as men, they could boost agricultural production and help lift 100 to 150 million people out of hunger.
Women today constitute nearly 70 percent of the world’s poor, despite international efforts to compensate women and men equally in the workplace. While women made up about 32 percent of the world’s labour force in 1990, the percentage of women in positions to make important decisions was far lower. In 2002 women held only 15.7 percent of corporate executive positions in the 500 largest companies in the United States—an increase of 7 percentage points since 1995. In the mid-1990s, women comprised only 1 percent of executives in the 1,000 largest corporations outside the United States.
The level of poverty in female-headed households is disturbingly high when compared to male headed households. There seems to be little dispute over the fact that FHHs are usually disadvantaged in terms of access to land, livestock, other assets, credit, education, health care and extension services. For instance, in Zimbabwe, female-headed households have 30-50% smaller landholdings than male-headed households. There are similar findings on Malawi and Namibia.
According to the Encarta Encyclopaedia, Women remain at a distinct disadvantage in education as well. While primary school enrolment for girls now roughly equals that of boys, women constitute about two-thirds of the world’s one billion illiterate adults. Of the more than 100 million children who drop out of school before completing the fourth grade, two-thirds are girls. On the other hand, women are entering colleges and universities in increasing numbers. In Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, more women than men enrolled in institutions of higher education during the 1990s. But the real questions are “do they have the same parallel opportunities in career advancement as men?” Do they get to finish school and reach the peak of their potentials?
Obviously, women are discriminated against and intimidated, reports of violence against them are unprecedentedly high and most of these violators are husbands, lovers, trusted friends, family relatives among others.
In my article, “Domestic Violence in Nigeria; Lessons from Unforgivable”, I extensively addressed the inhumane treatment most housewives and mothers endure in a life threaten bid to make sure that their marriages and relationships are intact. In Africa particularly, some cultural beliefs and norms are detrimental to the societal wellbeing of the female gender, some traditions absolutely encourage violence against women.
Most importantly, the 2012 International Women’s day in Egypt is worthy of note because it is a sad reminder and an absurd reflection of what women are reduced to ridicule. Apparently, in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, hundreds of men came out not in support for women but to harass the women who came out to stand up for their rights as the police and military stood by watching the events unfold in front of them. The women – some in headscarves and flowing robes, others in jeans – had marched to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women’s Day. But crowds of men outnumbered them and chased them out.
Conclusively, the UN theme for International Women’s Day 2015 which is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” should be an historic roadmap that sets the agenda for realizing women’s rights. I would like to state unequivocally that the UN has been more than helpful in the war against gender disparity. However, more needs to be done to ensure that it is absolutely exterminated. The clarion call is on the heads of governments and those in vantage positions to make sure that laws and legislations that support women rights and gender parity are made, strengthened and promoted. We need to stop seeing our women as the inferior gender.
Let’s make it happen.
Sheriff writes from Lagos

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