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Opinions of Saturday, 10 February 2018

Columnist: Aba Osei

Gender Equality or Gender Equity?

I have read the varied discussions about feminism and movements, opinions, insults and everything in-between about what likely begun as an advocacy for women’s rights but quickly escalated into sheer trivialities. I cannot help but scream; STOP! What are we fighting for? Do not reduce the fight for women to biological disparities and stereotypes. Equal opportunity for women is serious business!

You might argue that all the commotion around statements and feminism is for the sake of gender equality but I dare say that aspiring for gender equality is not enough and a flawed assertion to begin with. The Webster’s dictionary defines equality as ‘The quality or state of being equal: as a sameness or equivalence in measure”.

Men and women have clear biological, emotional and lifestyle differences which makes equality between the sexes a case of comparing peaches to apples. Women and men cannot be equal when they are different to start with. The fact that a woman gets pregnant and brings forth children in no way negates the father’s role as much as a woman’s role in the home is certainly not negated in any way by income disparities between her and her husband.

Women like men have their fair share of struggles, however; cultural norms, stereotypes, biological demands and yes sometimes personal limitations makes the plight of women dire and in need of causes to champion equitable distribution of opportunities. This embedded imbalance in distribution of opportunities is frustrating and can make many women advocates intolerant to the point of radical defiance (in some cases absolute disdain for men).

However, irrespective of how valid these concerns are, assuming that somehow, if women became like men and antagonized them, all their mitigating factors will disappear is a fallacy. The advocacy for women’s rights and need for gender equity has come a long way and there is need for clear policy discussions (political and socio-economic) instead of arguing about who does what and when. As much as taking a stance to support a cause is commendable, imposing such choices on others and name calling is unnecessary.

Let’s not lose sight of what is important. How can women be propelled to succeed amidst all the challenges they face? Can the corporate world be compelled to diversify top level management with the inclusion of deserving women? How about laws to protect the girl child from early marriages and servitude in some cases? Can more tertiary institutions encourage women enrollment through incentives and scholarships? How about philanthropists setting up funds to educate more girls (what we have now is inadequate)? The list is endless. Feminism and advocacy need not be a battle of words always but a show of concrete and tangible actions vital for equitable distribution of opportunities for women.

We need to understand that what women need most is gender equity. Equity is defined by the Webster’s dictionary as “fairness or justice in the way people are treated”. Fairness can only be achieved when all parties have what they need to succeed and not necessarily equal. Person A might need more to get to the finish line because of her position in the race which might be at the back.

However, Person B might be already positioned close to the finish line and might not need as much help to get there (although simplistic this is the crux of the matter). Imagine a pregnant woman in her third trimester, expected to perform at her optimum at work without any sensible accommodations just like the men in her office! The unique need of women need to be highlighted and advocated for instead of a showdown of the battle of the sexes.

Women have been saddled with years of stereotypes with regards to their role in the home, political and socio-economic relevance. Although I dare say that some victories have been won in the advancement of women’s rights and opportunities, there is need for so much more. By all indications a full blown apocalyptic showdown with men isn’t the solution since it just muddies the water and women’s rights become some sort of power struggle where men must be suppressed before women can succeed. Even if that were the case you would be surprised at how some women will rise to become some sort of antagonists hindering other women (a topic I will reserve for another day).

News flash; women and men can coexist in their uniqueness and still be successful economically, socially and politically! To succeed, there is need for input from both men and women willing to respect each other and listen with a view to making relevant policy changes and accommodations while educating the next generation (or else, our children might be stuck exactly where we are at now in the future). Let’s get to work!