There have been two independent incidences this week that have made me aware of the biases I hold. The first was at Sazira Secondary School while we were doing an activity called “vote with your feet”. In this activity a statement is read and students have to decide whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement and stand at the appropriate designated area. Having talked about gender equality and assertiveness in our sessions with the students, we wanted to see what their opinion on the following statement was: “Women should make the decisions in the home”. Being a female having grown up with the freedom to make decisions for myself I believe that women are fully capable of making the decisions in the home. About 2/3rds of the students held the same view as I did, but about 1/3 of the students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement. From this observation I immediately jumped to the conclusion that these students believed the opposite, that men should make the decisions in the home. I was equally concerned and disheartened that even after all of our discussions these students still held these views. How the students responded to the next statement made me realize just how wrong I was. The next statement read, “men and women should make decisions together in the home”. After hearing that statement all those that disagreed/strongly disagreed with the last statement moved to strongly agree. They explained that the reason why they disagreed in the first place was not because they did’t believe women should be making decisions in the home but that the process should involve all parties. How shameful of me to swing so radically in favour of giving the female the power that I forgot all about the man in the process. Women empowerment should not involve oppression of men in the process. While that concept is obvious to me this incident made me realize that I should be more conscious of the fact so as to avoid subconsciously practicing it.
The second incident happened at Kunzugu Secondary School. After reviewing and demonstrating to the class how to properly use a male condom there were two male students that asked us about female condoms and inquired as to why we didn’t have any to show them. It wasn’t until a more in-depth discussion that Delfina and Melanie had with one of these students after class that we understood the reasoning behind their inquiry. One of the male students shared with us that there are females who want to get pregnant and will convince men into having unprotected sex with them by lying about having a female condom in. Without knowledge about female condoms how is he to know the difference? After becoming pregnant the female will then lie about gaining weight to cover up the pregnancy until it is far enough along that she can rope the man into taking responsibility. This perspective surprised me and I think that’s because I hold the common assumption that the female is usually the victim. I am aware that it can happen the other way, but it isn’t a perspective that immediately comes to mind. What does this say about the way I think about gender?
Gender equality is the notion that everyone should be treated the same despite your sex. It is a concept that is influenced by socio-cultural factors and the attitudes and beliefs that individuals in the community hold. This in turn has wide-spread consequences that affect what opportunities are available to different genders. For example, a patriarchal society would value education for males who then go on to take on influential roles in the community contributing to policies and economic growth of society while women will assume the unpaid domestic roles. When half of the population is not able to contribute to the greater society how can it expect to reach its full potential? The two incidences I encountered this week helped me to realize that I hold a perspective bias towards women being the victim of circumstance and that women empowerment should be the means of achieving gender equality. While holding this attitude I have forgotten about the male perspective. If I believe that men shouldn’t have the only say in the home, then I shouldn’t believe that a woman should. If I expect men to take responsibility for a pregnancy then we should also be educating them about a number of ways to prevent against it. These incidences have made me consciously aware of the fact that gender equality can only be achieved by changing the attitudes, behaviours, roles and responsibilities of ALL the people in a community, both men and women, to facilitate an environment that allows people to empower themselves.