The subject of gender equality is one that has been in existence for a while. From Africa through Asia and Europe to the Americas, gender has remained a subject of discourse and is not likely to leave soon, at least not everywhere because of dynamic factors like socialization, beliefs, culture, religion, education,economy, politics etc. To have a comprehensive understanding of this subject, it has to be examined comparatively, especially considering the factors that determine and affect it, some of which are listed above. The level of discrimination against women and girls differ from place to place, and It is usually more serious in conservative climes than in places that are relatively liberal. Using Nigeria as an example, gender issues are more pronounced in the northern states than you find in the south.
Socialization is a larger determining factor as its role cannot really be explained except in relation to the other factors listed. A man or woman, they say, is a product of his/her environment. From birth through childhood and to adulthood, a human being learns, whether consciously or otherwise, ways and manners of living from his/her environment, and environment in this context includes but is not limited to, parents, siblings, relatives, peer / religious groups, schools and the media. This process of learning traits, norms, mores and beliefs is what we call socialization. It is a very important factor in the life of every human as it is the only way through which one learns the acceptable manner of behavior in the society and this varies from place to place depending on the prevalent ideas in each location.
However, the subject of gender is one that tends to put on a universal identity, especially as socialization tends to present the male as being superior to the female, in probably every society of the world. This is why it became a subject of interest and concern to the United Nations, and why the UN general assembly, in 1979, adopted ‘’the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)’’. The convention defines discrimination against women as ‘’…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field’’. By accepting the convention, states commit themselves to undertake measures to end discrimination against women in all forms. States that have ratified or acceded to the convention are therefore legally bound to put its provisions into practice.
In an effort to domesticate the provisions of the UN Convention in Nigeria, Senator Biodun Olujimi sponsored the ‘’gender and equal opportunities’’ bill in the current national assembly, but the bill was rejected by the senate in March 2016. This attracted condemnation from the public both within and outside the country. An examination of the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill shows that it seeks to guarantee the rights of women to access; equal opportunities in employment; equal rights to inheritance for both male and female children; equal rights for women in marriage and divorce, equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance; protects the rights of widows and guarantee appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and the prohibition of violence towards women.
The reason for writing this piece is to proffer an alternative means of solving the gender problem, especially in Nigeria. A good observer of events should know by now that legislation does not solve some problems, and gender is one of those. You can legislate all you want, but if people do not make conscious efforts towards making our world a better place, we are not likely to get rid of some things. The gender issue in Nigeria is like most other issues affecting the country, and it is not really like we do not have laws, we do, but our minds need to be reformed. We need to reform our ideas about a lot of things like gender equality, corruption, security, employment etc. A change in our SOCIALIZATION process is what we need. I saw a movie, DRY, by Nigerian actress Stephanie Linus and the need to change our thinking and socialization was reinforced, especially in certain parts of the country. Some of our cultural beliefs need to be eliminated and replaced with more humane ideas, afterall culture is dynamic. The idea that a man is the head of a family and so should decide on all family affairs should stop, a man and his wife are partners, not superior and subordinate. This has to be taught our children right from the beginning of the socialization process, schools should reinforce it, religious groups should reform their doctrines that subordinates the woman. The older generation has failed in this regard, but the younger generation can be the turning point. New parents/guardians should treat their male and female wards on equal terms, and prevent all forms of bias in dealing with them. Our girls need to be encouraged to dream and be assured that they can be all they want if they are willing to pursue their dreams. If we all bring up our children in this way, our boys would grow up into men who see women as partners, not as subordinates, the girls would become strong and independent women, and over time there would be no need for legislation in protecting the rights of anybody whether male or female.
More so, we need to teach our girls the art of responsibility, to make them know that gender equality is not only in the area of benefits. Some wrong conception of feminism held by some people also have to be erased, especially those that tend to see men in negative light. Our children have to be taught to always examine information in order to reject the negative ones and retain the positives. In the age of social media that we are, a lot of wrong ideas is being put out daily, ideas which are good for neither the male nor the female gender. Our children should be taught to have sieve-like minds, to enable them manage information properly.
The more liberal and inspiring our socialization process is, the greater our chance of achieving a world of gender equality, both on paper and in practice.
By Oluwaseun Lonimi Babatunde
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