Getting Ahead as Women: A Paradigm Shift

Issues of Gender are not about taking power away from men, it is about finding your own power.

In light of this month’s celebration of Women, Sehin – a PhD Candidate in Gender Studies brought to the AWiB podium on March 6 2014 a wealth of experience pertaining to gender issues. She invited members to challenge their assumptions of gender inequality in their lives and to get ahead as women.

The event kicked off with a short video depicting various women leaders in our region ranging from parliamentarians to women who have attained high public office.  With more women leaders, Africa would become a prosperous and politically stable continent; one that is able to achieve its development goals at a much faster pace explained Rebecca Kadanga, the first Ugandan women in parliament. With each passing year more women are participating in this change, but the journey is just beginning- and there is much work to be done.

“I am a non angry, man loving feminist”. It was agreed that there are no equal opportunities between men and women. In Ethiopia, we tend to associate feminism with westernization, and lesbianism. Such stereotypes need to be challenged. Feminism is a universal concept and as a community we need to define in such a way that we own the word and own its meaning.

The higher you go the fewer the women” . It is a proven fact that there are few women in non stereotypical jobs. It is also a proven fact that Ethiopia ranks 173 out of 186 ranked countries on the UN gender inequality index. These figures show that the higher the inequality of a nation the lower its human development index. This proves that to develop, we must address issues of gender inequality. And to do so, we must problematize inequality and view everything in our lives using a gendered lens. This calls for a complete paradigm shift explained Sehin. We need to undertake a gender laser surgery and question how we raise our boys and girls, how we communicate to others and how we carry out our day to day lives. The use of language can turn women into second class citizens. We must take note of all sexist stereotypical comments like “boys don’t cry” and “girls help mum in the kitchen”. It is about time we get offended by such comments and stand up to amend them.

We must be cognizant of gender asymmetry; if not we enter into dangerous territories explained Sehin.  Male dominance is actually a burden on a man; the added pressure of masculinity gets tied in with acts of violence. When we teach our boys to be strong, we teach them to be violent too.  For the past 30 years, gender inequality has gotten worse in Ethiopia. Sehins research has proved that during this time period, there has been a lot more violence against women- an act that is entrenched and widely accepted in our society.

Problematizing gender issues do not translate into waging war with men explained Sehin. Nor does this mean that as women, we play the victim card. Women should be careful of how they treat other women and how we collectively treat the disabled and those younger or older than us.

Sehin tasked members to look to their feminism. This means we must mind our language, challenge everyday sexism, speak up for our rights, help other women and support women owned business through engaging in networking platforms and awareness raising initiatives.

This evening did not solely call for a paradigm shift, but an awakening of ones mind to the realities of our actions and its consequences. In wrapping up this highly interactive evening, Sehin left participants with a quote in light of International Women’s Day Celebrations.

“First they gave us a day, then a year then a decade. Maybe one day they will let us in on the whole thing”

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