Stop celebrating women ‘progress’! Just facilitate itBy DAVID SSEPPUUYA | Wednesday, April 11 2012 at 10:13
In 100 years or so, we shall look back in shame at how we treated womenfolk. People will wonder how generations like ours could be so blind to the obvious; so slow in setting right what is blindingly wrong. And I am indicting all of today’s generation, be it Ugandan, European, American, or otherwise.
For how is it that a gender that makes up fully half of mankind can be so under-represented in many places that matter? How come a sex that plays a lopsidedly big role in social sustenance has a disproportionately small say in determining policy?
When the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference concluded in Kampala last week, a few predictable pronouncements were made. From the observation that in the IPU structures, only 29 per cent of representatives were women; that there was no woman among 11 IPU advisers to the United Nations; and that of 271 parliamentary speakers in IPU, just 41 (15 per cent) were women, it was resolved that IPU should make a rule to all member parliaments to have women constitute 30 per cent of each delegation to any IPU sitting; that a penalty be imposed on non-conforming parliaments; and that all IPU subsidiary bodies have 30 per cent women representation.
Well, okay. But that is tokenism. Why should it be 30 per cent when women make up 50 per cent of any given country’s population? It is the tokenism and the very symbolism behind it that makes a mockery of the so-called progressiveness of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is a sham.
The Daily Monitor is currently profiling 50 years of Uganda’s Independence. We came up with a Top 50 Ugandan women, but not men. In history and civic life, we know who the first Ugandan woman university graduate was. We know the first female professor, Cabinet minister, golfer (happens to be my mother), pilot, medical doctor, vice president, etc. But who were the first men to achieve the above? We do not know, not because the men achieved any less or that the women were much better, but because of an attitude of patronising tokenism about women’s achievement.
When Rwanda (good old Rwanda) at 56 per cent and Andorra (who knows where that is?) at 50 per cent, stand out as the only countries where women representation in parliament is commensurate with population demographics, we, the rest of the world, smugly congratulate them, ashamed of our own glaring inadequacies.
Is it not amazing that the so-called developed (‘progressive’ and ‘advanced’) West can only name a handful of female national leaders – Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel and, er, who else? Even the supposedly conservative, less progressive Orient has produced more: Indira Gandhi, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Megawatti (Bujagali power?) Sukarnoputri, Gloria Arroyo, Benazir Bhutto, Sheikha Hassina, Corazon Aquino, etc (though Asia also kills female foetuses). But at least the West has had monarchs in Queens Victoria, Elizabeth, Margarethe, etc. I would be staggered if Princess Katrina Sangalyambogo or her female descendants ascended to the Buganda throne.
The patriarchal societies that most world communities are do prevent mankind from advancing more rapidly than we currently are. Some have justified it on religion, which it could partially be, but the evidence, at least in Christianity, is otherwise. Many have quoted a scripture (1 Timothy 2: 11-12, “Women should learn in silence and humility. I do not allow them to teach or to have authority over Men. They must keep quiet”) in the Bible to justify putting the woman down.
But they ignore the cultural context, indeed the actual issue that was being addressed in these words. The broadness of the biblical message is equality – indeed women were instrumental in Jesus’ ministry: it was a woman who was central in His birth, His anointing, His resurrection, etc. Jesus also had women disciples – Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Susanna, etc, and women financed His ministry.
As we come out of Easter, it may be worth noting that at His crucifixion, the men fled – it is the women who stayed and witnessed. It is women who first received the sign of the resurrection, and who first broadcast the news. There were Old Testament prophetesses (Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Isaiah’s wife, etc).
Cultural strongholds and biases keep us from giving the woman her true place. We can change these limitations. My grandfather, Yakobo Nsubuga (1898-1986), did so in naming a daughter, my mother Victoria Namutebi, as his heir/family overseer. It’s not that he did not have sons – he fathered two boys and four girls – he was looking at progress. Now the entire family is all the better for it (and his lineage is not extinct!).
Let us be careful, for we are not as enlightened as we may think we are. After all God, or nature, ordained that human population gender ratios will be 50:50, since the beginning of time. Who do we think we are not to conform?
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