Gender inequality: Breaking the barriersPatience Masua
In a society plagued with social ills which disproportionately disadvantage the girl child, it is imperative that we constantly seek creative ways to curb this imbalance, so as to advance social growth through equality, but also consequently achieve growth in multiple other areas such as the economy, politics and the overall growth of the nation. The most prevalent social ill which unfairly disadvantages the girl child is teenage pregnancies.
There are various reasons as to why this is the biggest challenge hindering the empowerment of the girl child. Fact is that even though both parents of the unborn child are equally responsible for the pregnancy, the girl child often has to drop out of school due to the stigma, physical challenges and in most cases find ways to look after the child after he/she has been born.
Beyond that our school girls are too often impregnated by grown men, who have less, if anything, to lose. This is important, as my concern primarily lies in the impact it has on the education of the girl child and how that translates to social issues which hinder the progressiveness and full participation of the girl child in national issues.
Here we see the girl child, merely on the basis of being a girl, being disadvantaged and losing out on her education. This is harmful, in that inequality persists as the male child is more likely to successfully complete his education. Moreover, this is harmful to the economy, as poverty exacerbates, due to a decline in educated citizens.
Between 2014 and 2016 alone, more than 7500 Namibian school girls dropped out of school due to their pregnancy. This alone is alarming. More than 7500 girls, who are less likely to successfully complete their education. Inequality perpetuates in that it is far more difficult, in these instances, for the girl child to obtain her education.
The stay in school programme which allows pregnant girls to return to school, should not be seen as a privilege, but an inherent right under the principle of equality, which was returned to our young girls. Nevertheless, it adds to the likelihood of girls returning to school and that is what is key.
However, it only deals with the effects of teenage pregnancies and not the causes thereof. It is vital that we deal with the effects of teenage pregnancies, however more importantly, we need to move towards seeking ways in which we deliberately prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies and do so in such a way that results are tangible.
This is an important step in ensuring that the inequality within this very common context is done away with or at least that the empowerment of the girl child is improved. Furthermore, the failure to empower the girl child psychologically/emotionally hinders the sustainability and continuity of the change which we try and implement.
We should not shy away from recognising that patriarchy is still prevalent and causes our young girls to believe that they, by virtue of being a girl are somewhat inferior to their male counterparts. This is something which our daughters are taught and it systematically continues, generation to generation.
The patterns in which our daughters are raised are structured in such a way, that certain metrics are used to determine whether our girls are “good enough”. These metrics include the ability to cook, clean, do laundry etc. However, this burden in the most cases is not equally placed on their male counterparts. And although male children do sometimes also have “male” responsibilities, the fact that there is a division and exclusivity of tasks is in itself harmful, but beyond that, it is often the girl child who suffers the most under this notion, as she is taught that if she doesn’t cook or clean well, she will not find a good husband. Really? Inequality persists in that the girl child is unequally forced to do certain tasks to prove her worth.
The worth of the girl child is defined by external factors, as opposed to our girls being taught to find their worth from the inside. The dangerous element to this is that our young girls internalise this oppression and often believe that, by virtue of them being girls, they cannot challenge or reject these notions.
It is also very difficult for girls to challenge the inequality as it is something which we are taught by our parents and out of respect, we accept these standards. Nevertheless, the harms that these structures create in the larger community disempower our young girls from actively taking part in issues of national concern, but also translates in the inequality being passed on to next generations.
The organisations which empower our young girls and engage them on their views and ways in which to increase this empowerment are doing brilliantly, as this is the starting point of the girl’s voice being heard. Organisations such as The Forum for African Women Educationalists Namibia (Fawena), which works towards supporting pregnant schoolgirls and protecting them from discrimination, should be supported and intensified to deal with the consequences which come about when we have pregnant schoolgirls.
However, in moving towards intense preventative measures which empower the girl child, then programmes such as the BeFree movement and other equally important organisations which encourage and facilitate robust engagement and the sharing of information on issues which face, amongst others, the girl child, need to be imitated and escalated.
This is important in identifying the primary issues which our girls currently face, but also involving them in the solutions which we plan on implementing, so as to ensure that the benefits which accrue do so in the most effective, meaningful and lasting way.
*Patience T Masua is a second year Law (LLB) student at the University of Namibia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.