Friday, 5 February 2016

The Danger of Gender

As part of a team of ICS volunteers, we try to every day discuss a new topic relevant to the aims of the Women Support and Activist Group (WOSAG). Our first discussion addressed the difference between gender –  the social construct that society reinforces through assigning roles, activities, expectations and behaviours – and sex, the biological difference between men and women. As part of our discussion on gender stereotypes, our Ghanaian counterparts described the deep rooted social norms that govern society in the Northern Region, such as women should sit at the back of buses because, in the event of a road accident, they could distract the driver with hysterical screams of terror if they were to sit nearer the front. 

Kayeyi (female head porter) © Blandine Bénézit
  We are assigned gender from birth, and from then it   has become normal to be brought up accordingly.    Girls are  dressed in pink, boys are dressed in blue,  boys are given toy guns while girls are given dolls.  As a society we subconsciously reinforce these  roles which start at birth.  Boys and girls in the UK  still hold stereotypical views on  jobs available to  them. It's no wonder men and women end up doing  specifically different jobs or assuming completely  different roles. These roles we assume have a much  bigger impact on life as a whole than we think.  Growing up inside of this process it is easy to  overlook the amount gender stereotypes affect my  life, and coming to Tamale has really opened my  eyes to the effect they can have on developing  countries.

Whether we like it or not, money means power and worldwide in 2015, 72 percent of working-age men were employed, compared with only 47 percent of women. In the UK , benefits tend to make up a fifth of the average women’s income as opposed to a tenth for men. In Ghana women make up the majority of the informal sector but a miniscule amount of women actually have access to banking and financing. Many women rely completely on their husband economically – men are even perceived as weak or unworthy if their partners earn more than them. Although I've only been in Tamale three weeks, there are noticeable gender divides between certain jobs- for example, women dominate as street vendors and market sellers whereas men dominate as taxi drivers and mobile credit sellers. Even in my host home, it is noticeable that family chores are divided along gender lines: my host sisters and mother will cook whereas my host brother will not.

Gender equality is more than social justice- it's a human right. But it also makes good economic sense. Gender limited job prospects for both men and women does not maximise the potential of the general population. Opening up all jobs to both genders could create economic prosperity and support a much stronger labour market, this could be especially valuable in developing countries.  When women have equal access to education, and go on to participate fully in business and economic decision-making, they are a key driving force against poverty. Their increased earning power raises household incomes and helps to stop poverty in future generations.  

The limitations imposed by gender inequality are why organisations like WOSAG and their work are so important for both the UK and Ghana, securing their future through economic and social development. 

WOSAG volunteers meeting the Women's Savings and Loans Association of Banvim © Blandine Bénézit

Author: Ysabelle Smith

Edited by: Blandine Bénézit, Andrew Hamilton, Caleb Adams, Clodagh Ryan & Nuhu Abubakari

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