Third Eye

Parenting at the core of clamour for gender equity

Friday, September 27th, 2019 00:00 |

Dorcas Njoroge       

The tumultuous journey towards the elusive implementation of the two-thirds gender rule is a clear indication that our society still has a long way to go in the quest to achieve gender equity. 

In the 45th G7 Summit held in France last month, the Gender Equality Advisory Council recognised girls and women as powerful agents of change. The council recommended that G7 member states and the entire world focus on legislative reforms and ensure that laws that promote gender equality are adopted and enforced by all means. 

The council also called for abolition of  discriminatory laws and adoption of inclusive and comprehensive approaches in the design and implementation of gender laws.

As a country, we are still deeply ingrained into our various ideologies of gender roles that we almost hyperventilate at the thought of challenging the status quo.

 In most households, the man traditionally made the decisions on behalf of the family. So, let’s face it. The idea that more women could end up in positions of influence and power—through the implementation of the gender rule—to make decisions on behalf of the nation, does not sit well with everyone. Why?  It goes against the traditional norm. 

The question is; why is it so difficult for most people visualise the country having a female President for instance, or at the very least, equal representation in Parliament? 

I believe it all boils down to our parenting. Are we raising our children equally or are we encouraging gender stereotyping right from the family level?

Theories of gender identity development indicate that children start manifesting their identity at around the age of two to three years. At this age, they are not fully socialised into their gender roles and are learning by observing their parents and guardians. They see  their mothers do the cooking and cleaning, while fathers fix cars and appliances. This shapes their world view and they begin to internalise that some jobs are for men and others are for women.

It is, therefore, important for parents to be cautious about gender stereotyping children. This is done through direct messages to the children or indirectly by pointing out the behaviour of others that they should emulate. For example, when a boy messes up the house, parents will instruct the sister to clean up after him; or when sending children to the shop, the boy is always given the money to carry to indicate perceived sense of responsibility. 

In some homes, family meetings will only start when the male children, if any, are present, yet they may take off in the absence of the girls. Buying dolls for girls and toy cars for boys passes a clear message of their gender roles, which is sometimes registered in their minds as a line that should not be crossed. The idea of a boy playing with dolls is frowned upon, as is with men who do domestic chores. This influences the choice of careers in their later lives, and explains to a large extent, why women shy away from technical jobs and men shy away from care giving jobs. 

Girls who appear to be assertive at an early age, play contact sports or who climb trees as children are seen as boyish and the behaviour is discouraged in many families. 

While it is important for parents to expose children to the reality of the gender roles in their communities, children need to know that they can and should explore their abilities and talents. Both boys and girls should not boxed into preset roles that do nothing for their individuality. Let’s allow both boys and girls to choose sports and hobbies of interest to them. This way, the leadership qualities will be nurtured and normalised. 

What’s more, using neutral terms for social positions and offices such as police officer as opposed to policewoman allows them to see these jobs as common grounds for both boys and girls. 

As a country, our journey towards gender equality has not been without hiccups. Attempts to pass the gender bill in Parliament has been awash with drama, a constitutional deadline notwithstanding.

Attaining the desired gender equity may take longer, but if we raise our children to see the world on an equality scale, we will open doors for equal society in future. 

The writer comments on gender and development issues

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