Of all the bad and disgraceful experiences the world has ever seen, those that have an effect on a specific or targeted group as a whole have left a dark point in history.
Colonialism, apartheid, the caste system, ethnic cleansing are some examples. The seriousness of these is that their effect is holistically influencing the entire members of a specific group. One such experience that has a global manifestation and is pervasive everywhere is gender inequality. It is a sad fact that women share equal role and burden in raising a society but are seen and treated unfairly. They have been subjected to various forms of suppression by the same society they nurture. What makes this even worse is that the cost transcends this particular group and affects the whole society as it cripples half of the potential resources and achievements that could be harvested.
Societies’ marginalization of half of their members in such carelessness for so long perhaps starts from the moment of birth, which then is solidified and endorsed vigorously. In many societies there is severe discrimination on the basis of gender which starts from the birth of the child. While the birth of a boy is celebrated with gunfire and sweets and food, the birth of a girl usually considered an unlucky incident, if not a shame. Girls are also subjected to many harmful cultural practices like genital mutilation and others. Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) and other traditions that violate women’s rights are strongly condemned by laws in Eritrea.
Girls are forced to stay at home and are rarely sent to school. Girls are married off without their will through arranged marriages and/ or selling the girls into marriage. The fact that reproductive work, childcare and household chores are seen as the natural responsibility of women poses a major obstacle women have to confront in order to achieve equal opportunities as men. In effect, this attribution of roles determines an unequal access and control of resources and opportunities which negatively affects women’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and eventually lowers their social and labor performance.
In our country, Eritrea, equality of women was demonstrated a while ago through their active participation in the armed struggle where they’ve shown outstanding qualities that they could be reliable partners in any and every task. In this respect, at independence the Government of Eritrea fulfilled its responsibility in ensuring equal participation of both men and women. However, in ensuring their equality in each and every opportunity, there is still a lot of work to be done. To these end, government bodies and particularly the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) and the society as a whole have been working relentlessly and as a result a lot of improvement have been achieved.
There are also many government bodies and associations that have been working on gender empowerment as their main program areas targeting the youth and students in particular by creating offices in Colleges and in Sawa Training Center. Some try to empower young women by increasing awareness of gender-based violence and the rights of women, by providing capacity building trainings, and by trying to improve access to equal health services and education. Such tasks aspire to produce gender sensitive and well balanced Eritrean youth and also endeavors to improve the participation of females in higher positions in the society. Consequently, more and more young women are enrolled in tertiary education, with some colleges having more than 50% of female students. Doing so can help protect the fundamental human rights of women and also help to sensitize and enhance the awareness of the society on the decisive role of women for the socio-economic, political and cultural transformation of the country.
Such efforts should be geared toward ensuring that young women and men are aware of the damage caused by the above sad facts. It should also endeavor towards raising the awareness of teenagers and the community at large on their consequences on a constant basis. And, at last, it should try to empower and cultivate gender leadership qualities at all levels. Although this task is huge and much has to be done, the greatest challenge remains to be difficult in convincing people to stop such deep-rooted practices mainly in rural areas. This requires a long term commitment with tenacity and steadfastness, a steady investment in education, and also further research. In this respect, collaboration of all partners is by all means crucial and, hence, initiatives should be taken.
It will be to no avail to talk about any sort of development while still marginalizing half of our invaluable resources. When we come to think of it, there is no part of any developmental scheme where women directly or indirectly could not be involved. Therefore, their critical role in the overall task of the nation should be enhanced by providing them with equal opportunities, acknowledging their natural rights, and by empowering them for greater accomplishments that would be in the interest of the whole society and, indeed, the world.
Finally, it should once again be unequivocally stated that building a healthy society has the female at its center; and so any disadvantage of them has a direct relation with the kind of society that is going to be raised. What’s more, as females almost everywhere constitute more than half of the society their relegation to a small corner, no doubt reduces our potential by half. And that’s why empowering them is and should be one of the number one task of any development aspiring nation and responsible society.