It is the society that stipulates the gender expectations, roles and characteristics of its members as made evident in the approval process of socialization.
Gender connotes masculinity and femininity. It is a socio-economic variable use to analyze roles, responsibilities opportunities and needs.
Gender is as dynamic as culture. Gender roles vary from culture to culture and changes in socio-economic conditions reflect similar changes in gender patterns. Emergencies such as war, epidemic and famine can call for rapid and radical changes in what roles men and women assume. Gender is also used to discuss social and psychological aspects that are regarded appropriate to men and women. Thus, such terms as “gender roles”, “gender stereotype”, and “gender identities” imply that these are subject to social and cultural influences.
Gender roles are socially constructed roles assigned to men and women. These roles are learned, may vary among cultures and society or people and may change over time. What are the roles of men and women in our communities? Gender roles in essence are not biological in that they are not natural. They are often maintained by a culture particularly that sees women as inferior to men, and whose roles are supposed to compliment that of men. These roles are maintained by institutions like marriage, religion, education, the mass media, and given to be ordained by a higher being like God.
Sex refers to biological attributes of men and women. These attributes are universal and are generally permanent.
Sex cannot be changed for example: Naturally only a man has the ability of impregnating a woman and only a woman has the ability to give birth or to breastfeed. These are biological attributes.
Gender is learned through socialization, therefore these can be changed and vary from one social context to the other example: In some cultures only men are supposed to go to market, cut palm fruits etc. While in some cultures only women go to market. Some beliefs and practices believe that women cannot or that they are unable to take up some jobs like engineering, piloting etc. meanwhile some women are engineers and pilots. Therefore there is no biological factor that stops women from being engineers, pilots etc. In effect, gender as against biological evidence that distinguishes between a male and a female, is a social construction in the classification of the roles and relationship of men and women in a given society or culture. It is, therefore, a perception determined socially and historically over a period of time. It is the socially constructed way of being male or female. The social construction in the society has been established and handed down through that which includes the family, the community, the religious environment, the education system, the language and the media. Since the role of a male or a female is more of a social construction, the society has a role to play to reconstruct its perception towards male and female. This implies that since it is the society that has created the differences existing between the two sexes, the same society can reconstruct its perception and proper positions in the society.
Gender equality is an integral part of human rights. It refers to an equal presentation, rights, responsibility and participation of women and men in all spheres of private and public life.
There are hindrances to realizing the objective of gender equality. The reigning ideology in Nigeria concerning the home/family and marriage is that of a patriarchy. This ideology defines the status and power relations between men and women, boys and girls and is maintained by different practices and beliefs. Gender is changeable and varied; the underlying belief is that women/girls are inferior to men/boys. Some of these practices and beliefs in Nigeria are evident in different structures and stages in life in the family and examples include:
- Overt preference of boy children in most cultures because they are seen as sureties of linage continuation; permanent residents of the homestead (the girl is referred to as an outsider) heir to property and family management; marital security for the mothers; source of prestige etc. the higher value bestowed on the male child is expressed in birth rituals and other social forum. For example, in some cultures in Nigeria, a goat is killed when a boy is born, but not same for girl. Why should a girl who has grown up seeing female teachers in lower and less prestigious roles think otherwise of herself?
- Textbooks and the pictorial and textual images they represent of males and females. Using the non-atological method to analyze a text. One can discern unrealistic gender bias and stereotyping by observing: number of times males and female appear in pictures and text; the order of their appearance and in which they are mentioned by name and by pronoun; how many times generic pronouns/nouns are soon qualified with male names/figures; the language used to describe them and their actions; whether they are active or passive in the texts etc.
- Curriculum and career paths: Attitudes that some subjects are too hard for females and others are inappropriate (soft) for males; reinforcement of this by lack of facilities for science subjects in girls’ schools; social treatment of girls who deviate into the so-called male domains: the role of teachers in reinforcing or transforming career stereotyping e.g. through essays usually on “what I would like to be when I grow up”.
- Division of extra curriculum tasks among staff and students e.g. what teachers are responsible for what clubs (males for home science clubs?); what games are available for girls and boys and what quantity and quality of facilities support them; what tasks are boys and girls assigned for their manual work sessions?.
- Peer influence on what “real girls” are.
Because religious edicts are taken to be sacrosanct, religion becomes one of the most rigid systems of perpetuating patriarchy and gender disparities because scriptures are used unscrupulously to support partisan views and often not of the whole context. Consider for example:
- Myths of creation and interpretation of the gender roles in determining the destiny of humanity: who is to blame for humanity’s calamity?
- Presentation of God as a gendered rather than an anhydrous being.
- Representation of God on earth through leadership of religious institutions at variance with majority membership of the same religious institutions. For instance, majority churchgoers and payers of tithe are women but largely they are still not accepted in church leadership and decision-making.
The oral literature and tradition of a people encapsulates their ideology in the various genres (proverbs, riddles, narratives etc), which define the status, attitudes, opinions etc. about either gender. Such ideas are used to justify current gender power relations.
In one say, it is said that both men and women originally owned cattle, then one day a bull was slaughtered in the community. All the women of the community then went out scrambling for the meat and forgot to restrain their cattle from wandering off. The end result was that the cattle strayed and disappeared into the wilderness and became the wild animals we have today. The “moral” of the story is that women are so petty and food-minded they cannot be trusted with management of property. The best thing is to let them deal with what they are best at (food matters, except when it is cooking in a hotel!) and completely bar them from inheriting property (which they will surely lay to waste!).
These few points about how gender roles, characteristics are constructed etc. are by no means exhaustive but should help to stimulate us to think about how deeply rooted all forms of gender disparities are. An understanding of this helps us to appreciate the complexity of gender issues and the likely sources of resistance (culture is often cited as an inviolable dynamic in gender relations, but we know it is amenable and changeable for example, in some cultures in Nigeria, people are said not to have eaten until they have eaten garri, we would then think that garri is part of the “culture” but in truth, cassava from which garri is made was introduced to what is now known as Nigeria in the 15th century by the Portuguese! Obviously their ancestor would not have recognized garri as a staple food. Yet it is deemed “cultural”).
The four world conferences of the UN Decade for women held in 1975 (Mexico), 1980 (Cophenhagen), 1985 (Nairobi), the 1995 (Beijing) were important mobilizing and awareness – raising events. These conferences have created valuable opportunities for organizing, influencing policy making locally, nationally, regionally, and internationally. Beijing +5 (2000) and Beijing + 10 (2005) are benchmarks to measure the progress made in implementing the Beijing platform of Action. Yet reality lags far behind as women remain disproportionately excluded from education, political representation and positions of institutional power.
According to the constitution of Nigeria, every human being is born free and is equal before the law without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, language, sex, religion, political or other opinion, ethnic or social origin, property and birth and place of residence.
The concept of Gender Equality is based on the international acts and instruments in which Nigeria is signatory to and which represent the integral part of the Nigerian legislation:
– Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
– International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
– International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
– Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;
– Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action;
– Programme of Action of the Cairo Conference on Population and Development;
– The UN Security Council Resolution 1325;
– Millennium Declaration and Millennium Development Goals.
All these are to encourage the equal and effective implementation of the rights and opportunities for women and men.
The Nigerian government has expressed a willingness to narrow the gender gap (see the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria promulgation Decree 1989, adopted in October 1992 and National Gender Policy).
This indicates that the Nigeria leadership is aware of the problem and is committed to ensuring gender equality.
However, constitutional equality of women in Nigeria is not new, the previous constitutions that were abrogated during military seizures of political control contained similar assertions, but the reality is that the condition of women in Nigerian does not reflect the equal status conferred on them by the constitution. This suggests that the constitutional provisions for the Nigerian women might have suffered from unfavourable judicial interpretation.
This is the process by which the differential impact of women and men can be discerned in development. It often involves the collection and use of quantitative and qualitative sex-disaggregated data, which shows the different status, conditions, roles and responsibilities of women and men. To assess the impact of policies and programmes on gender inequalities, information and data are fed into the planning process.
Gender analysis helps us to frame questions about women and men roles and relations in order to avoid making assumptions about who does what, when and why. The aim of such analysis is to formulate development interventions that are better targeted to meet both women’s and men’s needs and constraints. Gender analysis has been established as a basic requirement for the mainstreaming strategy.