The last few days, I have been reading a few recent documents on gender issues in Africa. One of the interesting ones is the Afrobarometer study on public perceptions on gender equality. (www.afrobarometer.org). This is a study that covers 34 countries and interviews over 50,000 people. While the report shows great support for gender equality in the continent, the devil, as people say, is in the details.
A majority of women say women should have equal rights with men and not have to be subjected to customary law, and this support has been going up since the first Afrobarometer survey in 2002. One in three Africans think only men should be elected as political leaders, and close to one in five believe that if funds were limited, priority for education should be given to the boy, rather than to the child with the best ability.
Women are worse off in North Africa where they face much more discrimination. Perceptions of gender equality in these countries is quite mixed especially between men and women. Only a third of the men believe a woman can be president or that a woman should initiate divorce. And women’s perceptions are quite similar! Only a half of the women believe a woman can be president or prime minister or should initiate a divorce. This lack of confidence in women’s own belief of their capabilities and rights comes from an acceptance of the status quo–if a situation is manifested for a long time, it starts to seem normal and acceptable!
And this phenomena is not just in politics or leadership. In a study my former colleagues and I did at the International Livestock Research Institute, we found that close to 70% of women believed that if they suffered gender based violence, it was because they deserved it and a similar proportion believed such cases should not be discussed with the public or reported to the police because they are internal family issues.
This acceptance of the status quo of gender inequality has implications for development programs, civil rights and women’s rights organisations. For gender equality to be achieved, it has to start with changing the perceptions of both men and women towards gender equality and especially building women’s confidence and women’s awareness of their self worth and of their rights.