Date: Thursday, 14 March 2019
March 8 is International Women’s Day. We all have an obligation to celebrate and cherish this important day in memory of our daughters, sisters and mothers who have fallen and disabled for independence, equality and social justice. It is evident that Eritrean women made an extraordinary sacrifice and contribution to the struggle for independence; they threw away their veils and skirts to carry guns and fight the national colonial enemy. After independence, contemporary Eritrean women replaced their aprons with overalls, their wooden spoons with wrenches and pick axes, and their kitchens with offices to work in typically male-dominated occupations. Eritrean women through their NUEW played a powerful role in advocating for full equality with men, and ensuring gender-sensitive perspectives and attitudes in the Eritrean society. Despite the joyful celebration and jubilation of the national independence and the fundamental change of the legal framework for equality, the ugly and painful traditional stereotypical attitude of men against women still prevail in most Eritrean households. In this contemporary era, it is alarming to observe that the lingering adverse effect of the evil male domination is vividly manifested by the rising divorce rate and single parenthood, in which many innocent children are growing up in dysfunctional and broken households without the presence, support and protection of their biological fathers. In fact, marriage has almost become obsolete among many young Eritrean women. When they observe their mothers living under the oppression of their own fathers, they have no desire to get married at all. Though God has given women so much power to influence, sharp and clear minds to think wisely, to speak calmly and to do things carefully, it is a pity that human nature has unwisely and unfairly given them so much trouble and so little support in their effort to establish a solid foundation for a strong and healthy human relations.
Once upon a time an interesting story told in a church by Joel Osteen, a famous pastor of the new generation. The story is very much relevant to the gender issue debated among Eritreans in Diasporas. It is about a little dog that had been kept on a twenty-foot leash tied to a tree near his home for many years. The owner came out to feed him and played with him occasionally, but did not unleash the dog. The dog remained on the leash all the time. Whenever the other dogs were playing in the field, he would run right out to the end of his leash, knowing exactly how far he could go. He wanted to chase the other dogs and go play with them, but he knew the extent of his limited mobility. If he went too far, the leash jerked him back into place. One day, the owner felt sorry for the dog, so he decided to let him off that leash. Instead of removing both the leash and collar, however, the owner simply unfastened the leash from the dog’s collar. The collar remained intact around the dog’s neck, but it was not buckled to the leash anymore. The owner thought sure the dog would take off running, happy and free. Another dog came along, and sure enough, his dog got up and took off running as expected. But much to the owner’s surprise, when his dog got to where the leash would have ended, he stopped right where he always did. A few minutes later, a naughty cat came strutting by. This cat had tormented and annoyed the dog for many years. The fact is that over the years the cat knew where to walk. She learned long ago that she could annoy the dog by walking just a couple of feet outside the reach of the leash. Again the dog took off running and stopped right where he normally did when he had the leash. The dog was free. All he had to do was go one step further than he was used to do and he could have walked right out of it. But he did not do it. Since his owner left the collar around his neck, the dog felt that the collar was still buckled to the leash and limit the extent of his mobility.
The story reflects how Eritrean women still live in unpleasant relations with their male oppressors, who seemingly left the collar around their necks. Obviously, the war for independence has loosed the evil chains of dominance over women forged by men. However, the hateful stereotypes, nasty attitudes and discriminatory practices of men against women are still featured in our individual household. Women are not completely free because men are not yet liberated enough to understand the gender issue. Gender inequalities between men and women still have an effect on many Eritrean households. Our women are still working 14 to 16 hours per day to take care of the households. Unlike men, women must make greater efforts to gain acceptance both at home and work place. Traditions in our society still create an artificial separation between men and women. Cultural stereotypes against women are lock-stitched into the social fabric and character of Eritrean men. Most of us, that is, the male population, go through life comfortably, without being conscious of the many ways in which we are automatically privileged by the legacy of our male-dominated cultural norms and social practices. Definitely, this privilege makes us unwitting beneficiaries of exploitative and repressive male roles. How so many males seldom think about gender inequality and injustice when so few women pass every single day without being reminded of or affected by this social evil? It is that men, in general, seem to employ their reason to justify their superior attitudes rather than to root them out completely. There is nothing inherently wrong with being unaware of gender issues. However, when strength of character is attached to gender, and when ability is measured by gender, when privilege is tied to gender, and when whole galaxies of factors that spell out the difference between success and failure in our society are dependent upon gender, it becomes a deadly, dreadful, denigrating factor that creates two separate and unequal worlds for men and women. The male population that has oppressed the female population cannot understand or appreciate the deep frustrations, groans and passionate yearnings of women that have been oppressed throughout their lives. The constant indignities, and of outright discrimination and humiliation in all their ugly forms that women face throughout life cannot be understood by men who have not lived through it and who have deliberately staged and cherished male domination. It is about time, in fact long overdue, that men should be liberated from their horrible and dishonorable attitude towards women.
Certainly, the liberation of men is the liberation of women. Women cannot be liberated unless their life counterparts are liberated from their fears of insecurity and thoughtless traditional chauvinism and inhumane practices. It is evident that whatever directly affects women directly or indirectly affects men because men and women are created equal and should live together respecting each other in peace and harmony. No woman is required to accept immoral traditional stereotypes and despicable attitudes as a normal part of natural heritage. No woman is expected to live in a household by tolerating the evil discriminatory practices of men against women. Women should be thought of as smart, intelligent, capable and strong rather than considering them only as beautiful and pretty because all those qualities and attributes mentioned above persist in women long after beauty fades. In practice, gender awareness in both men and women is an essential first step in creating a framework for understanding equality and justice. This is not necessarily to suggest women to adopt the same insensitive male behavioral traits and eventually to become just like men. Upholding the fundamental rights of women to be liberated from any kind of inconsiderate male domination or subjugation, is not an act of benevolence by the male population. We all men and women have the moral obligation to advocate for and implement the gender equality and social justice. We, men in particular, cannot and should not allow women to be dehumanized and underrated under any inhumane circumstance. These offensive and wicked practices create psychological and emotional problems to our female population, which could possibly and easily be embraced by our female children who were exposed to such biased roles played in their households when they were growing up. Obviously, there is a shared moral obligation of men to change positively their traditional stereotypical attitudes towards their female counterparts. The main responsibility of all Eritrean women is then to get strongly involved in challenging and changing the machinery of human relations in securing their fundamental and unalienable rights for gender equality and justice.
At times, it is ridiculous to observe that gender issue is deliberately obscured and deformed by both men and women. Sometimes it is distorted due to mere misunderstanding and misconception of the true sense of the issue. It should be clear that gender issue is not based just on emotions. It goes deep down and far beyond the question of who should go to the kitchen to cook food and wash the dishes. In fact, in this modern world, contrary to our preconceived expectations and customary practices, the most successful CEO of major corporate businesses are women and the most distinguished leaders in culinary businesses – top ranked chefs in high class restaurants – are men. It is evident that the cultural stereotypes of men against women cannot be easily extracted with tweezers or clippers from the brains of the male population. However, to make the necessary change, every chain tied to every part of the body of every woman should be broken down and thrown away and at the same time every brain of every man should be reprogramed and inculcated by instilling appropriate moral responsibilities so that gender issue would be addressed properly and positively to achieve the desired change. In addition, to change the perspectives of both men and women, the whole pattern of life in our society must be altered. The only thing we can do to change our society is to change our individual perspectives and perceptions towards humanity. Change of attitude positively should start in every Eritrean household. We may even need to establish and strengthen our relationship with our religious institutions for divine intervention from our heavenly father to bless us and accelerate the desired change to happen. The tolerance, challenge and understanding of the gender issue must come from each and every one of us. Arising from our everyday conduct and perspective, decency and sincerity should influence and move our own households and communities toward gender equality and justice. The struggle for the liberation of men from their hostile stereotypical attitudes is an element of everyday life for millions of women. We need to join the many Eritrean women in the struggle to uphold and secure equality and justice in our society. Next to the Almighty God, we all are deeply indebted to women, first for giving us life itself and caring us with love and dedication, and then for making life worth having and living with great pleasure. Wish you all e a Happy International Women’s Day!