“I want to be a civil engineer,” she responded to her dad when he asked her what she wanted to become in future. “No! You cannot become an engineer. That is meant for boys. You will make a good office assistant with your organisational skills.”
The conversation kept replaying in her head as she stared at the University entry form lying on her table. Rachel had always dreamed of becoming an engineer and just when she thought the right moment had come, it immediately began to feel more like a nightmare because her dad would not let her. She was caught between a rock and a hard place.
The African society is still very rigid when it comes to issues surrounding women in leadership positions. The issue of women’s participation in the public sector needs to be given a deeper look into. For many decades now, women have been sidelined when it comes to the public and government sector because they have been labelled as “the weaker sex.” They are subjected to particular roles such as secretaries, personal assistants, receptionists, just to name a few, while the engineering and doctor titles are being attributed to the male gender.
Society has pushed its citizens into believing that the woman’s place is in the kitchen. Young girls are deprived of quality education as they are being forced into believing that education is a male gender thing. Certain tribes still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). According to the report Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Global Concern by UNICEF in 2016, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to the practice. Why do they have to be deprived of the right to pleasure?
In some localities, parents force their girl children to stay at home and assist with household activities while the male children go to school. This is being done under the pretext of preparing the girls to be the “perfect brides.” Who exactly are they preparing these brides for? And who is preparing the boys to become the “perfect grooms?” The brains of our young girls have been wired into believing that becoming the good wife should be prioritised over getting a good education.
Institutes and Universities offering courses in the technical and engineering fields are crowded with males. A majority of political positions are gotten by the male gender predominantly because there is an unfavourable environment for women to have the opportunities to take up such positions. In an annual United Nations-sponsored report, Finland was ranked as the happiest country in the world; governed by a female Prime Minister since December 2019 with 12 out of 19 Ministers being women. Who would ever have imagined this could be possible? We can all learn a lesson from here.
Ever thought of the reason why women make better secretaries? I would argue that this is because of their ability to be very organised and keep things in check. Ever wondered how a woman can take care of five kids all by herself, do household chores and prepare food for her husband before he returns home from work and still wake up at 5am? This can be attributed to their very high level of resilience. Women need to leverage on these inherent skills and abilities. They are more talented than what society has made them to think of themselves.
Society needs to redefine its perception of the woman as the weaker sex and focus more on giving them opportunities to prove themselves rather than making assumptions and dwelling on imaginary thoughts. Children grow up practicing the values their parents instilled in them. If we bring up our kids with the right values, they will grow up with these values. We need to train them as kids to understand that they can become whatever they want to become irrespective of their gender. Parents should stop forcing their daughters into doing particular courses but rather motivate and encourage them to follow the career paths they desire.
It is the role and responsibility of civil society organisations to guide these young girls in the right direction. Emphasis should be laid on organising programmes such as talent identification, leadership that will assist in grooming them as well as identifying mentors and other organisations that can help in development of these talents. Above all, young girls should make a conscious decision of not letting society push them into thinking less of themselves.
My dear girlfriend, we all have what it takes to become what you want. The big question is “are you ready to take the first step? Are you ready to overcome all the societal hurdles and stick to your decision of being what you want to be?” If others have been able to do it, so can you.