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The Women's Rights movement is one of the biggest and longest-running struggles for freedom in the world. From the women suffrage movement to the third wave of feminism, it has been around 100 years of agitation. To this day, women still have to jump through hoops to get the same privileges that men enjoy. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, an important moment of reflection.
First things first
Before going any further, I’ll just mention here that I think it is ridiculous for more than half of the human population to have to fight to be treated equally. The fact that the discrimination is being based on something as out of everyone’s control as their gender makes it even more ridiculous.
Sexual and reproductive health matters
At the root of the women's rights movement is the issue of reproductive health, where women carry a bigger burden than men. So, even outside of work, a woman has to contend with more societal pressures about the way they act, how they dress, and how they interact with others.
Apart from these biological issues are social perceptions and expectations about sex that often complicate a woman’s life. Not to forget that governments (run by men) have taken it upon themselves to dictate how a woman handles her own body. In sexual and reproductive matters, more remains to be done.
Women in Africa
In the short history of post-independent Africa, women in various African countries have enjoyed a mixed bag of leadership involvement. Some countries have been seriously committed to women rights while others are the exact opposite.
In Africa, however, another factor comes into play as well, namely the concept of African Masculinities. With a powerful role model in Thomas Sankara, African masculinity seeks to turn gender relations away from the standards set by the Western world.
But this is not to say that women have it easy in Africa. Black women still suffer doubly as black people and as black women. And even during Thomas Sankara’s time, it was not all sunshine and rainbows in Africa. After all, Sankara was just one leader in a sea of leaders who followed in the exclusionist tracks left by colonialists.
All in all more needs to be done to ensure that women are not left behind in the new African dispensation. As Africa takes shape, we have the opportunity to fix women empowerment firmly into the African way of doing things.
Challenging the status quo
All women's rights movements are a protest against a system that has historically chosen who to favour and who to exploit. Whether in Europe, Asia, the Americas, or Africa, women have had to face up to a system that does not accord them with the same dignity as their fellow humans. If you listen long enough, you will realize that the issues that the women are fighting; pay inequality, reproductive health freedom, etc are just the tip of the iceberg.
Sankara once said that women's silence over mistreatment is deafening. Even with the feminist movement in full gear today, there is still the distinct impression that the roar of the woman is just starting. A lot more changes are to come in this area.
The Women who Choose to challenge
As men, it is impossible to understand how difficult women really have it in life. The best that men can do is to listen and rent support to the fight. A good example (and one that must be wearing really thin by now) is New Zealand's Prime Minsiter Jacinda Ardern. Even as the head of state, she still has to take care of her family – often at the world stage. No male leader has ever had to worry about nappies and feeding the baby while addressing the world. To do all this and still crush the COVID-19 battle is absolutely herculean.
In a world that is growing increasingly fragmented, women leaders bring a refreshing dose of compassion in leadership. Even in business, women business leaders are more empathetic than men. It is no surprise, therefore, that many women-led businesses are in the social entrepreneurship space. For example, out of 4 women we selected for our #ChooseToChallenge at Qazini.com, 3 are in social businesses.
The stories of women conquering barriers are so inspirational because they have to do it in a world designed with them out of the room – and out of mind. But through business, women have a new opportunity to decide what they want the future to look like. Even beyond choosing to challenge the system, women have a new opportunity to determine what the future will be like not just for them, but for the world at large.
The way forward
The women's rights movement has been here a while, but I wager that the real changes are just starting. Today, women are bolder, better informed, and intrinsically empowered. All around the world, women are pushing the boundaries, breaking glass ceilings, and kicking ass. Progress can only be positive.
At the end of the day, the fight for women's rights is not just a women’s fight. It is the fight of all those who care about all that is proper and right – and a battle for the very soul of our world.