SUMIN NAMAGANDA: Rather than fear women, fear the bullets they must dodge to earn the esteem they deserve

I say fear the work that goes into being a woman. For it is too much work.

‘Fear women!’ Goes the cliché slang that has become commonplace in online conversations. Despite the casual way it is touted, the phrase often carries misogynistic undertones because 99.9 percent of the time, the context is relationships.

What normalizing this blanket phrase does is, reduce the potential, strengths and enormous responsibility that come with being a woman to just biases that isolated men hold based on their experiences relating with women or even their perceptions based on what they have read online.

I say fear the work that goes into being a woman. For it is too much work.

To appreciate this, one must consider how far Uganda has come towards achieving gender parity. From the era when school was a luxury to the girl child, to the time when certain foods (such as chicken) were a preserve of men, to when women weren’t allowed to sit at the same table as men or when it was taboo for women to be formally employed.

Realizing the empowerment that women in Uganda enjoy today has taken hard work – legislation, political will, radical activism, years of mindset change, and progressive thinking ushered in by civilization. All this is often against the will of conservative cultures oiled by patriarchy.

Despite the progress made, women still occupy fewer key positions of power. Fewer women entrepreneurs have access to financial services. Fewer girls transition to and complete secondary education. On average, four million girls enroll in primary education but less than one million transition to secondary education.

Although the transition from primary to secondary is at 68.5 percent, only one in three girls completes Senior Four.

Eighteen percent of the annual births in Uganda in 2021 were because of teenage pregnancies and one in four adolescent girls aged 15-19 years have begun childbearing and therefore live as teenage mothers.

Women make up only 40 percent of all business owners, according to World Bank’s Economic Update 2021.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2022, the overall participation of women in high positions of power remains low. Women hold only 37 percent of senior management positions in the private sector and only 36.2 percent in the public sector.

There is just too many hoops to jump and many obstacles to maneuver for a girl to complete school, let alone find a meaningful job or start an enterprise, for her to compete favorably with the men.

All this while contending with the pressures that are biological, physical, and societal.

A working woman has the same hours in a day as their male counterpart. She gets the same KPIs. Except, some organizations forbid her from getting pregnant, lest she lose her job. On top of that, she is ten times more likely to be harassed sexually than her male workmates. The same men never have to worry that turning down sexual advances from their bosses could cost them a promotion.

Then there is the issue of inequality in pay. And the patriarchal bias that limits women from getting considered for certain roles.

I have argued with men who reason that balancing work and life is not a challenge peculiar to women. Until I asked them to cite a day that they had a bad day at work, or their output was affected by how their body was acting. Not when they had a random migraine or a cold, but a condition they had to contend with every so often under the gender they were prescribed by birth. Suddenly they were dumb.

Enters societal expectations. From how much bodyweight you can keep, to the age cap within which you must have conceived a child and be successful in your career (because that’s why your parents took you to school) while at the same time equally fulfilling your traditional roles including being a present parent.

The hoops! Yet all that some of the women who are lucky to break the glass ceiling at work have been rewarded with is constant blame and guilt-tripping from their insecure partners.

If only we could use this Women’s Month to take off the prejudiced lenses and for once, try to see things from a different perspective.

Growing up, women must jostle for a seat at the table of men. But the seat isn’t the endgame. It is only the beginning. Rather than fear women, fear the bullets they must dodge to earn the esteem they deserve.

The writer is Senior Manager Corporate Affairs at Uganda Development Bank

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