Tuesday, 8 March 2016

International Women's Day

Today marks International Women's Day. And, to that I say: Uganda - 1, Canada - 0. But before that, let me channel my previous blogging skills to talk briefly about the significance of this day. 

International Women's Day (IWD) was first observed in 1911, following New York's 1909 declaration of Women's Day. According to the event's official website, IWD is a "global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women." There's a great timeline included on this site that shares the progression of IWD, if you're interested. And, like many other international days this one comes with a yearly theme. This year is all about Gender Parity - an important issue. You can check out this year's campaign page and take the pledge to seek gender parity.

But, let's get back to business... Here in Uganda, I have witnessed the gender gap almost daily in my position. I'm not talking about an inequality within my workplace, but in the subject matter my organization is trying to tackle. One of my co-workers is working almost exclusively on women's rights in agriculture. You see, when it comes to agriculture, women are secondary - even though they do the majority of the work in this sector. Obtaining land, although technically legal, is extremely difficult for women. Traditionally, land is gained through inheritance or family connections - and usually from father to son, as it's very rare the inheritance would be transferred to a daughter, or even wife. But even when land is purchased, it is still difficult for a woman to be granted the deed. This is partly because access to money and other financial and non-financial supports are far more limited to them than men.  Yet, women do the majority of the work in the field. Most men are only responsible for ploughing at the beginning of the season and rearing livestock, should the household take on such a project. Women, on the other hand, plant, weed, harvest, and are also usually the ones taking their products to market. On top of that, they're running the household. This includes daily maintenance/chores, food preparation, and child rearing, to name a few.

Now, I know, the above paragraph probably calls into question why I'm stating that International Women's Day gives one point to Uganda over Canada, the United States, or even the UK. Well, I'll tell you. While the above issues certainly leave much room for improvement, I'm writing this post from the comfort of my home in the middle of a work-week afternoon. Why, you ask? Because this day is recognized as a public holiday in Uganda - meaning it's a day off. Now, I get that even though this day has been declared a public day off, women across the country are still hard at work preforming their daily routine. This is especially true of those women in rural Uganda. But still, I will argue that the very notion that the Government here has chosen to recognize the significance of this day is a step up from what we, in the West, have.

I'm not saying that this makes us better or worse, either. But, this situation reminds me an awful lot of my experience of Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan) in Ghana almost two years ago. I asked my host-Mom why everyone was celebrating, even though many were not Muslim. And her explanation was simple and still humbles me. She said - and I'm paraphrasing - that they celebrate with us at Christmas time, it's only fair we join them during their celebrations.

I have fielded many a question and comment about Africa being backwards, and that, my friends, doesn't seem so backwards to me. Globally, we have a long way to go on a number of issues. I don't think it's fair to claim one area isn't up to par with another because it doesn't necessarily mirror what we might identify success or progress with. BUT there's a reason I seek living on this continent for the long haul... and it's not because of the constant sunshine.

That being said, I think gender parity is only one of a range of inequities we need to close the gap on. Aside from the gender challenges, what about parity of race, religion, or sexuality? How is it 2016 and we're still dumbfounded on the same things we've - as a global society - been trying to solve for hundreds of years? When are we going to learn that despite these identifiers, we're all the same. No one is better or worse than anyone else, because well, why should those aspects matter in the grand scheme of things? This isn't to undermine their importance, but to highlight that at some point we're going to need to realize that none of those things makes a person harmful or a threat. It might make them a bit different from oneself, as far as our outlook or understanding of the world is concerned, but it doesn't make them wrong.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, we all just need to take a breath and hug it out. And here's my favourite pep talk to get us through... Enjoy.

But to leave things a bit more positively, I'd like to wish all the wonderful ladies in my life, near and far, with me in presence or in spirit a Happy International Women's Day!

-the Orange Canadian

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