Women Empowerment And Affirmative Action
A few days ago, I read Nana Nwachukwu's exposé where she explains why affirmative action is unconstitutional in Nigeria. Let me crave your indulgence to quote extensively certain portions of Nwachukwu's work that triggered this essay:
From different female quarters, I have heard women demand
from 30% to 40% and even 50% representation in different
Government [sic] sectors. When women are given a chance, the
language is often "allowed".
Why do we want 40% representation? Are we not asking for
privileges? Are we not undermining ourselves?...What happens
if there is a man better qualified for that position?
(See: "Nana Nwachukwu Explains Why Affirmative Action is Unconstitutional in Nigeria" published on Ynaija.com)
The above views by Nwachukwu succinctly draw attention to a very important aspect of the female struggle namely, gender activists' inability to see that affirmative action does more to delimit the woman than actually uplift her. What affirmative action underscores is a desire to beg for hand-outs while subtly kick-starting a new trend of male emasculation or to put it more aptly, the emasculation of competence. As Nwachukwu asks, "what happens if there is a man better qualified...?"
Sometime in 2003,during a feminism and gender studies lecture at the University of Port Harcourt,I expressed optimism that feminism/women rights in Africa has gotten to the point where theories are now being turned into action then I cited the examples of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Obiageli Ezekwesili, among others. Eleven years later, it is appalling to see that we have not yet moved beyond the stage of demanding that certain quotas be allotted to women in governance and public service(Okonjo-Iweala and Ezekwesili were clearly efforts--not that they were incompetent-- to give women a chance) . One expected that at this stage in the evolution of women rights movement, we should have long gone beyond the level of asking for a certain percentage of opportunities to be allotted to women. Such allotment does not show complementarity or equality among the sexes as we should be focused on, rather, it is a very pronounced means of masculine supremacy: the giver is always in a more powerful position. Indeed, in that vein, affirmative action becomes segregationist. It specifically points out the woman as a different and inferior person who deserves sympathy and thus has to be favoured( have we ever heard of African men asking for equal opportunities with women?)
I believe that the only way for women rights movements to move to the next level is for them to step up from the level of asking for hand-outs, and move to a new level of demanding for equal playing field where the woman and the man meet as intellectual peers(physical strength in today's world is rarely needed in key aspects of life, so the idea that the man is physically stronger is perhaps invalid).Once again, Nana Nwachukwu captures this well:
I was thinking and hoping that women would have risen
to demand that there should be a national database of
intellectuals...and rational means of competing for non-
elective position of authority in Nigeria...why are we not
asking for that? Why are we not demanding a level playing
field? Why are we asking for bits and pieces?...Let's ask for
a platform that guarantees merit...
Whether it be for non-elective or elective positions, asking to be favoured is to admit that you lack the merits to compete on a level playing field. Such action instead of edifying, encourages mediocrity and presents the woman as a perpetual slave of patriarchy who has refused to reject her culturally defined position of a receptacle.
Women are more than mere receptacles. African women are bold, intelligent and can hold their own against any man in the world. Affirmative action in its present state of "asking" cuts off from the knees, the quest for the revelation of the assertive African woman. Rather than follow this angle, the demand as Nana Nwachukwu affirms should be for a level playing field.
African women do not need hand-outs. What they need is to fight for the elimination of all the societal factors that delimit the woman. Factors such as the eradication of the belief that the man is the bread winner hence a woman once married can shelve her dreams. Factors such as the socially warped perception that women in politics are more or less prostitutes. Factors such as the belief that a rich woman is a threat to men hence women should not be "too" ambitious. These are what the focus should be on.
The focus should also be on re-orienting the next generation on the importance of women and the complementary role they play to men. Letting our children know that the girl-child is no different from the boy-child and thus each should complement the other. Who best to start and enforce this re-orientation than our mothers? The way you raise your child is mostly the way he or she will turn out to be, and women have greater influence over the upbringing of a child than men. Thus, the home should be fully used as a solid base for this re-education.
Barack Obama during his town hall address to the Mandela Washington Fellowship on the 28th of July,2014 asserts that ; "If you are a strong man, you should not feel threatened by a strong woman". I say that if you are a strong woman, you will never feel threatened by a man, and you will never ask for hand-outs from him.