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Opinions Mon, 22 Feb 2010

The plight of women in our society

IN Ghana today, most women are discriminated against in jobs, pay, education and welfare. Most women are financially dependent on a man, and without assistance, carry the burden of looking after children and caring for the sick and old. Society's perception formers’- ranging from judges to journalists, cabinet ministers to advertising copywriters, take it for granted that women are inferior. In hindsight, they reduce all women, whatever their occupation, experience, Politics or interests to one dimension, sex, and judge them by whether they measure up to what men desire.

Society gives credence to the assertion of women natural role to look after home and children and men role as bread winners. Inevitably, in order to keep up with these domestic duties, women are expected to give up everything else; education, work (or at least decent, well-paid work), and outside interests of all kinds, including political activity. A woman is expected to devote herself virtually to the care of a man, her children and parents when they get old.


In practice, the vast majority of women do what is expected of them and lavish a great deal of love and care on their families, often in very difficult circumstances, thus, the society assumes that women are stupid, or at least simple-minded, unable to understand what goes on outside the home. Most women are economically dependent on men because they cannot carry the burden of household tasks and hold on to a decently paid full-time job as well, but the society says that women are dependent on men because they are weak and helpless without them. Even when women are doing something else alongside their domestic duties, society still obtusely see them as domestic servants.


It is worth mentioning that the odds remain stacked against women regardless of their relentless strides to keep up with men. Succinctly put, a school of thought frets if women dominate the labour force rather than mind their children, this will boost GDP but create negative social externalities, such as a lower birth rate. Yet developed countries where more women work, such as Sweden and America, actually have higher birth rates than Japan and Italy, where women stay at home (the economist print edition, April 2006).


Others fear that women's move into the paid labour force can come at the expense of children. Yet the evidence for this is mixed. What is clear is that in countries such as Japan, Germany and Italy, which are all troubled by the demographics of shrinking populations, far fewer women work than in America, let alone Sweden. If female labour-force participation in these countries rise to American levels, it would give a helpful boost to these countries' growth rates.


On the other hand, in developing countries where girls are less likely to go to school than boys, investing in education would deliver huge economic and social returns. Not only will educated women be more productive, but they will also bring up better educated and healthier children.

More women in government could also boost economic growth: studies show that women are more likely to spend money on improving health, education, and infrastructure and poverty and less likely to waste it on tanks and bombs.


It used to be said that women must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Yet young women are encouraged to see marriage and the family as their only aims in life, and are discouraged from learning most skills or studying the same subjects as boys. They are pointed in the direction of jobs such as typing, packing and assembling to 'fill in' the time till they get married and have babies. Then they marry with high expectations of family life--but it doesn't work out like the ideal family of the advertisers' dreams, especially when money is short and a husband's job insecure.


Most women are trapped in the family. However much they love their husbands and children, they know they have little choice about it. It is harder for a woman than for a man to get out of a marriage that has gone wrong, and most women whose marriages break down are left to bring up children on their own with little or no support.


On top of that, many women are trapped in their homes by violence or the threat of it. Some men end up beating the woman they live with because they are ground down at work or don't have enough money to meet their family's needs--they make women suffer for what isn't their fault, and most women have no way of fighting back and nowhere to turn to when this happens. What kind of society is it that puts women in this position? Only a society that insists that the family is 'private', and that women belong to the men they marry as if they were pieces of property, whatever the law now says.


In rape, women are exposed to a kind of violence which men don't face, perhaps the most humiliating of all. Women are encouraged to look sexy and attractive to men, and to feel as free as men to enjoy themselves--a freedom long overdue after centuries of a double standard for men and women--but when an attractive woman is raped most men think she must have been 'asking for it'. How can women feel free when this is going on?

In our society, women don't have equality, they don't have freedom, and they don't even have respect in any meaningful sense. What can be done about it? Women have to be able to fight back, for themselves and for the future of all women. This doesn't mean an out-and-out conflict with all men all of the time. Separatism--the view that women can fight for liberation only on their own and against men--is a counsel of despair and a way of dividing women and men still further. Women have a right to organise with men to fight against the society that keeps us all down, to make men see that the world has to be changed. This doesn't mean that women can't organise their own meetings, demonstrations, pickets or whatever, when appropriate-- we have that right, too--but we should be trying to reunite women and men in the struggle for socialism.


The people who have power in our society--governments and employers--want to keep men and women divided. They want women not to think about what is wrong with the world and, even more, not to do anything about it. Luckily that is not so difficult.


The discrimination against women is a quagmire which requires the attention of the society. The question is, why does class struggle matter for women's liberation?


K.BADU.

Columnist: Badu, K.