Let us appreciate our women more
Ghanaian women are making incredible strides. Of course, we have always done more than our share to nurture new life, create a home, and generate resources with whatever our hands found. Our mothers did this while dreaming of being more than a spouse’s helper.
They dreamt of going to school, becoming innovators and fulfilling their destinies. The main hurdle it seems is that we are trying to make our way in a world designed by men for men.
What! I can hear some men screaming, “You must be joking”. After the Beijing conference, men will tell you that they feel women have the upper hand in everything. While it is true that in response to global and local initiatives, our domestic policies are making an effort to reflect a gender balance at every level, we still have a long way to go.
Our female movers and shakers still make the headlines because of how few they are. Scroll through the list of Ghana’s Club 100 group of companies and women barely make an appearance. When you come into public office, this trend continues.
One can argue that in the last few decades, the concerted effort made to bridge the enrolment and graduation gap between boys and girls in schools has yielded fruit. How does this translate into women getting an equal chance to live up to their full potential? Until recently, female and male roles were pretty well defined.
The man brought home the bacon and the woman managed the home. Any income she earned only served as an extra cushion for the household. Her main role was supporting her husband’s ambitions by making the home a haven for him.
I must admit that as a homemaker, she did wield a lot of influence. She brought up her children, managed her household budget to meet all their domestic needs while planning for the future. A wise man learned to respect his wife’s opinion if he wanted his household to prosper.
As the opportunities for women to earn good money in various endeavours have increased, the underlying structures have unfortunately stayed put. Wives would send off their husbands with a good breakfast and have a hot dinner ready in the evening after work. The man could concentrate on his work all day and not have to worry about the home at all.
A working wife however has to go to work and handle the home at the same time. While her male colleagues are concentrating fully on their work, she cannot help but wonder about the evening meal, and the other duties she will have to handle after work. None of these is factored into the typical workday.
Her burden is worsened if she is a nursing mother or has young children in day care. She may have to find little opportunities to express her milk, breastfeed or tend to a demanding child. Often the working world makes little accommodation for a pregnant worker since a healthy pregnancy is not considered a disability.
Juggling both worlds can put tremendous stress on the woman. We do not recognize these burdens because they fall outside the scope for appropriate professional conduct.
Society’s ideas about the role of a woman have not changed even while recognizing her right to work outside the home.
It is therefore remarkable that many women are making giant strides professionally while building her families. You would assume that her husband and male colleagues will applaud their achievements but her success often poses a threat to them. Since men continue to define themselves primarily by their work and their roles as providers, they may feel threatened if they believe a woman is encroaching on their territory.
It should then not be shocking that many men feel a loss of purpose when their wives are earning more or doing better professionally. This may explain why many successful women remain unmarried or get divorced as they rise up the professional ladder. The man can no longer find a meaningful role in her life as a provider or protector.
The two-parent family remains the best environment for bringing up well-adjusted children who can take up the challenges of the future. We have to find the best solution to manage the complexities posed by these evolving roles. We may need to begin asking ourselves whether it is possible to redefine what manhood and womanhood mean. Can our men continue to contribute substantially to the family even if they are not the major breadwinner?
I am often saddened that for women to keep their marriages intact, they often have to play down their own talents and avoid highlighting their achievements. This has led to many brilliant women relinquishing promising careers because she has to put her husband’s career above her own. Her husband may ask her to allow him to get to a particular level before she can pursue her dreams.
Is it really so difficult for men to celebrate their women while remaining secure in their manhood? Sometimes a man may not even ask his wife to make this decision. She volunteers to do so to keep her family intact. Alas, despite her success at work, most women first define their success by the stability of their family life. Can both husbands and wives not help each other to progress steadily?
I suggest that the superior position occupied by men in the family and professional sphere places them in the best position to make a change. As heads of the family, they can continue to encourage their wives to push through the social and professional barriers she may face.
They can help her plan how to handle the daily pressures of managing the home and her work. They can also drive the debate to advocate work policies that acknowledge her unique characteristics as a working woman and mother.
I hope that this would create a more equitable environment where women can thrive at home, work, and everywhere else.