Monday, August 10, 2009

We learn to discriminate: Unlearning the Gender Learning

For the past decade, many development discourses have taken name from the happenings and incidents around the globe and every day we are witness of a new term describing a particular situation. Although there are reasons behind creating a discourse and then using it for self-promoting purposes, we never look into the root causes of those happenings and incidents in our surroundings. The terms as “violence against women”, “Women’s rights”, “child rights”, “gender inequality”, “discrimination against women and girls” and many more are quiet commonly used discourse to describe the terrible conditions of women and girls around the world particularly within the so-called third world countries.

Governments, civil society, profit and non-profit sectors, and activists are striving hard to introduce laws to prevent violence against women and children, to raise public awareness on affects of violence in the communities, doing a lot of advocacy, and lobbying for social justice social inclusion. However, we hardly look at the grass root causes of violence and discrimination against women and children in our communities, by our communities I mainly focus on patriarchal South Asian and Middle East countries. Have we ever thought that we learn to discriminate and violate rights of another human being particularly of women and girls? Have we ever thought that it is only us individuals who can strengthen social justice within our families and communities?

Violence against women and girls is not generated automatically from any community or individual, there is a systematic process of gender learning. By gender learning, I mean that we learn the expected and accepted characteristics for women and men in our communities from birth to death. We all learn how to behave and treat women and men in our society through the socialization process that takes place during the living cycle of human beings. In the process of socialization, girls and boys are given a very clear skeleton to fit themselves in those skeletons with particular characteristics in order to be socially accepted individuals. Let’s look at the family structures, we teach our daughters to play with the pink dress dolls, never go out otherwise boys will hurt you and people will laugh on us and we will lose our honor, and teach girls how to cook well so that her in laws will be happy with her. At the same time, we teach the brother of that girl in her presence that you are a man, our protector, our landlord and it is up to you how you protect the family honor, which is usually linked to women’s clothing, their education and their marriage.

I am usually amazed when my parents insist that whenever I go out I take my 12-year-old brother because I need a man to protect me in the society. It is obvious that from this age he starts to learn that he is superior to his sisters and even older sisters and he is the one that can save and protect his sisters, so he gets out of his way to protect his sisters at any cost ignoring her rights and identity.

We do not pay enough attention to the small issues during the childhood of our kids that will shape their mentality about themselves and their opposite sex for the rest of their lives. A small example is that when a boy cries, we condemn him saying” come on, you are not a girl, don’t cry like girls, it is a shame!” this is where we teach the lesson of girl’s inferiority to our sons and boys. We teach our boys that girls cry because they are weak and inferior while boys are superior and should not behave like girls. When our kids play around with each other we console them “Shame on you, you are playing with girls?” The honor and shame is usually associated with the lives of girls around us and from an early age our boys learn to be the gatekeepers of the honor and shame that is only related to girls.

We never teach our children the lesson of unity with their sisters and brothers, the lesson of respect that if your sister polishes your shoes, you should also iron her school dress to be courteous and kind to her. We need to teach our boys and sons that she is not there to serve you as a maid, she is your sister, your partner who should benefit equally and fairly from everything that you enjoy in life. We seldom remember that women and men need each other in every sphere of life and their lives are interdependent to each other, they both have different responsibilities, needs and contributions and we need to appreciate the diversity that shapes human life rather than despising the difference!

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