A lot of work has gone into empowering women and exposing them to basic freedoms and liberties that they were once denied; freedoms and liberties that men enjoy without question. But there're people, including some women who still think women shouldn't know or assert their rights.
There's a video (in pidgin) circulating on Facebook that ridicules women's rights, and suggests amongst other things that men living abroad travel to Africa to marry women out of pity. The video titled "I know my rights issue... married women watch out!!!" slams women who start asserting their rights the moment they are taken abroad by their husbands. According to the author of the video -- who happens to be a woman -- women who claim "I know my rights" will get in trouble. She slams women who refuse to do strenuous work, refuse to give birth to children or clean the house. The author goes on to encourage men to take such women back to their country of origin and seize their passports.
The video has been widely shared on Facebook, and the views expressed in it seem to have a lot of support from men and women alike, mostly Africans. But as an African man, I am not buying the video despite the fact that it puts African men on a pedestal.
In my view, the video is insulting to women and represents a setback in the struggle for women's empowerment. There're a host of reasons why African men living abroad travel to Africa to marry. Pity is not one of them. The massive number of thumbs up the video enjoys, despite its loud and condescending tone, is an indication that there's still a lot of work to be done in the fight against the subjugation of women.
It's socially irresponsible to condemn women who claim their rights. Even more irresponsible is advocating something as illegal as the seizure of women's passports by men. Passport seizure is a sinister tactic employed by perpetrators of despicable international crimes such as human trafficking. It shouldn't be advocated. Criminal passport seizures are designed to abuse and control victims by violating their right to free movement. No man has the legal authority to take his wife for "vacation" abroad and seize her passport in order to stop her from returning.
No woman, in my view, should be forced to answer "yes sir" to a man and spend the rest of her life in a subjugated and unhappy state simply because he helped her move to Europe or the United States. In the same vein, no man should live in subjugation for the same reason. I'm not advocating violation of matrimonial vows per se. I advocate mutual respect of rights and freedoms, including freedom to terminate a relationship.
Women's rights is considered a foreign issue in many developing communities, especially among men. This, in my view, explains why many African men support the views expressed in the video in question. Although many men commonly point to culture to justify the treatment of women, the truth is that men kick against women's rights simply because it's in their interest to do so. Culture is just a cover story. Many cultures that diminish the status of women, including cultures that promulgate acts like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are hinged on patriarchal customary practices that place men above women. Such cultures, in my perspective, are repugnant and worthy of repeal.
Some progress has been made in the battle for women's rights and gender equality. But there's still a lot of work to be done. There're still too many people (women included) who think, erroneously of course, that a woman shouldn't have a say, a woman must clean the house and a woman must have babies -- because that's what the man wants. Very few consider what the woman wants.
There're still communities where women are denied basic rights such as the right to education. Boys are sent to school while girls stay at home and take care of domestic chores or forced into early marriage. Women in some areas can't inherit property. According to the Wall Street Journal, for instance, the government of India amended the Asian country's Inheritance Laws in 2005 to allow women inherit their parent's property, but the law seems to be having little impact -- as a survey found that just one in eight women whose parents own land inherit any of it.
Women should know and assert their rights. We -- men on our part need to man up and stop seeing women who know their rights as threats to the delusional authority bestowed on us by society simply because we're men. Women are not a threat. They're just like many of us who know our privileges, and assert them -- sometimes to the detriment of women.
There're a good number of women across cultures who give up some of their rights in order to save their relationships. Few men, if any, do. It should be a matter of choice. Hence women who chose not to do so shouldn't be ridiculed.
It was Nelson Mandela who said, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another." Although Mandela spoke in relation to racial discrimination his aforementioned words are relevant in the battle against all forms of discrimination and oppression, including inequality faced by women and girls.
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