Per­cep­tion shift for the girl child We need to re­con­struct our thought pat­terns to­wards chil­dren Two deadly sins Zim­bab­weans must es­chew

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Opin­ion/fea­ture - Gen­der

THIS week we saw an­other cel­e­bra­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Day of the Girl Child that was started by the UN. Cel­e­brat­ing and think­ing of the girl child is a no­ble idea but it is re­flec­tive of a prob­lem to me. I’m con­cerned by the fact that there was a no­table need for ad­vo­cacy and el­e­va­tion of the girl child by the UN over what we created in our dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties. Dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of sex, to an unas­sum­ing young child is un­be­com­ing. What con­cerns me even more is the way that the world around us marginalises chil­dren. I have a seven-yearold daugh­ter and I love her with all my heart as all par­ents do. When I look at her, I think of her fu­ture, I think of her present. I look at her as a child and not a girl. She doesn’t think there is any­thing wrong with her. And she shouldn’t, be­cause there is noth­ing wrong with be­ing a girl.

Peo­ple have de­bated over what caused the girl chil­dren to need a voice and to fight for sur­vival. There is no clear an­swer that came out of those dis­cus­sions. Per­son­ally, I blame cul­ture among other things. Some cul­tures do ar­ranged mar­riages, in­fring­ing on their right to free­dom. Some cul­tures im­pose fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, to make sure that they don’t en­joy sex. Some cul­tures do all sorts of strange things but cul­ture is set by so­ci­ety.

We make our own tra­di­tions in any given set­ting. The same is the case for morals. We de­fine what we call good and bad morals. Gen­der is the so­cial con­struc­tion of fem­i­nini­ties and mas­culin­i­ties and we de­fine that too. So what I’m ac­tu­ally say­ing is that we are to blame for po­si­tion­ing the girl child in a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion.

It starts as early as the preg­nancy. Upon be­ing told the sex of the child, a cou­ple is happy that the child is healthy, but they are dis­ap­pointed that the child is turn­ing out to be a girl and not a boy. That is the first prob­lem.

By the time she ar­rives, she is al­ready faced with neg­a­tive so­cial­i­sa­tion be­cause she is not the “right” sex. What is the right sex one might ask? Well ap­par­ently it’s the sex that car­ries the fam­ily name (I don’t know how the name would be car­ried with­out the girl). The sex that is strong. The sex that can achieve big things. The sex that can lead. The sex that should be­come a pi­lot, an en­gi­neer, a doc­tor or and ar­chi­tect. That sex is the male sex.

Cou­ples that have been try­ing to con­ceive un­suc­cess­fully for years are the ones who will take “what­ever” they can get. They would pre­fer a boy but even if a girl comes, it’s bet­ter than noth­ing right? What that means is that when they have a girl, they are merely re­lieved that at least they have a child. They don’t ac­tu­ally think of the chil­dren as the same.

There is noth­ing wrong with hav­ing a girl. As far as I know, the many gifts that a woman is blessed with are ben­e­fi­cial to so­ci­ety and the world would be painful with­out girls. So why do we treat girls the way we do? Why do we sac­ri­fice their ed­u­ca­tion for the sake of their broth­ers? Why do we have a prob­lem leav­ing them our in­her­i­tance?

Why do we sec­ond guess them when­ever they achieve some­thing? Why do we raise them with a lim­ited way of think­ing? Why do we en­cour­age them to go into ca­reers that are an ex­ten­sion of the fem­i­nine roles that we de­fine for them? Why do we el­e­vate mar­riage to the ul­ti­mate achieve­ment that can sub­sti­tute any­thing? Why do we at­tach such neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions to every­thing they try to achieve? When a girl be­comes a pi­lot, it be­comes news. Why? When a girl con­tin­ues to es­ca­late the cor­po­rate lad­der, why do we start to fear for her fu­ture? A girl should not achieve be­cause she will in­tim­i­date men away, re­ally? Is this be­cause girls are sup­posed to be teach­ers and nurses? But when a boy be­comes a nurse, they are en­cour­aged to try medicine be­cause nurs­ing is not for boys. It’s ac­tu­ally quite pa­thetic.

We, the so­ci­ety have killed the fu­ture. We have killed our girls. When we dis­crim­i­nate the girl child, we are cre­at­ing un­grate­ful, ego­tis­ti­cal boys who think the world owes them some­thing. We are cre­at­ing a world of non-tol­er­ance and non com­pas­sion. We are car­ry­ing on our judg­men­tal think­ing into the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions and at the end, there will be a larger va­ri­ety of fem­i­nists that base their move­ments on dif­fer­ent aspects that hur­dle their own lives.

The fact that we created this, means we can and should change it. Since gen­der is the so­cial con­struc­tion of fem­i­nini­ties and mas­culin­i­ties, and we had de­fined them in the wrong way, we can use the same gen­der to undo gen­der. We can start to not raise our eye­brows when a girl achieves.

We can start en­cour­ag­ing both girls and boys to be the best that they can be. Sci­ence based car­ri­ers should have a class that is gen­der bal­anced. When a chem­istry class is dom­i­nated by boys and when a food and nutri­tion class is dom­i­nated by girls that should raise an alarm to the high­est of­fice of the school. Girls should stay in school and if there are money prob­lems at home, there should be equal treat­ment of the chil­dren. No­body re­mains at home while the other one goes to school.

An­other prob­lem is that we pre­tend to have an out­rage about child mar­riages when they hap­pen. Why I say we pre­tend is that, we dis­cour­age the girls from achiev­ing, we so­cialise them in the ma­ter­nal box, so when they are faced with mar­riage, it’s not a shocker be­cause they are even­tu­ally go­ing to go that di­rec­tion. If a girl passes a cer­tain age church ladies start ques­tion­ing why they are still not mar­ried. It’s like mar­riage is the ul­ti­mate achieve­ment that in­val­i­dates ev­ery other achieve­ment.

If you fail to fur­ther your ed­u­ca­tion in ter­tiary school, but are mar­ried it will be “ok” be­cause you are some­one’s wife. You can start hav­ing your own chil­dren and pass on the ridicu­lous ten­den­cies. When you are an in­de­pen­dent woman, suc­cess­ful, happy to be alone, you are prayed for be­cause some­thing is wrong with you and ed­u­ca­tion is blamed for ex­tin­guish­ing your in­ter­est in mar­riage.

I have seen girls that did not see any­thing wrong with be­ing mar­ried and it’s only later that I un­der­stood why. When they are grow­ing up they are told to wash clothes nicely “so that your hus­band will not chase you away”. Cook nicely, don’t burn your food oth­er­wise “your man will beat you and send you back”.

So she then grows up think­ing that she is just a com­mod­ity that should please the per­son that will own them. If they don’t grow up to be owned, they don’t mind be­ing some­one’s 3rd or 4th wife, as long as they are mar­ried. We do this to our girls and we should stop it.

I will end by say­ing that chil­dren are a her­itage and are gifts from God. Both girls and boys. We need to re­con­struct our thought pat­terns to­wards chil­dren. We should start by trea­sur­ing our girls at the scan that tells us it’s a girl. When we have them we should not treat them any dif­fer­ently from boys.

We should con­tinue to re­peat that they can be any­thing they want to be. We should not even men­tion to them that they are dif­fer­ent from boys be­sides their bi­o­log­i­cal re­pro­duc­tive parts. Girls should not be so­cialised for mar­riage be­cause mar­riage needs no qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

Any­one can get mar­ried. Suc­cess on the other hand has re­quire­ments, and they are ed­u­ca­tion and pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence. Not any­one can achieve that. Only the girls that are raised the right way grow up to be achiev­ers and we should take our po­si­tions in play­ing that part.

Con­grat­u­la­tions to the 18-year-old young lady who grad­u­ated re­cently at the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe! To all the girls, Happy Be­lated Girl Child Day, although we trea­sure you and cel­e­brate you ev­ery sin­gle day!

Tsun­gai Chek­erwa-Ma­chokoto can be reached on tsungi­ma­chokoto@gmail.com.

South Su­dan, Africa’s new­est state is vir­tu­ally torn apart by tribal or eth­nic strife with peo­ple be­ing gunned down, their homes razed to the ground or flee­ing to seek refuge in safe United Na­tions fa­cil­i­ties or flee­ing to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries to save their lives with back at home crop fields not be­ing worked with the re­sult that hunger will con­tinue to stalk in­no­cent peo­ple who just a while ago thought they had created them­selves a haven of peace by break­ing away from the Su­dan.

It there­fore be­hooves on all peace-lov­ing Zim­bab­weans and, ul­ti­mately on the gov­ern­ment which has re­port­edly de­nounced trib­al­ism, to make it ab­so­lutely cer­tain that trib­al­ists of what­ever po­lit­i­cal or other rank­ing will find no breath­ing space, but will in­stead suf­fo­cate, in a so­ci­ety averse to tribal or eth­nic machi­na­tions.

The suc­cess of this na­tion as a peace­ful and lawabid­ing peo­ple, or its demise as cor­rupt or trib­ally di­vided, re­mains squarely on the shoul­ders and the hearts of each and ev­ery one who prides them­selves on be­long­ing in Zim­babwe.

Of course, God’s mercy and grace will al­ways be vis­ited upon those who re­gard other peo­ple as be­ing equal be­fore the eyes of our Cre­ator in whose im­age and like­ness hu­man be­ings were created.

Thus, when chil­dren are quar­ried from their par­ents they should be raised with in­struc­tion to love one an­other and to know that any­one who acts against the State also acts against God.

The fear of God is paramount here as it begets the fear of the law and that of all evil in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion, trib­al­ism and other, neg­a­tive isms that are detri­men­tal to love, peace and sta­bil­ity in a na­tion by nour­ish­ing the an­i­mal in men.

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