Have you ever thought of the roles and responsibilities in societies? How they are “given” to women and “taken” by men?
As we live in a very diverse world, societal norms are different from place to place and from country to country. Such discrepancy is created because of the agents of socialisation, which include family, peers, school, work and social media. They play a significant role in shaping an individual into contemporary societal norms and values. They mould them to fit into society. These agents, however, being part of an ever-changing environment, will go through various and diverse changes due to discoveries, an improved way of thinking or life.
These agents, at some point in time, have defined and determined who will do what in a society and who will make decisions. Most societies, unfortunately, have allocated to men decisions they consider significant, and women have been relegated to the periphery. Gender roles are a manifestation of this.
There has long been a gendered division of labor, and it has existed both in foraging societies and in more socioeconomically complex societies. In the domestic sphere women have been engaged in the majority of routine domestic work and played the major caretaker role. In the workplace, women have tended to be employed in people-oriented, service occupations rather than things-oriented, competitive occupations, which have traditionally been occupied by men. This contrasting distribution of men and women into social roles, and the inferences it prompts about what women and men are like, give rise to gender stereotypical conceptions
Like any other society, Ethiopia has had a set of gender roles where there were distinct demarcations in which both sexes should proceed. This is describable in the daily encounters that manage to surprise us. What will amaze us more, a woman or a man who cannot cook? Are we as much surprised by a woman that cannot change a tyre as much as a guy that cannot do the same?
When we think of the things that women and men should be able to do, we have a clear distinction in our heads that we have inherited from societies’ imposition of such roles. Gender stereotypes often are internalized by men and women, and we therefore focus both on how men and women are seen by others and how they see themselves with respect to these stereotyped attributes.
Since childhood, boys are given “manly” tasks like playing football, changing car oil or farming out in the field, while girls are given “womanly” tasks such as making the bed, washing the dishes and playing indoors. They grow up with that set of mind.
This matter is all the more complicated by the fact few of us are appreciative of people or groups that stray from the norms set by society. When and if an individual or a faction within the society starts deviating from societal norms, they are considered abnormal and are ostracised. This is one of the reasons why even some of the clearest cut backward cultural artifacts, such as female genital mutilation, are still prevalent. People have a hard time letting go of a culture in which they have been raised.
Yet cultures, traditions and norms only exist as long as we allow them to. We must be able to choose what is good for all of us and reject what we know to be counterproductive. As we celebrate these 16days of activism, we must put our efforts in creating a fairer world, not one where half of the population thrives at the expense of the other half. We still have a way to go before all the components of traditional gender stereotypes fully dissipate, paving the way for people to judge themselves, and to be judged, on the basis of their merits, not their gender.