Gender equality and equity are not new terms or creations. These are words often used in social justice circles, and recently, across a number of headlines.
The terms have become quite popular particularly in the domain of civil society organisations with focus on women and girls. In spite of the popularity of the terms, many people still misconstrue their meanings to mean that women and men or boys and girls will become the same. No! What the term, gender equality, simply means is that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. I hope you get it now? It is that simple.
On the other hand, gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs or peculiarities. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different, but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations, and opportunities.
Similarly, when we talk about opportunity, we are talking about ensuring that opportunity is not limited simply on the basis of one’s gender. No! We are simply talking about correcting gender biases so that economic outcomes improve for all.
Even though research has shown that women contribute substantially to the economy of the world, particularly in the African Continent, throughout the ages, these same women have been systematically excluded from decision-making spaces and programmes that affect their health and well-being.
Some studies have, for instance, estimated that based on the current progress, women will not achieve pay or leadership equality with men for at least another 170 years globally. This raises major concern for all individuals who care about the welfare of women and girls to take action to halt this systemic practices that hinder the development of women and girls, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa.
The Voix EssentiELLES initiative
As part of efforts to help correct the gender disparities and give women space to voice their views on issues that affect their very existence in francophone West and Central Africa, Speak Up Africa launched the Voix EssentiELLES in July 2021 to build the capacities and competencies of women and girls as well as women-led groups to contribute meaningfully to decision-making process on issues that affect their lives and wellbeing.
The initiative was to enable the participation of women and girls’ community-based and grassroot organisations, networks and leaders in decision-making platforms at different levels relevant for their health outcomes.
The Voix EssentiELLES initiative is co-funded by Fondation CHANEL and The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria.
It is the believe of Speak Up Africa “Voice, decision-making and leadership are vital factors for the empowerment of women” and that “These factors ensure that women can express their preferences, demands, views and interests, and that they can gain access to decision-making positions.”
Speak Up Africa is a Dakar-based policy and advocacy action tank dedicated to catalyzing leadership, enabling policy change, and increasing awareness for sustainable development in Africa.
Madam Patricia Isabella Essel is the Project Lead for Plan International Ghana’s programme, dubbed: “Women’s Voice and Leadership—Ghana Project.”
In her contribution to the subject, Madam Essel, said “gender equality is not a war of the sexes or anti male; both sexes have a stake in the struggle to ensure equity and equality as much as both can be victims.”
For her, gender equality does not mean that women and men, or girls and boys are the same and that women and men, girls and boys, have different but related needs and priorities, face different constraints, and enjoy different opportunities.
“From where I sit and with the organisation I work with, gender equality means that all persons, regardless of their gender, enjoy the same status in society; have the same entitlements to all human rights; enjoy the same level of respect in the community; can take advantage of the same opportunities to make choices about their lives; and have the same amount of power to shape the outcomes of these choices,” the gender activist, Madam Essel explained.
In her view, women and men are affected in different ways by policies and programmes and that a gender equality approach is about understanding these relative differences and intersecting identities, as well as appreciating that they are not rigid and can be changed.
Ultimately, she noted, promoting gender equality means transforming the power relations between women and men, girls and boys and individuals with different gender identities in order to create a more just society for all.”
For Madam Essel, “one part of a strategy to achieve gender equality is gender equity”, explaining that a gender equity approach is the deliberate process of being fair in order to produce equal and measurable outcomes.”
She added, “to ensure fairness, strategies and measures must often be available to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field.”
It is said that considering the current pace of progress in terms of bridging the gender gaps, it will potentially take 121.7 years to close in those gaps in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a major challenge that must be tackled from all angles by all stakeholders.
Rationale for gender equality & equity
Touching on the benefits of achieving gender equality and equity in Ghana, Madam Essel, said there are countless benefits in advancing gender quality and equity.
For her, gender equality and equity promote the enjoyment of human rights by all regardless of sex, race, colour, identity, language, and status etc., and added that “it ensures opportunities are not limited on the basis of gender. It helps to correct gender biases so that socio-economic outcomes improve the lives of everyone.”
Additionally, she noted, gender equality and equity influences and creates a more peaceful world, explaining that having a more inclusive means of both sex in decision making, for example, will promote a long-term, sustainable development, and peace.
“Everyone deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and gender equality helps create a world without limits. When steps are taken to advance gender equality, barriers are removed to create a world of infinite possibilities,” Madam Essel observed.
Plan International Ghana’s Women’s Voice and Leadership—Ghana Project Lead further noted that gender equality and equity promotes equal opportunity for both sexes to engage meaningfully in decision making process at all levels and that failure to include women and girls in decision-making processes often means that their concerns and protection risks are not addressed in Ghana’s overall response.
Similarly, she noted, achieving gender equality and equity will help to provide women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes, hence contributing to sustainable economies that benefit societies and humanity as a whole.
What Ghana needs to do?
Offering ways by which Ghana can achieve gender equality and equity, Madam Essel noted that there is the need to address the issue of ignorance, as well as increase awareness on gender norms.
She further observed that there is the need to prioritise gender equality and equity on the national agenda and put systems and structures in place to ensure they directly address the various inequalities that exist in the various areas, including but not limited to education, health, employment, access to productive resources, leadership and decision-making.
For her, strong policy direction and implementation are crucial to ensure that available policies are implemented to the later and “areas that are grey should have policies or legal framework in place for implementation, for example, passing the Affirmative Action Bill in Ghana to ensure parity in decision making processes.”
Madam Essel also called for gender sensitive educational structures, noting that “there has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress in retaining them as they get higher on the ladder has been slow.”
That, she added, “there is much to be done in the area of improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. This is critically important for girls to come out of schools as citizens who can shape a more equal society.”
For her, there is the need to engage and involve men and boys in the processes to ensure gender equality and equity in Ghana, adding that “there is the need to work hand in hand with men and boys, in line and in place with women and girls, in the promotion of gender equality.”
Madam Essel is of the view that “we need to stress that promoting gender equality is not about granting privileges to women while disempowering men. It is about creating integrated approaches that benefit all.”