The debate between gender equity and gender equality has been raging since the times of our foremothers. We know for a fact that due to the historical and social disadvantages that women have suffered for so long, many a time, there is the real need to support women to come up to a level where they are able to undertake, as per Caroline Moser, their reproductive, productive and community management roles in a manner that adds to society and to their worth as individuals.
My favorite African heroines, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Madam Dlamini Zuma have proved that women’s contributions make a difference in our lives.
Whilst gender equity has been defined as equal treatment simpliciter, equality, on the other hand, leans towards the notice of fairness and justice. The analogy is one of two children, one who is healthy and the other who is malnourished. The malnourished child deserves to get extra nutritious food and care whilst the healthy child must be maintained to ensure she continues to be healthy. That is equality.
Similarly, gender equality and gender equity have a clear distinction. Treating women on par with males when it comes to property rights when it comes to job and promotion when it comes to economic and social independence is gender equity.
While providing women with affirmative actions in a patriarchal society, providing them leave accompanied with salary when they are pregnant, providing prenatal to neonatal to postnatal care, providing better health care as they are more prone to calcium deficiency in the post-menopause phase, etc. constitute gender equality.
I would like to celebrate some of the greatest inventions that have supported the gender equality paradigm to make women more able to compete in the public sphere.
In no particular order, here they are;
The Washing Machine
The renowned economist and author, Ha Joon Chang, is of the opinion that the computer is not the greatest invention of the 20th Century. He postulates, and I wholeheartedly support his hypothesis, that this award should be given to …….drumroll…….the washing machine. This invention relieved women of the burdensome but necessary, time-consuming but important chore of repetitiously washing clothes, wringing them, drying, and ironing.
An informal study of almost 600 women done in the UK reveals that women now spend only about 18 hours a week on housework as compared to 44 hours a week in the 1960s. This reduction can be attributed to the introduction of technology such as the dishwasher!!
By freeing the woman of this burden, she is able to put her mind and body to use of other equally important areas such as studying to pass an exam, learning a trade, or applying for a job.
More and more in Africa, the washing machine is becoming a staple in most homes, (provided you have stable electricity and can pay the exorbitant electricity bills). It is a fact that not all African cloths can be washed in the washing machine without some form of shrinkage, but the utility that the washing machine provides goes a long way to reduce the drudgery of washing.
The Food Blender
I remember learning how to grind pepper with two stones. One stone is large, smooth, and flat and the second small stone is shaped in the form of a small cylinder the size of milk tin. Through a complicated process that most African women are aware of, pepper, tomatoes, and all other vegetables are ground into a smooth paste for cooking. The downside of using your bare hands to grind, especially pepper was that for the rest of the day, the residual pepper burns your fingers. A most uncomfortable sensation!
The Kitchen blender solves this problem in an efficient way. Food can be chopped, ground, mixed, crushed, squeezed, and sliced effectively without substantial damage to any body part. This invention also ensured that food is cooked timeously, hygienically, and is aesthetically pleasing. The time that is saved from these arduous tasks can be applied to other equally important tasks such as reading a book or learning a trade or searching for a job. I look forward to when the fufu pounding machine and the palm oil dehusker will also become a staple in Ghanaian kitchens. Other inventions in the same category are rice cookers, the fridge, and the microwave.
The Disposable Diaper
Did you know the disposable diaper was invented by a woman? All hail Valerie Hunter Gordon, who invented the disposable diaper in the 1940s. This seemingly innocuous invention revolutionalised child care forever and saved mothers from a lifetime of soaking, disinfecting, and then washing every single diaper used by a child. We love our children to bits, but not the tasks that accompany such a tiny bundle of joy! Kudos to Mama Val who died in 2016 at the ripe age of 94! Other inventions in this category include the pacifier, the baby rocker, the sanitary towel, and all other disposables such as spoons, plates, napkins, and cups.
The Gas Cooker
This cooking appliance has saved thousands of lives, especially African lives. The statistics are startling. WHO estimates that 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass and that over 4 million people (mostly women) die prematurely from illnesses attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. Further, the report states that more than 50 % of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 are caused by particulate matter or soot inhaled as a result of household air pollution.
Clean fuels such as gas, therefore, provide a welcome alternative to extend the lives of women and children. The drudgery of spending time to light firewood and tend the fire to an appreciable heat level is also drastically reduced as just a spark can ignite the gas cooker (be careful!!). Other inventions in this category the clean cookstoves, electric stoves, and microwaves.
The Cesarean Section
The Caesarean section has been part of human culture for ages however before modern times this relatively simple procedure almost always resulted in the death of the mother. The perfection of the C-Section technique by modern physicians has ensured that more mothers survive childbirth and continue to lead successful lives as mothers, caregivers, and active citizens. The pain and apprehension of a pregnant woman who is scheduled to undergo a C-section have been greatly reduced by the introduction of modern medicine, a hygienic environment, antiseptics, and anesthesia. It is now normal for women to elect to have their babies by C-section and to have as many as four babies by this procedure. Other upgrades and inventions in this category are ultrasound scans, improvement in hygienic surgery methods, anesthesia, and various pain medications to support women through pregnancy and childbirth.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, better known as the Maputo Protocol, guarantees comprehensive rights to women. This protocol was adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2005 after it had been signed and ratified by the required 15 member nations. It seeks to provide holistic protection of the rights of women to enjoy fully a social, economic, and political life devoid of fear and intimidation. More than 12 years after the entry into force of this protocol, we still see great lapses in fully exploiting the potential of the African woman.
The dream of equality and equity is slowly shaping up. We have examples of female African Presidents and Parliamentarians to tell us this is possible. But the pyramid is still bottom-heavy. The struggle must surely continue.
About the Author:
Rebecca Teiko Sabah, Esq., is a lawyer, and certified project management professional with over 20 years’ experience in the development sector. Teiko leads on the implementation of the programmatic elements of the STAR-Ghana programme.
Teiko has previously worked as the first Ghanaian Country Manager of Christian Aid in Ghana and as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG). She serves on three boards: the Presbyterian Relief Services and Development (PRS&D), Participatory Development Associates (PDA), and PASE – an agro-based social enterprise organisation working in oil palm.
She is a member of the Ghana Bar Association. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Development Studies and a Master of Arts in Organisational Development from the University of Ghana and the University of Cape Coast respectively. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.