Gender equality: "Sorry African Girl"
Being a girl in Africa comes with myriad of stakes to contend with. In the face of true African culture and practices, the place of a girl is in the kitchen and as such she is expected to always play a second fiddle to the man regardless of what is at stake. To illustrate exactly what this means in everyday life, I would like to tell you about what it is like to grow up as a girl in Africa.
Having been brought up in a typical African village, I have been a keen observer of events at our home. On a usual free day (free here means when I do not have to attend the garden work and other laborious outdoor jobs) at our home, I as a man wake up at 8 am. By this time my sister already woke up 2 hours earlier so to be able to create enough time and attend to her routinely fully packed program lined up ahead of her. She starts by cleaning our neatly mud-thatched kitchen, doing utensils that were used the previous night, cleaning the main house and starts to prepare breakfast. This is after she walked several kilometers to the river to fetch water that she will need in this preparation process.
As a man when I wake up, my expectation is to be served breakfast (processes of preparation are least of my concern). And should there be delays I expect to get a well-framed explanation or rather well-crafted and convincing apologies lest I burst into fury and prove that I am a man. I wash my face and head to the little, tiny table in its usual corner and thunderously descend on the well-prepared breakfast, usually of potato and milk. Did I also mention somewhere that my sister must have also milked the cows in between to get the milk ready for breakfast?
Resting is only an English word in the dictionary
After eating to my full, I walk away leaving her to empty the table and proceed to clean the just used utensils. I walk out to bask in the sun listening to the political conversations from our small radio that is usually wired well enough to be able to get the local channels even if its battery will not last the entire conversation.
Thus far it has been four hours of non-stop laborious work for my sister. She remembers that there is no firewood to prepare lunch and she also needs to collect vegetables from the fields for lunch, too. On good days she is given some little cash to purchase “something” for lunch from a nearby market. On a day like this, my duty is to drive the animals to the fields for grass, take a bath in the fresh-snaky flowing river. I return home at noon or thereabout with top notch expectations to again be served lunch. Again, I fill my stomach to capacity and dash to my small house to wait for the cooling of the sun before I join my peers in a nearby little shopping center to discuss issues of “national importance”- politics and political proceedings, leadership, climate change, agriculture, health…
Equator crosses my country and as soon as it is 5pm, the dark colors of the sky begin to unfold as an indicator that I need to walk back home to drive cows to the shed. I rush to the fields where the cows are and quickly head home. My sister back home had to make other several journeys to the river to fetch more water for evening use. For her, darkness is a savior that comes so timely to save her from the routine laborious chores. Resting, for her during the day, is only an English word in the dictionary. In my mind I feel she is so tired but again, as a man what can I do?
A fully packed day
The society has reserved the kitchen to women and at no single point in time should I be seen there, let alone being found. I am a man and I must ‘behave/act’ a man while for her being able to multi-task and juggle the so many duties is a yardstick for being a ‘woman enough.’ The society defines her beauty by her tenacity, endurance and long-suffering and these attributes increase her wife-able nature and the number of potential suitors increase. Because of these attributes, her aura transcends the hills surrounding her village and yonder. The parents are all smiles for they know they have a worthy investment that will pay off in a matter of time. Many men who will want to marry her will pay hefty dowry to settle before going away with her.
On school days my sister is twice disadvantaged. She must wake up even earlier to settle her morning and routine chores before dressing up for school. Until the moment she is done and walks the long distance to school, she is already late, and this pushes her to the wrong side of the school programs. From time to time, she is punished for her lateness and sometimes ends up missing the morning lessons. If she is lucky, she is just caned and let to join the others. Her moods are affected, and her day is ruined right from waking up in the morning and so her performance and concentration in class is suboptimal. When we must get to school and there is not enough money to educate us (both girl and boy), she is married off to earn parents bride price (dowry) so that the boy can continue with the schooling.
“Give up your dreams to be married”
As an African girl, her day is fully packed right from the moment you get out of your bed to the time you return to it. Society attaches value and beauty in your ability to juggle the many conflicting demands at your disposal including ensuring that the men around you are happy. You must put up with lateness in school, give up your dreams to be married off to earn your parents dowry and forsake your life goals to please your parents. Painfully, sometimes you must accept the man that has been chosen for you just because he guarantees a good return of dowry. Because the society adores a submissive and tolerant girl, no one will ever care about your mental health and well-being.
I myself have become more and more aware of all these problems. I saw my own cousin getting married to a very old man because this old man could pay a high bride price. By this time, my cousin was barely 16 years of age. I was so hurt and to date her life changed for the worse. At 23 years now she already has four children, living under very deplorable state and way much far from her peers who had the opportunities to go to school.
Stand up for girls’ rights
This is a painful, unacceptable and deep contrast of what girls in developed countries, such as Germany, go through. I have lived and studied in Germany since 2018, I have seen and admired how teenage girls have equal educational opportunities as men, they flourish and by themselves decide what they want to do with their lives. I advocate for and want this to happen to every African girl.
And everyone can take part in this change: getting engaged in policy dialogues and debates, mentoring the girls, positively influencing the parents and perpetrators who continue to propagate these harmful acts against the girls and calling out or reporting those involved in these malpractices. Would we all stand up for the rights of girls and fight to make the world a fair place for everyone?
Who is Erick Agure?
Erick Agure is currently a Carlo Schmid Fellow at UNAIDS in Johannesburg, South Africa. In the past he has taken part in the ASA exchange program between ZSL Berlin and Rieko Kenya. The program is organized by Engagement Global GmbH and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. He studied Master's in International Health at Heidelberg University through a DAAD scholarship in Germany. He got his Bachelor degree in Public Health (Health Administration) from Kenyatta University in Kenya.
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