equal rights and equal opportunities

In honor of my second International Women’s Day in Cameroon, I donned my leprechaun-like 8th of March pagne dress and headed… to work!

Well duh.  What did you expect?

Yes, this day is quite like any other in many ways.  But the attention paid to deeper thinking about equality is unmistakable.  So after sharing a meal with colleagues – including a few spouses – we had a discussion on gender, or more specifically equal right, equal opportunities.

VSO family in full Women's Day's regalia: staff, vols, partners and the future generation

I have to admit that I exercised my right to remain quiet during the discussion.  Not because I didn’t have anything to contribute, but simply because it was so wonderful to hear my own thoughts reflected in the comments of my colleagues – and in some unexpected ways.

Equal means equal, they were saying.  Equal means no difference.  Equal means without bias to gender, race, ethnicity or language (remember that Cameroon like Canada has two official languages – French and English – but that the proportions are reversed!).

–  “When I read a job advertisement that says that women are encouraged to apply, I ask WHY?  Why is that even necessary to state?”

Well said, sister!  I’ve always been a little confused with the statement.  Is it because it’s not stated that it means there will be discrimination?  Ouch.

–  “I was in a village in the north two months ago and I saw a woman kneel in front of her husband in order to give him a message.  It is still happening today.  Why should that be?”

Now you are talking, my brother! Glad you brought that up.  Gender equality is more visible in the city, but in the villages, it’s an entirely different story.

–  “We have to think about educating people.  Not just going to school.  No.  Education and schooling are different.  Actually making people more knowledgeable is what is needed.”

Yup, yup.  Liking where this is going.  Even a person with a PhD or a triple digit IQ can prevent equality from being a reality.  It comes down to what you know, what you see, what you believe.

–  “It’s not just equal rights and equal opportunities.  It’s also equal responsibilities.  But that’s not usually the case in households.  At weddings men are told they are the heads of the household and religion tells us that can’t change”

Now now, Caroline, don’t tell the women here how the division of labour works in your household!  They might be a little shocked.  Just how quickly can the concept of an equal partnership in relationships take hold if the discussions are already underway?  Would the lines separating gender roles start to disappear?

–  “The first thing we have to do is change the laws which don’t support equal rights.  The law about adultery is different for men and women.  But is there really any difference?”

Wow… now we’re going into touchy subjects.  Careful folks, there is a child in the room!  But then again… let the kid start learning about equality from a young age.  He’s our future, no?

–  “It is still disturbing to see town meetings – like when I go to my village –  where the men sit inside and the women sit outside.  Maybe the decision making is on two levels, but why can’t they just meet together?”

Yeah… wouldn’t that be much more efficient and ensure ALL voices are heard?  How would we go about creating change in these situations?  What would be the first steps to bringing the groups together?

But most telling was one of the final comments that actually referred back to how we started our little get-together:

–  “When we were all assembled here earlier and I said we should start eating before starting the discussion, we [Cameroonian] women said that because it was women’s day, that the men should start eating first.  Just to be contrary to the saying “women first”.  Then [a VSO volunteer] asked why that should be?  And then I was thinking…  yes… why should that be?”

Why indeed.

All things being equal of course… let the most hungry eat first.  Whether they are hungry for plantain, ndolé or equal rights… let them stand and be heard!

Happy International Women’s Day!  Or rather Equality Day.  🙂

~ by Caroline Spira on March 11, 2011.

One Response to “equal rights and equal opportunities”

  1. and future generations?

    But we still want to hear about how division of labour works in your household – even if we will be shocked!

    I am hungry for sunger cane and more rights. hahaah

    Good summary my dear. I now understand why you were that quite – your tape recorder was on and need not be disturbed.


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