Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

6. Fight patriarchy

A friend recently asked me, “Is sexism a problem over there?”

Yes and no.

In the District Assemblies, people are generally educated.  They’re used to working with women.  While men who stop by my office are occasionally flirtatious, they don’t ever make marriage propositions.  I personally don’t feel that being a woman has made my job more difficult.

But I also don’t deal with very many people directly.  I have a few contact people at four different Assemblies.  I’ve talked to other female expats who have had much more difficulties in their jobs.  Men harass them or treat them like they’re inferior or don’t take them seriously.  While sexism hasn’t been a problem for me, it’s still a problem.

In Ghana, a woman’s work is never done.  It seems as though my host-mother is continuously sweeping, mopping, washing clothes, preparing food, cooking over a fire (which takes forever), washing dishes, buying groceries, etc.

[Side note: best invention ever?  The washing machine.  Definitely not the vending machine, as my little sister argues.]

You might be thinking, “So what?  What am I supposed to do about African women carrying firewood for miles on their heads?”

First, many charity projects are aimed at helping men.  We don’t try to understand the different impacts for women.  Do your research and ask tough questions before donating money.

Second, patriarchy is alive and well in Canada.  For example, a friend of a friend of mine recently completed an engineering co-op job with a mining company in northern BC.  During a meeting, she gave a progress report and one of the other attendants said, “I don’t believe you.”

“Uh… what?” she was surprised.  Maybe it was a joke?  What did he mean that he didn’t believe her?

“I don’t believe anything that comes from a person who bleeds for 5 days every month and doesn’t die.”

Statements like that, whether jokes or not, don’t belong anywhere – especially not a professional setting.

Last year, a study came out about North American female engineers that suggested that women have many reasons for leaving the engineering business beyond the desire to have families, which is the common reason stated for why women hold less senior positions.  The researchers found during their interviews that women cited hostile working environments and perceived lack of opportunities as their main reasons for leaving, not their children.

Furthermore, I’ve read many articles like this one about the additional difficulties women have in the tech start-up business.

Women, stay strong.

Men, listen.  Don’t become defensive.  Don’t say #NotAllMen.  Thank you, I know not all men are sexist.  But some are and it would helpful if you understood why that’s harmful to everyone instead of telling me that I’m reverse-sexist.  Read this if you want info.  Actually, read it especially if you don’t want more info because then you probably do.

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One thought on “6. Fight patriarchy

  1. Pingback: Ways to Help from Home | Rebuilding Foundations

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