If I ask: “what is gender?” the general answer would be that gender is the definition of being a male or female. But is much more complex. When you define gender it is important to make the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is something we are born with,it’s a biological state. Gender is a social construction, meaning that it is something that society forms the way we look at males or females. Gender is constructed by expectations from the society, something that is “typical male or female” in one society may vary from another.
The traditional expectations of female/male roles are deeply ingrained and glorified in all Kenyan languages, in education, the mass media, and advertising. The society’s perception of women is for the most part negative with the best women as mothers, and their capabilities and capacities going virtually unnoticed.
As a woman they were taught that it was their role to nurture, and to be free from the burden of being the “breadwinner”. While on the other side men were taught of roles such as to be served, to provide, to be strong, to think, strategize and plan, and to refuse to care take or nurture others. Women were taught that it was not proper for a female to be violent, that it was unnatural. While men were taught that their value would be determined by their will to do violence. All these which women are socialized to from childhood makes them to accept things the way they are as it wasn’t anything new.
Traditional cultural practices reflect the values and beliefs held by members of a community for periods often spanning generations. Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs some of which are beneficial to all members, while others have become harmful to a specific group, such as women.
Patriarchy is an example of a system that benefits men and is a disadvantage to the women. It grants power to men and oppresses women through political, social and economic institutions. Patriarchy is a system of male domination that shapes women’s relationship in all spheres of life. It transforms male and female into men and women and constructs the hierarchy of gender relations where men are privileged. Patriarchy is evident in all cultures in Africa not limited to Kenya. Kenya practices patriarchal system of socialization where women are seen not to have a say and are always seen to command domestic duties as well as the majority of agricultural cultivation. The subordinate status of women vis-à-vis men is a universal phenomenon, though with a difference in the nature and extent of subordination across cultures.
Such sex stereotypes and social prejudices are inappropriate in the present society where female/male roles and male-headed families are no longer the norm. Sex stereotypes are among the most firmly entrenched obstacles to the elimination of discrimination as well as violence against women.
Nasibo Abagaro – AGCP