Friday, March 8, 2019

Women and Men: Balance for Better?

Balance for Better?

Mwanahamisi 'Mishy' Singano


It's International Women’s Day (IWD) today, a big day for the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and governments across the world. So, let me start with a traditional salutation: Happy Women’s Day everybody! I know most of you are busy now, hosting IWD events, either in public or within your organizations, what an impressive achievement! 

But, for how long have we been celebrating International Women's Days? Over 100 years, right? Yes, this year it is the 108th IWD commemoration, to be precise. The question is, have we made progress worth the celebration? Are we actually using this day to reflect and strategize on practical steps to advance women's rights in our spaces as it is expected of us? Or it has somewhat become another Christmas and Eid for CSOs to host a public feast?

If you ask me, I will say, with confidence, that the International Women's Day is being used and abused by CSOs, who ought to be custodians. It's no longer a day to galvanize women around specific issues and press hard for action. Yes, it's no longer a day to put our feet down and demand the right to be heard and action taken. Surely, it is no longer a day to pledge for the changes we want to advance within us and outside us.

 It has become a day to eat fancy food, wear a nice new polo t-shirt, and giving women a new set of khanga and/or kitenge, without forgetting dancing to a famous Swahili song, ‘ wanawake na maendeleo, tufanye kazi tusonge mbeleeee’ or ‘malkia mwenzangu wa nguvuuuuu jasiri….” This is depressing to say the least.

Let’s consider for a moment this year's theme, ‘balance for better.’ How many CSOs are reflecting on how they could balance their organizations for better? I decided to speak to CSOs because, if we are not living the values we aspire, we got no moral authorities to demand them from anyone, including the government. And by CSOs, I don’t only refer to women's rights organizations, but the entire organized civil society community. 
To date, we still have many CSOs rejecting the basic concept that the neutral position is a male position. I am thunderstruck every time I hear learned brothers and leaders of organizations publicly saying, ‘this is neutral, there is nothing gender on this.” Really?

Do I really have to level with you about that? So, long as what you’re doing is consumed by, or affect (directly and indirectly), human beings, be it electoral policy or call for transparency in extractive industry contracts, there is everything gendered about it. I know you know this because all of you keep on singing, ‘men and women experience the world differently.’ Why, then, do you assume that there ought to be something called a ‘neutral position’ if men and women experience the world differently?

A neutral analysis or proposition equals a male-favored analysis or proposition. It is as simple as that. And you know what? Because of the so-called neutrality in what we do, we aid patriarchy to persist by consciously perpetuating the systematic exclusion of women across the board. If there is one thing CSOs have to stop in order to attain the balance for better’, then it is this lunacy of neutrality. Or, if CSOs dont want to query the patriarchy of neutrality, at least they should be open about it and say publicly, ‘we are men-focused organizations, so, we can all keep the records straight. 
I don’t know if, after all these years, we still need to have a national forum to discuss and debate if there is such thing as ‘gender issues’ and non-gender issues, or famously known as ‘technical issues.’ Honestly, you got to love men, the way they have mastered the art of packaging ‘their things’ to look so fancy and important. Its a known fact that CSOs are spending millions of money paying ‘male consultants’ to give ‘male positions’ on the so-called technical issues. When these organizations are pushed harder by gender activists and women s rights organizations, they often respond to them, with attitude, by saying, ‘you should have shared with us, that gender analysis.’ 

Let me break this down so you can understand my frustration. You  pay millions of money to men to come up with half-baked positions and analyses. Then you ask for a free gender analysis? Isn’t that first class exploitation of women by our very organizations which are supposed to embrace and advance our rights? 

I could go on and on, on everything we are doing wrong in the organized civil society community when it comes to advancing women’s right. But I intended this to be a blog post, not a policy paper. So, I present to you these punchlines, categorically:

  • If your organization is best known for ‘neutral’ analyses and propositions, you are not balancing for better.

  • If you major spending on consultancies goes to male consultants, you are not balancing for better.

  • If most of your procurement are to male-owned businesses, you are not balancing for better.

  • If women staffers are paid less than their male colleagues, you are not balancing for better.

  • If you have less women in leadership positions, you are not balancing for better.

  • If you only invite women to speak on ‘gender issues,’ you are not balancing for better.
As a womens right advocate and a feminist, it gives me no pleasure to consume all my energy for internal battles. We have the bigger war to win outside our organizations and you are not doing us a favor by continuing to nurture a patriarchal culture within civil society spaces. This holds us back. 

The fact that you have decided to dedicate your life in the organized civil society community means you believe in it and want to be part of the change for the better world. Then let me use this day to remind you that women makes more than half of the world population, are the majority of the poor, the most excluded, and thus at the periphery of the democratic and political spheres. Balancing our narratives, stories, policy analyses, research, resource use, and representation, will make our organizations and the world a better place for both women and men.
Happy Women’s Day!

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