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Mojatu Foundation

By Ophelie Lawson

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Hannah, the founder of the Girls Advocacy Development Network (GADN), an NGO based in Freetown, Sierra Leone about her current studies in gender.   

GADN works towards improving the socio-economic wellbeing of girls and young women as well as engage in advocacy actions on issues affecting women and girls in Sierra Leone.

Gender studies is a relatively new and modern academic field exploring ideas around gender identity and gender representations.

It explores what it means to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ in today’s society and the social, political, and cultural constructions of gender. We are all impacted by gender.

Gender roles in society dictate how we are expected to act, speak, dress, and behave ourselves based upon our assigned gender.

And even though there is a common belief that gender issue is a ‘women’s issue’, it is really an issue that affects and concerns us all.

“For years women have been a driving force behind the development of gender equality strategies in many spaces, but it is us all that would benefit from a more equal society,” says Hannah.

She however acknowledged that men also face gender-specific issues.

She said: “Traditional stereotypes are challenging for many men to live up to. Often, they feel pressure to be ‘real men’ or in other words what society expects men to be and act like. According to gender cultural norms, men should be physically and emotionally strong, never cry or show emotions, somehow causing the suicide rate in men  very high”.

According to the Samaritans latest suicide data, 5219 suicides were registered in 2021.

This is 307 more than in 2020. The male suicide rate was 15.8 per 100,000 compared to a female suicide rate of 5.5 per 100,000 between 2020 and 2021. Males aged 50-54 were found to have the highest suicide rate – 22.5 per 100,000.

Many workplaces do not offer men extended parental leave and flexible hours for instance, and according to gender norms, men are the ones supposed to be working.

Hannah argued that in certain developing countries, gender norms are preventing women from accessing education.

Education is fundamental to growth and development for a country, yet it is a field that many girls and young women do not have access to.

This can sometimes be attributed to poor family background or cultures and societies that do not value education for women and girls.

Hannah argued that girls are often marginalised and taken out of school simply because they are girls, and it is not the cultural norm in their country.

The chance of a girl child getting education is in fact smaller for those living in rural areas, she said.

Global figures indicate that more than 130 million girls are out of school. Threats to girls’ education differ between countries and communities, but gender discrimination remain one of the main factors. Below is the reporter’s testimony to girls out of school:

Living in a refugee camp in Greece, Blessing, 13, had no education available to her. In Congo, where she comes from, she had no access to education neither, her family could not afford to send her to school. Coming to Europe she thought she would have better chances at accessing education. Now, it has been 4 years since they left their country and are still fighting to be granted asylum.  Blessing has never been able to go to school.

Nara, 15, is in the same situation. She has not been to school since she left her country 2 years ago. She is living in an accommodation given by her social worker with her big sister who is in charge of her. Every now and then, she takes her phone and tries to learn French grammar on her own. She dreams of the day she will reach France so that she can finally go back to school. She comes from Congo as well. Back home she had to leave school because her family could not afford it, but also because of the security threats they were facing.

“One is not born a woman, one becomes one”  – Simone de Beauvoir

This quote and the meaning it carry is actually the central point for many of the most influential gender studies theorists.

How does gender shape our lives? Gender studies offer an in-depth look into the social construction of gender and what that means for everyone on both personal and cultural levels.

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