How gender and consequences shape culture, communities

Monday December 2 2019


By Emilly Comfort Maractho

Many stories are published in newspapers of a man killing his wife, an employer beating up his female employee to death, a businessman torturing a woman to death over a debt she is probably planning everyday to clear, a woman stabbing a man to death, a woman lawyer claiming her boss sexually harassed her, children condemned to hardcore child labour, and I could go on. These are all recent stories in the media.
Perhaps, it is these stories, that prompted Speaker Rebecca Kadaga in May to ask government to create a special budget for the police to carry out investigations leading to the prosecution of perpetuators of sexual gender-based violence against girls.
It may also be the reason, Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah in June asked government to punish child abusers because in his view little was being done, yet there are laws and policies on child protection against perpetrators of children’s rights abuse. Both leaders, are banking on the institutional, legal and policy frameworks to address the problem.
I often wonder why we see so many of these stories when there are laws and institutions in place to protect victims and punish offenders.
One of my students the other day sent me a message asking if I watch movies. She said she had a movie she really wanted me to watch. She was willing to find me to bring the movie. When we met, she told me why she wanted me to watch it, and I was intrigued. I got home and watched the movie, ‘On the basis of sex’. I am thankful to her for bringing this to my attention.
The 2018 film tells an inspiring true story of a young lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in line with Justice Ginsburg’s 25th anniversary on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took office in 1993. She continues to serve the court to date. Graduating top of her class in law school, she faced one obstacle after another in trying to practice in court because of her gender and being married. Gender discrimination was the norm.
After several years of teaching, her husband, a tax lawyer, found a case in which a man was the victim of gender-based discrimination. Providing gender discrimination expertise, her husband giving tax expertise, they took the case pro bono, in order to prove that despite constitutional provisions for equality, there were more than 200 laws that were discriminatory on the basis of gender, in this case a tax law. I immersed myself in reading about Justice Ginsburg after watching the movie.
She believed that ‘changing the culture means nothing if the law does not change’. She argued that if the law differentiates on the basis of sex there was no hope for women and men ever becoming equal.
It is easy to say, that is America. We are often told of being corrupted by Western ideals of equality. The 16 days of activism, an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls, recognises the entrenched norms of violence against women.
These happen in our communities, countries and within our cultures. The campaign kicked off on November 25 and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.
According to UN Women, it was started by activists at the inaugural Women’s Global Leadership Institute in 1991 and is coordinated each year by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership.
This year the campaign running under the theme, ‘Orange the world: Generation Equality Stands against Rape’, recognising that women and girls experience rape in times of peace or war. Certainly, community attitudes to gender equality are important signifiers of progress while cultural factors remain key in perpetuating gender-based violence. That means attitude change advocacy is very crucial in realising progress.
While changing the culture means nothing without changing the law as Justice Ginsburg suggests, in our context sometime changing the law means nothing much without changing the culture. If anything demonstrates this fact, it is that we have one of the most women- friendly constitutions in the world, according to analysts, with women given equality with men under the law and give more opportunities through affirmative action for women to participate in politics.
The statistics for women joining Parliament on direct seats and local councils are very telling of what change in law without change in culture means.
As we find solutions in laws and policies through institutions such as the police, education, courts and legislature, we must address the root causes of gender-based violence. Justice Ginsburg and her husband overturned a century of gender discrimination through the US Court of Appeal because the root cause was the law.
The campaigns appreciate the consequences of culture. Addressing poverty and unequal distribution of resources based on gender is crucial. We have to imagine a world that is fair to all our children not based on their gender.
Dr Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media
studies at UCU.