It makes you think, does it not? You ponder over what it could mean or imply. It makes you reflect on all the available information that could explain this cause. Questions arise like “Is the Girl Child really limited?” “How long has she been?” “What exactly limits her?” “Who limits her?” “Why is she limited?” “How does it affect her?” “Is there no way out for the Girl Child?” This article would address these questions amongst others, in order to shed more light on the limitations, or in the right term; the restrictions placed on the Girl Child.
It is no news that more than a handful of cultures and religions place heavy restrictions on the rights of females, and around their livelihood in general. Restrictions ranging from dressing, conduct, responsibilities, mannerisms, career path or the lack of, not to mention the role they should play within and without the household. From an early stage, the Girl Child is raised within those confinements, excluding situations whereby her predecessors learn better and thus train her in accordance. However, most are kept in the dark or refuse to accept the light, so they go out of their way to ensure that they lord over the Girl Child and keep her in those shackles. These principles translate into her day to day life and the consequences can be seen at large by the time she becomes a woman in the society and experiences gender based discrimination.
We are all entitled to human rights. These include the right to live free from violence and discrimination; to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn an equal wage. But across the globe many women and girls still face discrimination on the basis of sex and gender. Gender inequality underpins many problems which disproportionately affect women and girls, such as domestic and sexual violence, lower pay, lack of access to education, and inadequate healthcare. For many years women’s rights movements have fought hard to address this inequality, campaigning to change laws or taking to the streets to demand their rights are respected. New movements have flourished in the digital age, such as the #MeToo campaign which highlights the prevalence of gender-based violence and sexual harassment. In Zimbabwe, it has been discovered that women and girls were left vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies and a higher risk of HIV infection because of widespread confusion around sexual consent and access to sexual health services. This meant that girls would face discrimination, the risk of child marriage, economic hardship and barriers to education. In Jordan, Amnesty International has urged authorities to stop colluding with an abusive male “guardianship” system which controls women’s lives and limits their personal freedoms, including detaining women accused of leaving home without permission or having sex outside marriage and subjecting them to humiliating “virginity tests”. Women and girls in conflict are especially at risk from violence, and throughout history, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war. For example, it is worthy not that women who fled attacks from Boko Haram in Nigeria have been subjected to sexual violence and rape by the Nigerian military (Amnesty International, 2019).
Freedom of movement is the right to move around freely as we please – not just within the country we live in, but also to visit others. But many women face real challenges when it comes to this. They may not be allowed to have their own passports, or they might have to seek permission from a male guardian in order to travel. For example, recently in Saudi Arabia there has been a successful campaign to allow women to drive, which had previously been banned for many decades. But despite this landmark gain, the authorities continue to persecute and detain many women’s rights activists, simply for peacefully advocating for their rights (Amnesty International 2019).
From a global perspective, one of the biggest challenges facing women is educational inequality. Despite the many gains of modern feminist movements in the Americas, Africa, Asia and beyond, many still believe that women are less worthy of the same educational opportunities afforded to men. While there is no denying that poverty, geography and other factors contribute to huge disparities in education, patriarchy justifies this denial of opportunity. It feeds the message that men should wield the power and women should occupy a subordinate position in all areas of society. This outdated, yet persistent, point of view fuels educational inequality and a host of other disparities along the lines of gender on national and international levels (Politico Magazine 2019).
Regardless of a woman’s experience, education or abilities, the patriarchal nature of society fosters the perception that women are less qualified and less competent than men. What patriarchy has done is convince people that a strong and intelligent woman represents a problem; a disruption to the social order rather than an integral part of it. The extremely potent combination of sexism, racism and economic inequality— this may seem like too broad an answer but it pretty much covers it on both a domestic and global front. All of the individual challenges we may be tempted to rank are symptomatic of these massive systemic power imbalances, working in tandem (Rebecca Traister 2019).
Often, women are the subject of gender based discrimination in the workplace. One way of illustrating this is to look at the gender pay gap. Equal pay for the same work is a human right, but time and again women are denied access to a fair and equal wage. Recent figures show that women currently earn roughly 77% of what men earn for the same work. This leads to a lifetime of financial disparity for women, prevents them from fully exercising independence, and means an increased risk of poverty in later life (Eurostat 2020). The gap cannot be explained by discrepancies in education or experience, or even differences in requests for raises. More structural challenges are to blame. Inequality in compensation may be due less to outright discrimination than to limitations women face regarding opportunities for promotion or social pressures to scale back or leave the workforce altogether. Indeed, as women enter the workforce in a given field, overall wages tend to decrease as the labour is considered less valuable; or conversely, wages rise when men enter the field – as was the case in the history of computing. Women are over-represented in low-wage work; the lower the wage, the larger percentage of women in those positions. Women are approaching half of the overall workforce (47%) yet constitute 69% of the lowest-wage workforce, those making less than $10 per hour (Berkeley News 2018).
I don’t think it’s possible to name just one challenge – from the economy to climate change to
criminal justice reform to national security, all issues are women’s issues – but I believe a
key to tackling the challenges we face is ensuring women are at the table, making decisions
(Keisha Blain 2019).
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) is a key international treaty addressing gender-based discrimination and providing specific protections for women’s rights. The convention sets out an international bill of rights for women and girls, and defines what obligations states have to make sure women can enjoy those rights. Over 180 states have ratified the convention (OHCHR & Amnesty International, 2019).
This is a phenomenon that occurs daily, indirectly or otherwise, verbally or not. Simply observe and they would become clear to you, as this article only addresses a few. Nonetheless, there is a solution, or at the very least, a foundation that could be laid so future generations would just have to build on it. From the early stages of childhood, not only for the Girl Child but also for the boys, they should be trained to support and value one another. The importance of Gender equality and effects of Gender-based discrimination should be ingrained in them, so that as they grow, they grow with understanding, they influence one another positively, they spur each other onto growth and keep evolving into the best versions of themselves.
I believe everyone has a role to play in preparing and ensuring that these limitations, amongst others are lifted and done away with. The Girl Child should be well informed about her rights, strengths and power, so she does not settle for less. She is not weak. She is not to be restricted. She is not to serve as a stepping stone or pillar for patriarchy. She is strong. She is limitless. She is dynamic. She is the future!
Written by Dornu Bariboloka