First Lady Monica Geingos is deeply concerned with what she says are gender equality advocates, whose focus is on issues too petty and too specific to their personal interests, as opposed to real national gender equality issues.
“Equality is not a mathematical calculation. There is no equality rule that says if a wife cooks and cleans, the husband must do the same. That would represent cosmetic equality, as it may be that the wife is comfortable and happy to cook for her husband,” Geingos remarked during the Women in Leadership Conference in Windhoek on Thursday.
She says equality should be about free will and choice and the removal of any structural barriers that prevent it. Further, Geingos stressed that there should not be economic, emotional, moral or societal pressures placed on women to assume a role she is unwilling or uncomfortable to take.
“What looks like equality to you may be oppression for me. We are empowered when we are able to make our own decisions. I have a friend, who has made a choice not to have children. Another one has decided not to marry. I’m happily married, but I have no delusions of marital superiority over those who are single. At the end of the day, we are all in the same boat of gender inequality.
“I have no delusions of heterosexual, racial, ethnic superiority over any women who make choices different to mine,” Geingos said. She said the quest for gender equality is such that it needs political, cultural, racial and social unity, hence she urged people to focus on gender equality and worry later about “who should wash dishes and what people do in their private lives.”
Although men are key enablers for gender equality to become a reality, Geingos says expecting men to initiate and effectively implement gender equality “is like asking the turkey to vote for thanksgiving.”
She is also disturbed by the fact that many talented women are trapped in their careers and are not breaking through to the top. According to the 2013/14 Affirmative Action Report, there are less women in the employment pool than men, despite women being the majority of the population.
Another clear indicator of slow progress is found in the same Affirmative Action Report, which states that women are under-represented in the categories of semi-skilled, specialised and senior management. Women constitute 45 percent at managerial positions, but this she says falls to 19 percent in executive positions.
Therefore, she encouraged women to make choices they believe in, and most importantly, to confront the social norms which remove their choices, adding that it is from not analysing these norms that parents, teachers and employers steer women into administrative and not strategic roles.
She also criticised those who persist in judging the choices of others. “I often hear how women who wear weaves or straighten their hair hate their blackness. I have heard how unmarried women can’t be relied on, as they clearly can’t handle responsibility.
“I have heard how women have become successful due to sleeping their way to the top. This needs to stop. All of this is distraction. Let us achieve gender equality and then we can worry about the personal choices of who they are in a relationship with, how short their dresses are, and the weaves they put in their hair,” she says.
She linked social attitudes and beliefs to practises in the workplace as indivisible, saying if society is patriarchal (male-dominated) and unequal, the workplace becomes a mirror of such patriarchy and inequality.
She urged women to look closely at all issues or obstacles holding them back from achieving their goals at home, at work, in the economy, or the wider society.