Stories of migration

Frankly … integrated – Of changing times and gender roles

© dpa Report, Picture Alliance / Aliou Mbaye

Taxi Sisters Sanou Top, Madjiguene Samba and Aissatou Mabelle Gueye pose at their rank at Hotel Sofitel Teranga on October 10, 2007 in Dakar, Senegal. I © dpa Report, Picture Alliance / Aliou Mbaye

On the occasion of the 45th International Women`s Day, Dominic Otiang’a critically examines the emergence of gender roles in different societies and poses the question “What is freedom, and who defines it?”

As the world celebrated the International Women's Day 2020 colourfully, it was worth paying attention to gender issues, such as the gender pay gap in Germany. It was also a moment to think about how different societies define liberty and how the gender roles have evolved – through the lens of history, religion, culture, and the changing work environments, not just on the scale of oppressor versus oppressed but also on the basis of technological advancement and its effect on our way of life.

Women of East Africa built houses

While gender roles vary in different cultures, economic systems and lifestyles in different parts of the world, there is often the tendency of one culture imposing on the other the idea of freedom without looking at the context or taking into account the cultural dynamics on the other side.

Looking back, centuries ago, when most work required physical strength, inequality in physical strength also determined many gender roles. War, hunting, looting sprees, cattle rustling, construction, farming, and caregiving were some of the available roles, as well as leadership in political systems. So then, whereas men were instructed by kings and religious leaders to construct massive bridges and palaces in Europe, it was the duty of Maasai women of East Africa to build houses. The nature of construction was different in the two cultures, and so were the gender roles.

Power to the mind

As technology advanced and lifestyles changed, we no longer had to rely solely on physical strength to perform most tasks. Technology gave more power to the mind. But this shift from muscles to technology wasn't felt universally at once. It blended gradually with existing cultures and religions in different societies, and it was streamlined by society's means of access to basic needs. Those who over-relied on natural resources for their income have not changed much as they adapt to the modern way of working unlike non-resource-rich countries like Rwanda. Both men and women would then be able to team up to defend their territories against external aggression unlike in the Roman Empire. But some minds do not easily adapt to changes such that when technology provides fighter jets, which both men and women could use, some minds still feel women can't be fighters because they were never fighters in past dispensations. The same prejudice is found in many other professions.

A paradigm shift is needed

My anecdotal observation of gender participation in Germany, a heavily industrial economy, reveals an egg-shaped graph among native citizens. There is less balance in production departments, the right balance in administration jobs, and less balance in leadership roles. But because physical strength is required more in industrial production than in administration work, this then corroborates my earlier statement that the shift from muscle to brain provided for a level playing field and my view is that in issues of gender, race, origin, etc., there ought to be a perfect balance between nature, nurture, and social environment; where nature permits, there’s need for equal opportunity. Where nature has led to inequality, there's a need for a paradigm shift and, where applicable, affirmative action.

The Definition of freedom

On gender and outfit, I prefer to talk about Clare and Jasmin (fictitious names of real people) to draw attention to and open a debate on the reality of our existence: Clare comes to work a few minutes late, she complains of her flatmate Jasmin who often takes too much time in their washroom pinning on a face veil to perfection. Clare, who needed time for her make up claims that Jasmin is not at liberty to leave the house without a face veil. She contends that Jasmin's previous environment had forced it on her and she can’t easily do away with it. I asked Clare whether it was different from her not being able to leave the house without putting on her make up. What is freedom, and who defines it?

"Frankly ..."

On an alternating basis each week, our “Frankly …” column series is written by Dominic Otiang’a, Liwen Qin, Maximilian Buddenbohm und Gerasimos Bekas. Dominic Otiang'a writes about his life in Germany: what strikes him, what is strange, where did he get interesting insights?

Dominic Owour Otiang'a
is the author of several novels and short stories. He was born in Kenya and lives in Stuttgart.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion

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