Think of the activities that take place in an average household during the course of a day. Food is cooked; cleaning is done – sweeping, mopping, and dusting. Groceries and other household items are purchased. Clothes are washed, dried, ironed. Sometimes household repairs are carried out. Garbage is discarded. Also, the people who live in the house need to be looked after. These tasks are usually done by women under the allegation that they were born mainly to perform such roles. This absolutely creates some kinds of unbalances in society and hinder fruitful social change which every society, I think, long for. For this reason, in what follows I will define the term gender and how it differs from the concept sex, I also will draw back the curtain on the injustice of confining women to specific gender roles, which hinder them from participating in the public affair. Finally, I will shed light on the way the position of women plays a fundamental role in social change and development.
Understanding reasons behind women’s status in their societies necessitates grasping the concepts gender and sex. Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term ‘gender’ and how it differs from the closely related term ‘sex’. Often these two terms, gender and sex are used interchangeably. However, they bear different meanings as concepts. “Sex” refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. It is defined as the anatomical and physiological characteristics that signify the biological maleness and femaleness of an individual . «Gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given Society considers appropriate for men and women. Gender emphasizes that masculinity and femininity are products of social, cultural and psychological factors and are in our society men and women perform different roles and are assigned different responsibilities. ‘Gender’ is the term widely used to refer to those ways in which a culture reformulates what begins as a fact of nature. The biological sexes are redefined, represented, valued, and channeled into different roles in various culturally dependent ways.
People do not merely internalize gender roles as they grow up, but they respond to the Norms prevalent in the society. Children learn to categorize themselves by gender from infancy. A part of this is learning how to display and perform gendered identities as masculine or feminine. Children observe and gradually internalize the gendered behavior around them through different medium and sources. Gender differentiated children’s activities gradually cement the gender difference in behavior that later reflect like adult male and female behavior. Gender refers to culturally constructed roles that are played by women and men in society. Further, gender is used as a concept to analyze the shaping of women’s and men’s behavior according to the normative order of society. Gender as a conceptual tool is used to analyze the structural relationships of inequality existing between women and men, as reflected in various aspects of life such as the household, the labor market, education and political institutions. Sex, on the other hand, refers to the biological differences between female and male which are seen as uniform across time and space. Gender can, therefore, be defined as a notion through which the social and ideological construction and representation of differences between the sexes can be understood.
In Sahara spirit Foundation we believe that men and women are created equal, and therefore we believe in biological difference since this difference is a divine one, but not in creating a difference between men and women only because culture dictates so. Sahara Spirit Foundation is directed both towards understanding society, and also towards changing those aspects and structures society that are unjust and exploitative. It, therefore, involves both the growth of knowledge and the betterment of the social world. These are not two separate things but are interlinked aspects Sahara Spirit Foundation.
Women and Social Injustices
The unequal and the unjust treatment of girls in society contribute to the cause of Hierarchies that exist at all levels. These biases not only exist inside the homes and families but also in public institutions and other parts of the social structure. The means of these biases can be based on physical, economic, cultural, psychological, etc., factors. These differences are not natural, but they are socially constructed in a patriarchal society which legitimizes these practices and makes them acceptable; also, those who deviate from them are subjected to tremendous social pressure to conform. The discrimination has become part of the life cycle of a woman. It starts right at the time of conception, where the chance of being born is taken away from. Many women are from a young age, conditioned to surrender to the will of their parents in all the aspects. May it be kind of education they would get or other basic facilities, a lot of them get a secondary treatment. Early marriage and Dowry have been issues that are yet to be uprooted from our sociological context. Discrimination against women may manifest itself in both overt and covert forms.
The degree of control exercised by certain people/institutions/organizations over material, human, intellectual and financial resources can be defined as Power. The control of these resources becomes the source of power. It is dynamic and relational and exercised in the social, economic and political relation between individuals and groups. It is also distributed unequally where some individuals or groups have greater control over the resources and others have little or no control.
In this context, Sahara spirit Foundation sees in the empowerment of woman a betterment of society. Social change with respect to woman means to Sahara Spirit Foundation the redistribution of power that challenges patriarchal ideology and male dominance. It is both a process and a result of the process. Empowerment for Sahara Spirit Foundation essentially entails the transformation of the structure or institutions that reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination. It is a process that enables women to gain access to and control of material as well as information resources. However, empowerment for women begin in the household with equality, autonomy and respect. Achieving equality between men and women in the family is the foundation on which empowerment in other areas is based.
The concept of women’s empowerment throughout the world has its roots in the women’s movement. It implies struggle that is, learning to deal with the forces of oppression. With a vision of a new society, it involves a conscious and deliberate intervention and efforts to enhance the quality of life. The process of empowerment is both individual and collective . It is through the involvement in groups that people most often begin to develop awareness and the ability to organize, to take action and bring change. Thus, empowerment is a process of awareness and capacity building leading to greater participation in the decision-making (power and control) and transformative action. The most conspicuous feature of the term empowerment is that it contains the word ‘power’. It implies control over material assets, intellectual resources and ideology. The material assets over which control can be established may be of any type-physical, financial such as land, water, forests, labor, and money. Intellectual resources include knowledge, information and ideas. Control over ideology signifies the ability to generate, capacity to propagate, sustain and institutionalize specific sets of beliefs, principles, values, attitudes, actions and behaviors. This control, in turn, confers the power of decision-making.
However, power is not likely to be handed to the “have not” group in the society as a charity. Power must be developed or taken by the powerless themselves, as well as being generated. In fact, this is what we believe in Sahara Spirit Foundation. Power has to be acquired and once acquired, has to be exercised, sustained and preserved. In our daily life we encounter women who are married for many years and afraid that their children would suffer if they take a divorce from their ex-husbands who never allowed them to go out of their home because they know that they would suffer more in being divorced due to the restriction of freedom and the dependency they experienced inside the institution of marriage, a dependency and restrictions which create a stagnant and an unbalanced society.
According to Sahara Spirit Foundation, empowerment as a process helps in gaining higher share of control over different possessions and ability to make decisions. Although empowerment as a concept has been associated with anybody who has been deprived or marginalized, but when it comes to women the need is more impinging due to the various forms of discrimination they face. The gender relations that are unequal at most of the places can be addressed by empowerment. For the development of a nation it is important that social equity is at the core of its national objectives. As discrimination is not only outside but also inside the home, it is imperative that empowerment takes place at both places. Autonomy and ability to take decisions on your own is first step towards women empowerment at household to challenge the patriarchal ideology. Education of girl child without discriminating has been supported a lot by policies at different level. When at workplace the possibilities of discrimination are at both micro and macro level that may be addressed not only by balancing the economics but also by reservation. Women’s right movement across the boundary has shaped the concept of women empowerment that challenges the oppression. It is not possible that the shift of power that has been practiced since so long would take place swiftly for equalization to be possible. The power has to be developed inside those who are deprived.
In Sahara spirit Foundation we advocate the strengthening of women, which can be done through different ways but have one two major functions sustainable development and social change. Equality or fairness between men and women really matter for development – it is a core development objective in its own right. It is also smart economics. Greater gender equality can enhance productivity, improve development outcomes for the next generation, and make institutions more representative Women are systematically discriminated against the backdrop of patriarchal ideologies and values. The inequality and vulnerability of women in all sectors-economic, social, political, education, health care and nutrition, legal is evident. Rural women suffer from being both economically and socially ‘invisible’ despite their important and substantial economic roles. This is because of the perception that women are not relevant to the wage and market economy. Excessive workload, lack of proper nutrition and health care, repeated pregnancies, poor education, lack of access to economic resources, deep-rooted social biases against them mark the lives of the majority of women, particularly the women belonging to economically weaker sections. The process of empowerment will imply transformation of gender relations within the family and the society that is equality of status and of opportunities of sexes need to be accepted and implemented in its entirety. Gender equity is the process of being fair to women and men.
To ensure fairness, strategies and measures must often be available to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from otherwise operating on a level playing field. Equity leads to equality. Gender equality requires equal enjoyment by women and men of socially-valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards. Where gender inequality exists, it is generally women who are excluded or disadvantaged in relation to decision making and access to economic and social resources. Therefore, a critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same; only that access to opportunities and life changes is neither dependent on nor constrained by their sex. Achieving gender equality requires women’s empowerment to ensure that decision making at private and public levels.
Thus, Sahara Spirit Foundation believes that social change necessitates the empowerment of women, an empowerment that can be done in different ways and in different areas. Although most of these areas are inter-dependents, the efforts are required in specific field for practical implementation. Economic support and social empowerment cannot be seen devoid of participation and intervention of political avenues. Similarly education and health can be clearly seen as interdependent while seen as a tool for women empowerment and capacity building. Constitutional and legal provisions are present in all the areas for giving opportunity to overcome the barriers. The integrated approaches to empowerment is required for balancing the gender relations in the society.
Hence, in Sahara spirit Foundation we believe that:
- 1. Training of women in vocational skills should be mandatory from secondary level education.
- 2. Mobilization of female workers should be done to equip women to develop independence.
- 3. Development of positive self-concept is critical for moving away from misconceptions in the society.
- 4. Women should get additional benefits of health care nutrition at all stages.
Sahara spirit Foundation, this way, aim to strengthen the overall development of women, who constitute the half the population of the country. It is widely acknowledged that despite, affirmative actions taken by various State governments, indices depicting the status of women show that more needs to be done. It has also been realized that the necessary tool to achieve the desired outcome is to develop effective mechanisms for convergence on systemic issues. The SSF is, therefore, positioned to play a critical role in creating an enabling social, institutional and policy environment for taking women’s empowerment issues to a level of scale necessary for Morocco’s next stages of development.
written by: Mr. Abdelhak Elbouziany