During the Q&A session that typically follows such engagements, a question was posed that stirred my emotions. The query was, “Is all this focus on women’s empowerment at the expense of men? Will it lead to an imbalance where men are disempowered, facing similar challenges?”
This perspective, which I’ve encountered frequently, leaves me concerned. Is striving for gender-equitable access to resources and opportunities a zero-sum game, with women’s advancement necessarily implying men’s disempowerment? Isn’t this precisely what a patriarchal society is built on? the belief that power, resources, and opportunities should be predominantly male domains?
Shouldn’t we envision a world where both men and women wield power, not predicated on gender but rooted in acknowledging and bridging gender-based disparities? Are we so deeply entrenched in the idea that one gender must dominate the other? If so, should men invariably hold the reins of power?
Beneath this question lies a more profound issue I’ve noticed repeatedly in various conversations and speaking engagements: the expectation of nurturing that burdens African women. We are raised to be caregivers, often extending this role to adults. The dictionary defines “mother” as a woman in relation to her child or children. Yet, in numerous relationships, women continue to adopt this nurturing and often mothering role, even with their adult partners, ostensibly to care for them.
This cycle is poignantly reflected in Joan Thatiah’s “Confessions of Nairobi Women,” a book we’re exploring in The Gurls’ Club Book Circle. Here, the consequences of nurturing are painfully evident as young girls, bereft of their mothers, are thrust into the role of women and caregivers within their households, robbing them of their childhood and subjecting them to traumatic experiences of abuse from those who should protect them.
While I acknowledge that we’ve been conditioned to nurture, it’s imperative that we recognize and challenge this deeply ingrained belief. When we, as women, assert that we need to empower men, how can we, without intimate knowledge of their struggles, offer meaningful support?
My response to the inquiry was straightforward: We are still entrenched in the disadvantageous position of gender inequality. Men continue to hold the majority of power and relish the privileges it affords, while women remain in vulnerable positions. Transformation of this scale takes time, as illustrated by the UN Women’s recent report, which estimates it will take 286 years to achieve gender equality at the current pace.
Constantly mothering others often places us at a disadvantage. In the workplace, it results in tasks that do little to advance our careers, while in relationships, it leads to burnout and unhappiness. “Maybe it’s time we redirect some of that nurturing love we offer others towards ourselves, carving out room for personal growth and equipping ourselves with the tools of self-empowerment. After all, men are capable of self-sufficiency, don’t you agree?