I have been enthusiastically following live broadcasts of the ongoing COSAFA Women Football Championships being held in Bulawayo Zimbabwe, and could not help but be amazed at the vastly improved standards of play exhibited in a sport that was once regarded as ‘male’.
This also took me back in time when I watched an interesting school netball match in 1991 at Kwekwe High – where I was doing Lower Sixth – when our girls-only team played against Marist Shungu High – which was then a boys’ school.
Although, I hardly recall the results of the match, it dawned on me, for the first time, that gender equality could actually reach the sporting fields.
Prior to that day, all we knew was that boys played football, whilst girls were restricted to netball.
Just as the COSAFA Women Football Championships, gender parity has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it is not a fallacy that women are just as capable as their male counterparts in achieving anything they set their minds on.
Over the past few decades, women have stood tall and made very admirable and invaluable inroads in fields such as law, politics, business, science, technology, engineering, medicine, and so much more
– making this world doubly successful.
One can not help wonder what men thought would be accomplished by oppressing just over half of the world’s entire population.
However, my euphoria was abruptly extinguished during the women football match half-time television commercial break.
What I witnessed was a stark reminder that maybe we are still not there yet – complete gender parity is still some long way to come.
The first blow was a washing powder advertisement that featured only women doing the laundry.
It was quickly followed by a margarine bread spread commercial with only the mother preparing breakfast for her family, whilst father and children just sat expectantly there – with huge smiles on their faces.
Not to be outdone was the dish-washing detergent advert, with – you guessed it – only a woman doing the dishes.
This anti-climax to the women football match – that epitomized gender parity – was baffling, to say the least.
Why would these companies choose to flight such gender stereotypical adverts during such a match?
Was that not an insult to what that women’s football match represented?
Are these companies, and their advertising agencies, so insensitive to gender parity?
Or did their marketing departments actually conduct research and conclude that women themselves were okay with such stereotypes?
If that is the case, then we have a bigger problem than I originally imagined!
Do women themselves accept such stereotyping of domestic roles?
During the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing China in 1995, a declaration on a Platform for Action was adopted.
It had Twelve Critical Areas of Concern, and the first one aimed to ‘accelerate the removal of all the obstacles to women’s active participation in all spheres of public and private life through full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making.
‘This means that the principle of shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at HOME, workplace, and in the wider national and international communities’.
As such, it is clear that the HOME is one of those places that gender parity should start – and the best way in which to foster mindset change is through advertisements.
However, as we have already witnessed, adverts are actually reinforcing the stereotype of only the woman or mother doing household chores, such as laundry, dish-washing, and cooking.
Frighteningly, it appears as though women themselves have accepted that as normal, as espoused by their apparent apathetic response to such adverts.
Personally, I am yet to hear of an outcry, even with the threat of a sales boycott, against these companies.
The fact that they have the audacity to flight such adverts during a women football match – where gender stereotypes are being demolished – betrayed an implicit approval by women.
In all my growing up, I witnessed what gender parity in the home meant.
My mother – a nurse – married my father when he was unemployed – and very little prospects, as he had been blacklisted by the Rhodesia regime for his political activism.
So before independence my mother was the primary breadwinner, as my father – although he secured jobs here and there – helped a lot with the house chores.
I also grew up doing household chores, such that – even though now married – I still do them.
It is time that the issue of gender parity was settled once and for all – to be equal or not to be equal?
Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and author. He is available should any organisation invite him to participate and address any gathering. Please call +263782283975, Email [email protected]