Growing up as a man in a man’s world means that I naturally saw things only from the eyes of a privileged person. As a young male child, I did not understand that women had unique challenges and that “the patriarchy” exists. The first woman I met was my mother and naturally, that was all she was — my mother.
In my early teen years, my mother opened a shop to host her tailoring business and one hot afternoon, while I was in the shop with her, she shared her complimentary card with me. She spoke about her dreams with me like she was sharing a secret. For the first time, I saw an ambition in her to be more than what she currently was. But thinking about it now, it has always been there. It was in her choice as a young woman to learn sewing and later, secretarial studies. It was in the times she insisted on building processes for effective management of her home and small business. Maybe it was why she took 7 years after my brother’s birth to birth my sister. But all I can do is to assume. I don’t know her story. And we are still assuming the stories of many women today, both the ones alive and those that have passed. We are not listening. We are not documenting.
I try to listen to my younger sister. I enjoy it when we talk a lot about career, ideas and many other things, and I realised that when talking about what she would love to do, she sometimes refers to women that have done something similar before. It makes sense for her to carve out possibilities from a hero’s path.
When we listen, we show everyone that women are humans and can do the work that other humans do. I work in the most diverse and inclusive organisation I know and this has revolutionised my mind about the work women can do. AfriLabs current Board Chair is a woman, its Executive Director is a woman, Director of Strategy is a woman and a majority of the secretariat team members are women. As against the patriarchy argument, these women are getting the work done in an ecosystem mostly led by men.
Representation should not be a tool for massaging the ego of seemingly woke organisations, but as a very important criterion for decision making. Almost every society on the globe has a good distribution of males and females, and we need to see that spread in the boardrooms and everywhere else decisions are being made. This gives a balanced approach to policymaking and planning, as every point of view, including women’s is considered. I have seen the impact of this while partaking in the planning and execution of programs by AfriLabs. Representation will often lead to inclusion.
The best way to challenge the archaic and oppressive system of patriarchy is to listen. Listen to women by putting them in places where they can be heard, in places where the decisions that affect their lives are made. As an organisation, resist the urge to be faux in your approach to equality. Simply treat women as humans. Give them a listening ear and equal opportunities to grow. As a male, encourage the placement of women in leadership spaces. Give women the opportunity to be heard without fear. Interrogate your responses to women’s complaints and agitations, don’t dismiss because you don’t understand or can’t relate.
Shhhh…women all over the world are talking, let’s listen.