In recent years the area of sustainability has increasingly gained the attention of people, businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations. The perhaps biggest player in the latter category, the United Nations Organization, has even developed a set of 17 goals which they envision to achieve until the year 2030 in order to guarantee a sustainable development of our world and the respective societies and businesses.
Among these goals, one will stumble upon the very obvious keywords associated with sustainability such as “poverty”, “hunger”, “climate” and “energy”. But one will also read about the term “gender equality” which is less frequently associated with sustainable development. So, one might ask himself: How is this related to the overall picture of sustainable development and how relevant is gender equality to the subject?
I’d like to approach the response to this question by drawing a mental picture: Imagine you are baking bread. The most important among all ingredients will be flour. Independent of the bread type and the recipe you have opted for you will most probably need a large quantity of flour. I would like to argue, however, that flour isn’t your most important ingredient. I would say that the most important ingredient when baking bread is yeast. Thought you only need a little bit of yeast, it is the one ingredient that will determine how big your bread will “grow” in the oven. And why do I talk about bread when the discussion truly is about sustainable development? Well, I think that if sustainable development was a loaf of bread and the UN goals were a recipe to bake that bread feminism would most definitely be part of that recipe. Feminism might be our yeast. I believe that though gender equality as one of many goals only makes a small part of the overall picture getting it right will determine to which extent we will be able to achieve or even exceed the targeted development.
Before diving any deeper into this conversation, it is important to understand what feminism is. Feminism is defined as the “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes” (Oxford University Press, 2018). In my own words, I would say that a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are equally human, equally important and shall be treated the same way – not only by law but also in society’s perception and culture. In the Republic Democratic of Congo, however, the reality is still far from this.
About 70.2% of the population of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are women (Wikipedia, 2018). This represents almost three-quarters of the country’s 85.054297 million people (Worldometers.info). The labor participation rate of women however only accounts for 49.8% of women (The World Bank Group, 2018). If one does the math this would mean that only 29.7 million women have a job. Questions that run through my own mind after doing this math are: Why is that? And how is a country supposed to grow if a major part of its population is not efficient?
Photo Credit: Marie Frechon/United Nations
Based on my personal experience I believe that a big part of the reason behind this is the Congolese culture. Having Congolese heritage, myself I have been taught from a young age to aspire to things such as marriage and having a family. Education and career are often associated with men only and being an ambitious and thriving woman is perceived as bad by many aspects of the culture. Though there are many flaws in this type of thinking what makes me the most concerned is the fact that the country needs women to be active participants of the labor market in order to outgrow poverty.
Like in many African countries, women make up a bigger chunk of the population than men do. I believe that if those women were not conditioned into thinking that they have to dedicate their lives to motherhood and marriage only they could move the country forward which would not only help with combatting gender inequality but this shift in thinking could also allow for women to have more access to higher income, improved health and a better education. Imagine if all these women were teachers teaching the future generations about how they all, boys and girls, could become anything they wanted to be? Imagine if these women were doctors treating the many diseases which have disappeared in Western societies? Imagine if all these women were businesswomen helping the country get access to the financial markets and getting the funds to run their own businesses? Moving into this direction would help reach so many goals for a sustainable development of not only the Democratic Republic of the Congo but the world as a whole.
The biggest problem, however, is that the change needs to happen in people’s mind, people’s thinking, people’s culture and changing one’s culture is a task which I myself would not know how to tackle. But it is important to keep in mind that as people change culture changes with them. So, if we could start educating and informing people on the issue perhaps we could start a movement which would shift the world citizen’s culture. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put very nicely ”Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.”
Ngozi Adichie, C., 22014. We Should All Be Feminists, London: Fourth Estate.
Oxford University Press, 2018. Feminism.
The World Bank Group, 2018. Labor force, female (% of total labor force).
Wikipedia,2018. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Worldometers.info, 2018. DR Congo Population (LIVE).