International Day of the Girl Child 2020: Gender Stereotyping
While ‘sex’ refers to the biological traits which distinguish a male from a female, gender refers to the roles and traits society assigns people based on their sex.1 Gender therefore determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or man in any given context and the over-simplification of this gives rise to gender stereotypes.
The term ‘gender stereotypes’ can be defined as the characteristics which are believed to belong to certain sexes, and which inform the expectations and roles assigned to them. These stereotypes birth inequalities between men and women in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities.2 However, it is important to understand that the social construct of gender roles vary from society to society and they are context and time specific and thus, are amenable to change. 3
Factors Influencing Gender Stereotyping in Nigeria
Cultural Structure: It is first and foremost important to note that Nigeria is a culturally patriarchal society and thus gender stereotypes are formed in the favour of men. The word ‘patriarchal’ comes from the word ‘patriarchy’ and it is defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.4 The Nigerian culture perceives and treats men as superior to women and so, norms formed reflect this.
Socio-Religious Beliefs: Certain religious beliefs and misinterpretations greatly influence what roles women and men are assigned. Since Nigeria is vastly made of religious groups, mainly consisting of Christian and Muslim people, religion plays a large role in how society is constructed, even to the detriment of women.
Son Preference Syndrome: From the very beginning, in the family unit, male children are sought after and treated with higher regard than female ones and this is referred to as the “son preference syndrome”. In the family, the male child is groomed to take up the role of head of the family and provide for it allowing him more freedom and independence, while the female child is groomed for marriage and house duties. The result of society’s exaggeration of these roles is that girls and women are excluded from pursing any lifestyle outside of this, limiting their ability for independence and self- determination.
Effects of Gender Stereotyping in Nigeria
These gender stereotypes create a system that is harmful to both girls and boys.
Harmful Pressures on Boys and Men: Young boys are pressured to take on the entire burden of financial provision and leadership. This coupled with the lack of attention paid to raising boy children is a factor that contributes to the negative behaviours exhibited toward women in the society today.
Gender Based Violence and Gender Discrimination: Raising boys to feel superior and entitled to women, and the limitation of girls from childhood teaches girls to see themselves as inferior to men which allows for easier subjugation and exposes her to various forms of discrimination. Gender based violence and discrimination therefore increases where gender stereotypes take root at such early stages.
Eliminating Gender Stereotypes
However, in a society where these gender stereotypes are not ingrained in children, such inequalities are neither cultivated nor allowed to flourish, and this stems from teaching both boys and girls that they have equal rights and equal value.
Both girls and boys should be raised instilling in them the same moral values and being provided the same opportunities all round.
Families should be enlightened on the ills of gender stereotyping and the importance of giving equal value to both boys and girls.
Government should establish policies that reinforce equal opportunities for all irrespective of gender to dismantle existing gender discriminatory activities.
Girls must be given free and quality access to education to improve her sense of self-worth and enable her self-development, independence, and self- determination.
The result of this is that we find that girls and boys are given a better foundation on which they can make better and more independent choices for themselves. This leads to increased productivity and national development as neither gender is stifled by harmful and restrictive stereotypes.