Friday, 18 March 2016

Celebrating women

What were you doing on Tuesday 8th March 2016?  Did you know that each year 8th March is designated as International Women’s Day?  I never knew that until I was in Chad last time.  It’s not much celebrated in the UK.

Here in Chad, as in a lot of countries, it is a big event.  I could think up some reasons why, but I’m not sure they’d be based on fact, just my own thoughts and probably a few biases.

Women in Chad are generally seen as inferior to men.  A woman’s worth is overall gauged by how many children she produces.  Men are generally the wage-earners and the women stay at home cooking, cleaning and looking after the children.  Polygamous relationships are legal, men can have up to four wives under Chadian law, and so families can be large. 

On the morning of 8th March I was looking at the BBC website and my eye was drawn to an article entitled ‘International Women’s Day: Sexism rife in textbooks, says Unesco’.  The sub-title reads ‘sexist attitudes are ‘rife’ in school textbooks used in developing countries, according to Unesco’.  The article is at this link if you want to read it:

I was saddened to read this article which highlights gender bias in some school textbooks, showing men in money-earning roles and women dreaming of becoming a wife and mother.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with dreaming of being a wife and mother, it’s just that these textbooks only show that role for women.

At the end of the BBC article, a report called ‘Poverty is Sexist’, from the campaign group One is referenced (the report available at this link:  It says that gender inequality and poverty are linked and that women in developing countries are more likely to be worse off than men.  One have produced a list of 20 countries where it’s toughest to be born a girl.  This is based on criteria such as access to health and education, economic opportunities, access to a bank account and political representation.  I hoped against hope that Chad wasn’t on this list but knew deep down it would be.  As I scrolled down, there it was, at number 9.

8th March each year in Chad is the only day where most women get to have the day off from their usual daily routines and have a party.  That in itself speaks volumes I think and goes some way to explain why it’s continually celebrated here. 

Here at the hospital around 40% of the staff are female.  Most of them are nurses or midwives and so have a relatively high level of education compared with many women in Chad.  A lot of our female staff have their pay paid into their own bank account.  So we buck the trend to some extent.

All the female staff at the hospital had the day off on 8th March (except two midwives who obviously had to work.  We have male nurses, so they provided cover).  There is always a big march in front of the president’s palace first thing in the morning of 8th March, where women march in their new outfits, made from that year’s specially printed Women’s Day fabric.  For security reasons we didn’t march this year but we did go to a restaurant, all togged-up in our new outfits, and ate roast chicken with fresh bread and the obligatory sugary soft drink!  There was a jovial atmosphere as we all enjoyed being out of the work environment and being together.

It’s important that International Women’s Day is continually remembered and used to try and redress the gender inequality that is virulent, to varying degrees, in all countries around the world.

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