“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”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2012), a Nigerian Author and feminist.
When it comes to poverty and gender in Sub-Saharan Africa, the discussions often focus on how dominant cultural practices impact women and how women are denied their rights due to these practices. There are many cultural practices in Africa that do not serve the interests of women. These range from genital mutilations, to early marriages, to disproportionate labor in the field and in households and inability to own the land, to mention but a few.
The discussion, however, rarely touches upon the role poverty plays in these cultures and how it affects relationships between men and women. In other words, if the countries in sub-Saharan Africa were not as poor, would women be treated differently? Are gender discriminating cultural practices and traditions the result of poverty or is poverty the result of traditions?
We can see both from research and from practice that as people get better off, gender relations also improve. So, it might be that certain gender discriminating cultural practices and traditional beliefs result from poverty or are perpetuated by poverty. This is one of the questions Lohna Bonkat, University of Jos and Asaaju Morenikeji, University of Bayreuth ask in their research “Questioning Poverty: Experiences of women in South Western and North Central Nigeria”. Their study showed that poverty reduction had positive impact on gender, i.e. it reduced gender inequality and enhanced gender relations. Similar results were demonstrated by the work of NGOs in Zambia on a project called a Safer Zambia, ASAZA. The project which focused on reducing gender based violence showed that as households became less poor, gender relations improved and violence reduced, even without changing cultural norms and beliefs.
Read the full blog post by Elvis Chifwafwa on the SIANI Youth website here.