by Peace Oluwadara, AJALA

Policy Issues: Social Change, Social Justice and Inequality.

A Kenyan lawmaker, Zulekha Hassan, was reportedly kicked out of parliament because she came with her baby. According to reports, Kenya Hassan, who represents the Kwale constituency, brought in the baby because she had an emergency and was unable to sort out babysitting arrangements. She said she had intended to be at the parliament for only a short time. In her words, “today, I had an emergency, what was I supposed to do? Miss parliament? That’s why I just came with her. I knew I would be staying here just for a while and later when my situation is better, I would go. But if there was a room or a crèche or nursery, I would then be able to put my baby there.” According to the Standing Orders of the National Assembly, strangers are not allowed into the House, including children. Even the Head of State is said to access the chamber on special occasions provided for in the Constitution, whereas members of the public can only access the Speaker’s gallery, but with permission. After she was sent out of the parliament with her baby, Hassan revealed that there had been a rule that a nursery should be established within the premises of the parliament for nursing mothers since 2013 but it was never implemented.

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“One hierarchy, however, has been of supreme importance in all known human societies: the hierarchy of gender. People everywhere have divided themselves into men and women. And almost everywhere men have got the better deal, at least since the Agricultural Revolution.”[2]

  • Page 127, Chapter 8, Part Two, Harari’s

The viral video showed one of the male lawmakers addressing the house and vehemently stating “she must be sent out at once. I have children too, but I do not bring them in here.” His words seem to imply that despite the fact that he also has children to cater for, he keeps work distinct and professional. This ought to be and remain the standard across board; discipline and professionalism, whether male or female. The instant scenario however seems a slight variation from the general expectation as it is greatly in doubt that the man who uttered the statement, is responsible for the day-to-day care and physical welfare of his child; rather, his wife most likely is.

Some of the cultural, legal and political disparities between men and women reflect the obvious biological differences between the sexes. Childbearing has always been the woman’s job, because men do not have wombs. Yet, every society has accumulated layer upon layer of cultural ideas and norms that have little or nothing to do with biology. Societies associate a host of attributes with femininity that, for the most part, lacks a firm biological basis. The African culture has taken on the belief that the woman’s place is in domestic affairs and child rearing; according to many, it is only ‘natural’. In truth however, our concepts of what is ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ are taken not from biology, but from religious beliefs and theologies. The theological meaning of ‘natural’ is ‘in accordance with the intentions of the God who created nature’. Most of the laws, norms, rights and obligations that define womanhood reflect human imagination more than biological reality. Our own imagined orders have kept us bound within false prison walls behind which the disadvantaged party suffers for generations unending, until a crop arise who deliberately and calculatedly decide, not just to stop the wheel, but to break the wheel.

In this clime, a woman is not a sapiens-specie with two X chromosomes, a womb and plenty of oestrogen. Rather, she is perceived, addressed and treated as a female member of an imagined human order. The myths of this society assign her unique feminine roles (raising children), rights (protection against violence) and duties (obedience to her husband or father, depending on her marital estate). Since myths, rather than biology, have defined the roles, rights and duties of women for so long, expectation of society invariably demeans, objectifies and puts down the woman. Were the African society Bicchieri’s laboratory and a role-exchange experiment conducted, the results may not be far different from her original experiment results. The male specie may no doubt cry foul and demand that things return to status quo.

North defined ‘institutions’ as unwritten norms via which the people live or act in a given society.[3] Seeing as norms are unwritten and endogenous in nature, it takes gradual and consistent re-orientation to realign and change the set norms in a society. Pending the time desired change is fully achieved however, it seems only fair to give the woman certain considerations while roles are yet cast in imagined stones. By no means, should the standard expectation of diligence and excellence be dropped for the women; rather, considerations surrounding the set roles may be given. An apt illustration of such considerations would be the 2013 rule that a nursery should be established within the premises of the Kenyan parliament for nursing mothers, but was never implemented. Considerations such as this, which surround circumstantial roles set by society for the female gender, may be granted. The society cannot eat her cake and have it. Basic human instincts of kindness and compassion should not be lost under the guise of equal demands.

Equality is not always Equity. Where a party is already in a disadvantaged position, what is required is no longer equal treatment (equality) but better treatment (equity).

 

[1] This article was taken from The Punch Newspaper. Available at: https://punchng.com/video-lawmaker-kicked-out-of-chambers-for-bringing-baby/. Date Accessed: 08/08/2019.

[2] Yuval Noah Harari; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

[3] Douglass C. North; Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance.