The invited article this month is about sexism and the nefarious nature of gender inequities. It is written by a person who has spent her entire professional life denouncing it as a moral evil and working to help people overcome the patriarchal mentality. Dr. Glenda Simms writes in plain English that anyone can understand. There are those, of course, who do not want to understand; men addicted to the "macho" mentality, and women who prefer to keep playing the old games.
It is now widely recognized by most scholars of the human sciences that sexism harms men as well as women. In fact, it is an obstacle to human development: the sexist person rarely becomes aware that there is man in woman, and woman in man. The resulting cross-gender alienation, subtle as it may be, makes it difficult for a person to undertake the inner journey that liberates us from relying solely on material things to find satisfaction and fulfilment in life.
Therefore, it is critical to make people aware of these facts which pertain to both individual human development and the sustainable development of communities at all levels. This "popularization" of the gender equality mindset is well served by people who, like Dr. Simms, keep reiterating the gender equality message in plain language, speaking and writing "with iron hands and velvet gloves," yet without bitterness or complaints of victimhood.
THE CULT OF THE PATRIARCH
Glenda P. Simms
Jamaica Gleaner, Kingston, Jamaica
Date of Publication: 7 December 2008
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION
Recently, I was away from Jamaica for a period of five weeks.
During this time, I routinely read the local newspapers on the Internet, and there was no day that I found a positive note on the situation of women and children in the land of my birth.
On one memorable occasion during this time, I sat in a Jamaican barber's chair in London and I listened carefully to the 'barber shop comments' about the state of affairs in Jamaica.
The women who were present were very concerned about the reports of the horrendous murders and gross mutilation of women and children in their beloved society.
One of the men lifted his razor from his client's head and stated in a convincing tone that he has heard that these atrocities are not being carried out by Jamaicans, but by foreigners who are members of cults that are now at work in the society.
Looking for bogeyman
I thought that this response was typical of the general psyche of our society. We are always looking for the bogeyman or some other entity to blame for our shortcomings.
It is in response to these rumours that I thought of the real cult that has been at work in shaping the Jamaican society for more than 500 years - the cult of the patriarch.
In order to set the historical and political context of this concept, I bring the following facts to my readers:
Jamaica ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) many years ago.
In article five of this important women's human rights treaty, all state parties are obligated to "modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles of men and women".
Furthermore, every state party to the convention is called upon to "ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children".
In August 2006 at the 745th and 746th meetings of the CEDAW Committee held in New York, an official Jamaica delegation presented the fifth periodic report of the status of the country's women to the committee, and detailed convincingly the impressive legislative framework and the 'progressive' cutting-edge programmes that are being carried out nationally to ensure that all aspects of the rights of Jamaican women are protected by the state.
However, the aims of article five of CEDAW seem to be the most difficult to achieve in many societies. The Jamaican society is no exception.
That is why in its concluding remarks to the Government of Jamaica's fifth periodic report, there was a recommendation for the state to put in place a strategy "with clear goals and timetables to modify or eliminate negative cultural practices and stereotypes that discriminate against women".
Most important, the CEDAW Committee noted "with grave concern the extent, intensity and prevalence of violence against women especially sexual violence" in the Jamaican society.
In order to ensure that the obligations of our government under international treaties in general and the women's human rights treaty, in particular, we must find ways to address effectively the horrendous levels of gender-based violence in Jamaica.
In this period of social upheaval and unacceptable levels of cruel and inhumane violence against women and their children, all stakeholders of both sexes - government, NGOs, funding agencies, faith-based organisations, human rights and all other formations in civil society - must be reminded of the context and causes of violence against women.
These were detailed in the report of the Secretary General which was presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations on July 6, 2006.
The following are among the many issues highlighted in the in-depth study on all forms of violence against women: Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a human rights violation.
The specific causes of such violence are grounded in the broader context of systematic gender-based discrimination.
Such violence is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women reflected in both public and private life.
Violence against women is not confined to a specific region, culture or country, nor to a particular group of women within a society.
Violence against women is both universal and particular. There is no region of the world, no country and no culture in which women's freedom from violence has been secured.
"The socially constructed hierarchical roles of women and men are rooted in entrenched patriarchy.
"Violence against women has been normalised within the patriarchal framework of all societies.
These insights are a small sampling of the results of the in-depth research that the United Nations has carried out over a long period of time.
The history of the struggle against the cult of the patriarch is the history of individuals and groups of women who have never been prepared to be mere cheerleaders in the game of human survival. It is the history of women and girls who took a stand against the most powerful men in their families, their communities, their places of worship, and the seats of those who govern.
According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a cult is defined as a "system of religious worship especially as expressed in ceremonies, devotion or homage". Within the pseudo-religious cult of patriarchy women's sexuality is routinely sacrificed in order to prop up the need of the patriarch for a particular type of homage.
It is within this framework of reference that Amnesty International has argued in a 2004 publication titled It's In Our Hands, that "violence is often used to control women's behaviour to ensure chastity and the inheritance of property and to maintain the prestige of the family and the society".
It is, therefore, no wonder that in all societies "sex and sexuality are highly politicised".
In the case of the Jamaican society, there is great ambivalence about the value of women and girls.
On one hand, we hear rumours of how strong and powerful the women are, and on the other hand, the reality of the levels of violence against them continues to rise at an alarming rate.
Rapes, incestuous assaults, spousal battering, economic marginalisation, the early sexual initiation of the girl child, the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the demonisation of that which is considered feminine are all part of the definitions of the Jamaican socio-political and historical cultural reality.
So, while there is much merit in a recent call by business leader Douglas Orane for us to be courageous enough to analyse our historical past to get an understanding of our contemporary violent experience, I would rather spend more time critiquing the cult of the patriarch and devise ways to empower every woman and girl to take control of her body, her mind and her soul.
This is possible if women stop cowering and running for cover. Indeed, it is possible if they look beyond the narrow confines of a culture rooted in the rapist exploits of plantation bosses (historical and contemporary ones) and find the intestinal fortitude to go beyond the so-called post-feminist platitudes of their detractors.
When all else fails, every woman today can take courage from the extraordinary story of Nijood Mohammed Ali, the 10-year-old child bride from Yemen who took the most unheard of action in her patriarchal society when she took a bus and a taxi and ended up in her town's court facilities, and had the opportunity to say to a judge, "I want a divorce".
This girl taught every woman a lesson of courage and, most important, her action should remind us that no woman can afford the luxury of complacency in a world in which the cult of the patriarch remains strong.
It is this cult that is fuelling the high levels of violence in this land that we profess to love. This cult must be decisively dismantled by both women and men who desire to live in peace and harmony with others and with their physical environment.
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