Social norms affect gender equality

Language is the dominant enterprise in reproducing and perpetuating gender inequalities - Dr Sehin Teferra
From Left to right: Dr Ewenat Gebrehana, W/ro Zenebework Tadesse, Blen Sahilu & Dr Sehin Teferra

The Ethiopian Academy of Sciences (EAS), in collaboration with Population Reference Bureau (PRB), held a panel discussion on “Social Norms and Gender In/Equality in Ethiopia” on March 8, 2018.

The panel was organized as part of the Academy’s engagement in population and development, particularly the demographic dividend. The panel was moderated by W/ro Zenebework Tadesse, Principal Vice President of the EAS, who, upon opening the discussion, highlighted the crucial role of gender equality in achieving the demographic dividend. The moderator also noted that social-norms, as key determinants of gender equality, merit academic attention.

The panel included speakers Dr Sehin Teferra, co-founder of Setaweet movement and activist; Blen Sahilu, lawyer, academician and women’s rights activist; and Dr Ewenat Gebrehana, reproductive health specialist. Speakers discussed social norms and gender equality from three perspectives: social-norms and gender relations; gender-based violence and social-norms; and the influence of social-norms in women’s access of sexual and reproductive health services.

Dr Sehin mentioned that women’s equal access to education, healthcare services, decent employment opportunities and roles in decision-making spheres are limited by the social-norms embedded in the social compass. “Language is a powerful tool in perpetuating sexist stereotypes and reinforcing gender inequalities; and most of the coercing elements of everyday languages we use against equality are typical examples of the prejudice,” added the speaker. Speaking on gender-based violence, Blen Sahilu emphasized on the need to address gender-based violence as a symptom of a wider and deep rooted systematic issue as opposed to an isolated incident.

Dr Ewenat noted that adolescent girls and women suffer from easily treatable sexually transmitted diseases and lack of access to reproductive health services due to societal expectations on gender roles. In discussing the impact of social norms, Dr Ewenat highlighted the importance of understanding how social norms influence women differently across different socio-economic and geographical settings in Ethiopia.  

Panel participants shared the panellists’ views. They emphasized on the need to change the ways children are nurtured, re-orient the roles of the media, the education system and the family outpost in curbing the influences of social norms that the society has taken for granted, and nation-wide women empowerment undertakings as an enduring solutions to create equal space for women. Discussants also suggested that rights activists ought to bring about shifts in their strategies where women stand in the forefront of leadership and key decision making capacities. Furthermore, as participants’ amplified the need for a coordinated approach among researchers and gender equality advocates generating empirical and exploratory evidences in order to show the missing links and the gaps created by the inequalities.

Panellists and the gathering commended that as gender equality is one of the milestones for development, appropriate academic and policy attentions are paramount. Students from Lebawi Academy and Menilik II Secondary and Preparatory schools, advocacy groups, government offices, civil societies, graduate students and scholars across fields had joined the panel discussion.