• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Shouldering the third burden

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Tosin Odeyemi has always been at the centre of taking care of her family needs since she got married 10 years ago. Her husband lost his job few months after they got married, hence they had lived on her income ever since.

In colonial times, families were large, and every member of the family had an important role in helping to provide everything the family needed. The men hunted and farmed and maybe worked at a trade. The women cared for the children, took care of the garden, and made candles, soap, and other necessities. They also cared for the cattle, cleaned and spun wool for clothing, and made medicines for the family, but their roles in the family today have changed considerably.

While the husband’s main role had traditionally been that of breadwinner, by the 1960s many women were redefining their own roles as homemakers. Women who had experienced the economic independence of a paying job, and who had attained personal satisfaction from working, re-entered the labour force.

The availability of contraceptives enabled many young married women to postpone childbearing. The mothers of baby boomers, most of whom had given birth at a young age, saw the last of their children leave the nest. These mothers were ready to start a new chapter in life, which for many meant finding a career.

It was in time past, observes Tayo Adeoye, a counsellor, that the relationships between women and society in the specific area of family life, social and cultural tradition considered women’s role to be exclusively that of wife and mother, without adequate access to public functions, which have generally been reserved for men.

“In 2002, women represented 47 percent of employed persons. The increase in women serving in managerial and professional positions, has encouraged more women to be educated. This has forced businesses to recruit and promote qualified women and minorities. In 1983, women accounted for 45.8 percent of people employed in technical, sales, and administrative support positions, and 21.9 percent of managerial and professional positions. By 2002, a number of managers and professionals were women, while their representation in traditional women’s roles as support staff had declined to considerably,” says Adeoye.

According Seun Ogunlana, a psychologist, there is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justify women’s access to public functions. “On the other hand, the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions.”

She explains that these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human, saying “the mentality which honours women more for their work outside the home than for their work within the family must be overcome. This requires that men should truly esteem and love women with total respect for their personal dignity, and that society should create and develop conditions favouring work in the home.”

Oluwarotimi Adenekan, a cleric, observes that the different vocations of men and women, the church must in her own life promote, as far as possible the equality of rights and dignity: and this for the good of all, the family, the church, and society.

“Clearly, all of this does not mean for women a renunciation of their femininity or an imitation of the male role, but the fullness of true feminine humanity which should be expressed in their activity, whether in the family or outside it, without disregarding the differences of customs and cultures in this sphere,” he explains.

He also adds that the role reversal between men and women has led most men to leave the responsibility of taking care of their family at the mercy of their wives.

“It is important to underline the equal dignity and responsibility of women with men. This equality is realised in a unique manner, in that reciprocal self-giving by each one to the other and by both to the children which is proper to marriage and the family. What human reason intuitively perceives and acknowledges is fully revealed by the word of God. The history of salvation, in fact, is a continuous and luminous testimony to the dignity of women. A good man must not leave the total care of the family to the woman, he must assist; besides the woman is supposed to be his helpmeet and not otherwise,” he says.

Biola Adeosun, a married woman, gives another twist to the story. To her, women who have shouldered their family responsibility while their husbands were alive had very few rights related to either their family or their property. “In the eyes of the in-laws, women were almost invisible,” she explains, as “they had no legal rights to share in the supposed husband’s inheritance even though they toiled for it without the man’s assistance. Women could not own or inherit property. Once a woman married, she had even fewer rights. Married women could not sign contracts; their money was not even their own. They could not sue for divorce, and if their husband divorced them, women usually lost their children. Women and children were treated like property that belonged to the husband. Women were not even expected to speak up in public; usually their husband spoke for them.”

However, Adenekan posits that marriage ought to become a communion and community of persons, where the family finds love – the source and constant impetus for welcoming, respecting and promoting each one of its members in his or her lofty dignity as a person. “As the synod fathers rightly stated, the moral criterion for the authenticity of conjugal and family relationships consists in fostering the dignity and vocation of the individual persons, who achieve their fullness by sincere self-giving,” he observes.

 

ANNE AGBAJE