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“Men are beaten [figuratively speaking] in Europe while women are beaten in Africa”. That was one of the punch lines delivered by a young, and otherwise rather charming, man from Ivory Coast.

It all started with the commonly used arguments such as “if a woman cannot cook then she is not marriage-material”, while at the same time acknowledging that men are also expected to perform certain gender appropriate activities such as being the breadwinners.

I’ve heard such ideas before but what really caught my attention was this continental anchoring when presenting such points. I then remembered I was in Africa, where is common to find a strong continental identity [1]. In his view gender equality is not possible in Africa as it is in Europe. He followed by saying that gender equality exists in Europe – which I would strongly contest [2] – but that in reality men in Europe are beaten since they are told to do the dishes and help with what he otherwise considers to be women’s roles.

The most interesting idea he provided was the belief that if African men went to Europe, they too wouldn’t have a choice but to surrender to such womanly requests – I then suggested that perhaps that was the solution, to bring him to Europe so that he could learn how to be on a more equal level with women! Whilst I think he might align to such views to a certain extent I also feel he was being deliberately provocative and joyful.

There were other African men at the table too – from Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso – who found his comments amusing. They didn’t always agree with him, and I wonder how much of this attitude was to please me (I made no effort to hide my disagreement with such remarks) and in some cases they offered supportive arguments such as: “women are the problem since they talk about equality but for example they wouldn’t be willing to pay their half of the bill”.

It is true that women can also reinforce machismo and misogyny. A common example is when mothers raise boys in ways that do not promote equality, for example asking the girl and not the boys to help with household activities; or when young women reinforce stereotypes by agreeing that women cannot do something because of their gender.

Therefore gender inequality is not just down to men, women have a role too in promoting it. Gender inequality is also not geographically determined but down to personal choice, since even in the most culturally machist societies you can find men that do not conform to the norm. For more on how to promote gender equality click here.

[1]  “Pan-Africanism, as an expression of continental identity and coherence, distinguishes regional integration in Africa from other regions in the developing world” (McCarthy, 1995, p. 14)

[2] “The UK falls eight places in rankings measuring gender equality worldwide”, the Gender equality report: not one country has fully closed the gap yet.

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