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As a young woman growing up in a country raging with war, torture, poverty and death, I was given a hard life. My family and I were pushed into a camp. At 5 years old I only guessed what my father looked like. I saw children my age protected by their fathers and uncles, but my case was different, mine was at a war zone and might never return. The thought of it kept me awake most nights and cut me off from conversations with my peers every time they mentioned “my dad this, my dad that”. I wanted to be like them. Every time a school asked for bamboo or logs to make classroom benches, my mother got it for me. Of course I had people close to uncles living in our house but they only knew how to beat me up.

My mother rode a bike with two 50kg bags of sorghum grains from the ratio center just like any other man every time there was food distribution. She woke up at 6 AM every morning to train men and women foot match, gun skills and a bunch of complicated things that I didn’t understand at the time. She commanded and trained them by herself with no pay, and led them to careers in the police force today. Some made it to the South Sudanese army.

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Source: George Mulala via csmonitor.com

As a child I was very confused about gender roles; tradition painted women as donkeys who did everything and never gave up or complained. I saw women comply and accept their fate. For my mother I knew she was alone, but other women had their husbands and sons at home waiting to be served a meal they had no idea how hard it was to make. It occurred to me that one day I would get married and be submissive like these women, serving my family without complaint. I was consumed with fear at the thought, but watching my mother grind through life all by herself from standing up for our rights in the family, to defending my father’s honor in his absence, taking up responsibilities and handling it smoothly inspired me that a woman can survive such a life.

I pushed for equality without understanding the word. I sought and fought for equal rights at home, community and school and I fought off boy bullies and despicable male teachers. I wanted girls and boys to be treated the same, so I took up a strong position in class, joined debates, played soccer, slashed grass, swept the compound and got the same hair cut. I grew up thinking being equal was just, but now I know it is not. I simply gave away the powers and rights of being a woman by looking and act like a man. Fairness between genders doesn’t mean that everyone should act the same. The point is not for men and women to reach a complete genderless state. It means that men and women should be given the same opportunities but tackle it in a way that suits their individuality.

Being a woman is not a weakness, as a matter of fact, a woman is the ultimate definition of power. She comes with so much intelligence and passion. She is designed in such a way that she can contain as much pain as possible and still have a bright smile at the end of the day. Whatever she decides to do she does it perfectly. What could possibly equal that? Being equal to a man is not just limiting, it is an insult to the other gender. Why be like a man or equal to a man to achieve greatness when you can just be a woman and achieve the same with pride and content. Now that I am a grown woman, I see why my mother had to do it all, it wasn’t by choice, circumstances pushed her to stand on her feet and wear two different sized pairs of shoes. The bigger size dragged her to the mud most times, but she refused to stay down. She didn’t need to be like anything or anyone else, she only had to be a strong woman.

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Source: anfocal.ie

In African countries like South Sudan, women have been labeled week and unable because they can’t handle being ruthless or fight like men at war. They are expected to be quiet and just agree to everything in their surroundings and when they speak their minds, they are thought of as disrespectful. Who set these rules anyway? Who said a woman can’t make a great politician, a spokesperson? Does she need to be a soldier? Do you know how many families have been raised by women with no help from a man? Albert Einstein once said “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Our differences are not the obstacles and have never been, although our mindset made it look that way.

I want my society to know that women are important, and they shouldn’t be treated like lesser beings that only hear and feel but can’t speak. A woman’s voice is clear, it’s loud, it can be the change and it deserves to be heard. We are viewed as human banks waiting for dowry and off you go. The few women with education are feared to be threats. God didn’t create the female to be auctioned out for marriages whenever her family or community pleases, or to be kept at home away from the world and pushed into the kitchen away from life changing discussions. The cycle continues when decisions are made, we are expected to accept them and be happy. This has to stop. We deserve better. Let us be part of the society as women in our own way, not women who are forced to wear pants in order to be heard.

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Photo Credit: Nataly Serrano via theorion.com

Understanding the differences between equality and equity enables one to get acquainted and react to the differences in health, education and general well-being that are unjust, needless and undependable. One thing I want everyone to understand is equality is not fair and equity is not equality either. Imagine your parents treated you exactly the same as your brothers or sisters; which means everyone gets a skirt, ponytail, pants or a bald hair cut. At this point there is definitely a disagreement, because boys don’t wear skirts or ponytails and not all girls like bald heads. These are natural inclinations due to our upbringing and environment. Everyone has weaknesses, strengths, likes and dislikes. Their individuality sets them apart so what works for me might not work for you because we are different. What equal treatment does is erase our differences and replace it with privilege. Equality is sweet and sounds easy, but it is dangerous when misunderstood.

At the end of the day, equality and equity separately cause disaster but combined, they create harmony and peace. Just like education and common sense complement each other. I know a section of women who use their education to try and prove that they are equal, and in the process lose the value of being a woman. You see, when Nelson Mandela said” educating a woman is educating a nation”, he never meant being equal or fighting with men. An educated woman will know that I don’t have to be treated like a man to blossom and do great. Everyone has their own timeline. Oprah Winfrey didn’t become the awesome woman that we look up to today because she settled for equality; she embraced the woman in her and shot for the stars. Our differences make us who we are and hence they can be our strength if embraced and optimized. Transitioning from a confused child to a grown woman who understands and sees life the way it is, I would never demand for equal rights. I know that to actively move everyone closer to their goal means understanding that everyone is different and we need to give them the time, effort and resources to reach their potential within their set of strengths and weaknesses.

 
 


Akon Viola Dut

Akon Viola Dut graduated from Nkumba University Kampala (Uganda) with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2017. She joined the profession as a news reporter, anchor and editor. Akon is currently working on her first book and is the director of Women & Politics, a flagship Andariya Youtube series. Akon lives in Kampala and can be found on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram @iamakondut