Are Gender Roles in the African Home Changing because of Diaspora Influence?
Today the world is more globalized, interconnected, and interdependent than ever before. There is much movement between countries with people coming and going which has brought about social remittances to many African countries in the form of ideas, values, beliefs and practices. In addition to social remittances this movement has brought in human capital – which I can define as movement of knowledge, talent, and skills across boarders. People now live ‘hyphenated lives’ where brain drain can become brain gain and brain exchange, and this has brought about some changes in gender roles in most African homes
Research shows that both genetics and environment influence the development of gender roles and these roles can also be learned. As society changes, its gender roles often change to meet the needs of the society. For families and especially for those with children, Diaspora has brought changes with regards to the functions of the family, including functions related to statuses and roles of family members. In the case of families with children the, most affected function of the family is caring for children. Older children come to take the place of the missing parent, assuming tasks that normally were performed by adult parents.
Furthermore gender roles are largely a product of the way in which one was raised and may not be in conformance with ones gender identity. They happen from an early age such as with toys and colors we introduce children to. We use blue for a boy and pink for a girl. Parents do this even though they know that blue is commonly associated with being masculine and pink is a soft and feminine colour. Males are more assertive and females more nurturing. Girls are not given guns, and boys are not given cooking stations as toys. These roles are engrained in children from a young age and are pushed on children so that they support it.
Throughout African history spouses have been charged with certain societal functions and the expected roles that each spouse was to carry out specifically. Husbands were typically working farmers – that is to say the providers. Wives typically cared for the home and the children.
However, the roles are now changing and even reversing. This is seen or evidenced by an increased feminisation of Diasporas out of many Southern African countries where women are leaving, not to be reunited with their husbands, but in search of work. This has contributed much to changing the African family model, in terms of roles played inside and outside the family.
Research shows that recently women have equalled men regarding the rate of migration for work, although in the past women were seen as the passive followers of males migrating for work.
Diaspora has also brought about transnational families and transnational parenting. Where in transnational families members live some or most of the time separated from each other, yet hold together and create something that can be seen as a feeling of collective welfare and unity namely ‘family hood’ even across national boarders. Whereas in transnational parenting the adults parent their children from a different country than the one in which their children resides.
The 21st century has seen a shift in gender roles due to multiple factors such as new family structures, education, media and several others. In this century we see total integration of roles whereas the past was dominated by gender role segregation.
I believe gender roles should not be fixed but are constantly negotiated between individuals.
With the importance of education emphasised nationwide through media, knowledge and skills transfer through diaspora, access of college degrees (e.g. online), women have begun furthering their education, thereby leading to equal professional opportunities with men. Educating women is one if not the most important investment that any society can make in its own future.
Family structures are changing and number of single-mother or single-father households is increasing. Fathers are also becoming more involved, with raising their children, instead of responsibility resting solely with the mother. This will help ease the burden on women as all the housework is done by both parties to the marriage with equal share.
In decision making neither partner in the family dominates, solutions do not always follow the principal of finding a concerted decision. Status quo is maintained if disagreement occurs.
Diasporas are a bridge to knowledge, cultural exchange, and they have had much influence in shaping gender roles in Africa.
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