Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a society or a social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of a human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.
In other words, cultures are the way of life of a people and how they interact- the sum total of their land, politics and history. Culture determines how people respond to changing realities. For example, during the era when the birth of twins was considered an abomination and the babies thrown into the evil forest, some cultures rather than throw the babies into the evil forest banished their mothers and she was free to seek refuge with the babies in other communities. This type of communities found it easier to accept the abolishment of the killing of twins because their cultures initially has what I call a soft spot for twins even though they didn’t allow them cohabit with them.
For many people, we find it easier to relate to certain happenings because they are somehow imbedded in our culture. For some, when they travel to a different part of their country or to other countries, they become surprised when they see educated women, working hard, earning well and living independently. This culture shock is powered by the fact that this is not obtainable in their cultures. To another person whose culture supports the empowerment of women, travelling to another place where this is practiced makes no difference to him or her.
How does culture and tradition relate to the issues of domestic, sexual and gender based violence, you may ask? The answer is the fact that culture and tradition can enable and/or obstruct, oppress and/or liberate empower and/or disempower, etc. This means that cultures have the power to make or mar. In many African communities, men are empowered by culture to treat their wives as slaves and their daughters as second class citizens.
And so, a woman is to be seen and not to be heard. She must live her life in obedience to her husband and if she disobeys, he has the right to correct her with the whip. A girl child must not be sent to school, rather she can be married off and her bride price used to train her brothers and even though she is subjected to all forms of abuse in her marriage, she must hold sacred the culture of silence and never attempt to break out and seek education after all her education is perceived to end in the kitchen.
In such cultures, it is obvious that one gender has been given undue advantage over the other, now, when there’s a culture change that seeks to balance the inequality, there is resistance from the advantaged gender for obvious reasons.
Cultures have power structures that favour a ‘status quo’ built on gender bias and sadly, this is one of the reasons for the persistent and ever rising cases of domestic and sexual violence in many communities.
Our families, our communities and dynamics within our cultures determine what men and women do. Men and women are expected to have certain characteristics, attitudes and behaviors. We are born into environments in which these gender roles exist. We learn them and are mandated by culture to abide by them and we in turn pass it unto our children and grandchildren and generations yet unborn grow into upholding what should have been discarded long before they were conceived.
Cultures are characterized by continuous value judgements about what to keep, what to let go and what to add. At times, people confirm and reinforce cultural norms. At times, they resist or challenge them, depending on how it suits them.
Education equips people to make choices and take action on them. It enables people to make the right choices and resist cultures that are detrimental to their individual and community growth and development. Education empowers people to become self-reliant and independent and also to accept the fact that cultures and traditions are made for man and not man for culture and so because change is the only constant thing in nature, man must be willing to move with time and let go of such cultures that places men and women at a disadvantaged position.
Culture is dynamic. Cultures survive by responding to changing realities. Gender roles are also dynamic. They can and do change. Evolving gender roles are integral to the continuing evolution that cultures must undergo to provide a level playground for men and women. Some individuals have the vision, strength and courage to stop conforming, to do something outside the stereotyped roles of men or women in their local environment. They mobilize allies in their own environments and such individuals should be supported and empowered to carry on their dreams.