Gender Stereotypes: Interview with Patience Malunga

Gender Stereotypes: Interview with Patience Malunga

Stereotype: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. (Oxford Dictionary)

Stereotypes are necessary in many ways. Without them daily life would be difficult if we couldn't rely on former experience and assumptions. But there are times when stereotypes become harmful and do not serve as a tool to cope in social situations. Stereotypes can lead us to behave or make decisions that are not based on facts, but on simplified and generalised ideas that we attribute to members of certain groups. This can be seen, for example, with racism and gender inequality. When it comes to gender, focus is often on women, and how stereotypical views of women's role and behaviour can lead to disfavouring position of women in the society.

Being a woman can be regarded as a disadvantage and even lead to human right violations. Gender stereotyping harms women, for instance, when it limits their professional or academic opportunities, but if, for instance, the justice system is based on stereotypical ideas of men and women, stereotyping can violate human rights. One example of human right violations is the marital rape that is not criminalised in some countries, because woman is regarded as the property of man. This also reflects the stereotypical idea of women being subordinate to men.

Gender stereotyping exists for white European women too, especially in the work life, but how is it to be an ethnically distinct woman in Norway? Are gender stereotypes still more dominant or does skin colour override gender? Or perhaps one needs to deal with both racism and gender inequality. Patience Malunga from Female Students Network (FSN) in Zimbabwe, currently living in Norway, shared her experiences on stereotypes and racism in a short interview.

Are gender stereotypes present in your daily life in Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe is a patriarchal society and gender stereotypes define the order of the day. Politically, economically and religiously gender stereotypes define what a woman can do and what she cannot do. Although the constitution of Zimbabwe has called in for the Quota system to include woman in all spheres, cultures still act as a barrier to achieve this.

What kind of differences do you see between Norway and Zimbabwe?

One difference is, for example, that a man in Norway can clean, cook and look after the baby while in Zimbabwe that is a taboo, it's a woman's responsibility.

Are men favoured, for example, when it comes to work or education opportunities or in the justice system?

In the past men used to be favoured in the academic life but that has been removed. Girls are actually more favoured for programs in Universities. The entry points for the girls are a bit lower than those for the boys. However, girls still find it very difficult to take up challenging courses like engineering. Employment opportunities are equal for both men and women as long as they have the expected qualifications for the job. But we still find men in the top organizational positions. In the case of a rape, rapists are arrested and brought to book, we are past the phase of blaming the woman for the incident. Although in few rural communities, the blame is shifted to the woman, but she can never be excluded from the community.

Are women in Zimbabwe expected to behave in a certain manner?

Of course, women are expected to behave and dress in a certain way. Culture and religion define how one should dress and behave. Women who drink beer and who wear short and revealing clothes have often been associated with prostitutes. Some men even went to the extent of stripping off a young woman in the street because they felt she was wearing a very short dress.

Do you feel that in Norway you are facing stereotypes as a woman but also as an ethnically distinct person, or does one of these dominate more?

In Norway ethnicity is a key stereotype. People have wrong perceptions about the South as such they are bound to treat you differently, which is not very nice. You usually experience these kinds of stereotypes on the bus, tram or in shops. It is always in the public places that one can get the worst stereotypes ever.

As Patience's experiences reveal, stereotypes are visible in different ways in different countries. In Zimbabwe, gender stereotypes have a stronger impact on women's everyday lives than in Norway, but the idea of gender equality is present in some level also in Zimbabwe, and in constant progress. Although gender stereotyping is less common in Norway, it seems, unfortunately, that racist stereotyping still exists.

Written by Hanna Lehto