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Recently Graça Machel highlighted her concerns about women being described as complementary to men. This is an issue sparked by the Tunisian draft constitution, which in its Article 28 assigns women “a complementary role inside the family”.
Women are protesting against the text, saying it erodes their gains in the Arabic world to get women’s rights recognised and respected.
One activist quoted in the Financial Times said: “The fact is, this text demeans women and makes them unequal or incomplete without men.”
Legislators, represented by Farida el-Abidi, responded: “We encourage people to express themselves, especially after the revolution.
“But what is not acceptable is to make a huge deal about such a minor issue, especially since the intention never was to degrade women.”
Wow, this is a rich response, given the worldwide history showing that what gets written in law may acquire a literal meaning long after the drafters of the law are not there to explain the law’s intention.
Furthermore, the intention behind the law is never inscribed and outlined clearly, which leaves it to the courts to interpret.
So, the women activists are actually cognisant of this, which is why they are fighting it.
I am about to put my foot in my mouth by exploring this subject further to see where this concept of complementarity between men and women comes from.
This concept has religious roots, especially in the three religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which have a common forefather, Abraham.
The Bible’s Old Testament in Genesis outlines two accounts of man’s creation, which I guess contribute to the debate of equality versus complementarity.
Genesis, Chapter 1, verse 27 (King James Version) says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
This verse shows the equality of man, be it male or female. The teachings of Jesus Christ validate this account in John 10:34-35.
Genesis 2:7 says: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” This continues in Genesis 2:20-23: “But for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
The way this account of creation has been used made it the genesis of perennial woe women have had to face ever since.
Looking at how complements get used in economics, it is a good or service (base good) used in conjunction with another good or service (complementary good).
According to Investopedia: “Usually, the complementary good has little to no value when consumed alone but, when combined with another good or service, it adds to the overall value of the offering. Also good tends to have more value when paired with a complement than it does by itself.”
Where I am going with this, is when a concept is rooted in the literal meaning of a religious text, it easily sneaks into every area of our lives.
The intrinsic meaning of religious concepts is lost in the process, and such concepts – which may be great in one context – are corrupted when applied blindly in a different context.
Up until now, the idea of complementarity has been used to prevent women from being ministers in church because it’s a “job reserved for men”.
There is a plethora of arguments on the internet supporting this view – to such an extent that some women even accept it.
The next thing we will see is this concept of complementarity creeping into politics. Soon enough it will become gospel in economics, which regards a complementary good having little or no value when consumed alone.
This is a concept that must be resisted wholeheartedly, because it will become a seed that will unnecessarily divide the human race, like apartheid and Nazism did.
“Equality of man: male and female” is my new mantra.