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Women Have To Stand-up & Not Fear Anybody- Prof. Endeley 

Interviewed by Walter Wilson Nana &* Verdell Beyang (UB Journalism student on internship)

CameroonPostline.com — Prof. Joyce Bayande Endeley is one woman, who has practically done something to uplift women in Cameroon. This, via the creation of the Department of Women & Gender Studies, University of Buea, UB. This endeavour of hers is taking women one step ahead in higher and scientific education, which constitute an opportunity for political education. In this exclusive interview, she raises a plethora of ideas on how women can grab the political platform in Cameroon and the urgency to break the social construction, which puts women in second fiddle. It’s a thriller, read on…

Prof. Joyce Bayande Endeley, recently appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Teaching, Professionalisation, Information & Communication Technologies, University of Buea, UB, congratulations…

Thank you very much!!
Another woman again in the limelight in UB
We thank God.

You are one woman who has practically done something to promote women in the area of higher education and taking them one step forward by being at the fore of the creation of the Department of Women & Gender Studies, UB. How did the motivation come?

I was trained to understand why is it that I don’t see women in the forefront of life; political, administrative positions and power brokers in agricultural activities. That’s the base of my training. After my undergraduate research, I found out that the whole agricultural landmine is full of women but the officers and decision makers were void of women. Curiously, the innovations and crops that were brought in, were not in line with what the women would have loved and the kind of crops to grow. I asked myself why many women were not part of the extension agents, agric officers at the time in the 80s.

From that background, I moved on to do my Masters Degree in Reading, UK on Agriculture, Gender and Development. And subsequently my PhD in Ohio State University, USA, where I took a commitment to solve this problem, be the voice of the voiceless and bridge this gap for women. I was worried that I could not fine women in strategic positions in agriculture. That is how I got into women and development, as far as agriculture is concerned.

That has become a power tool for me to interrogate any structure; from agriculture to politics. My worry is to deconstruct what is leaving women at the periphery. I started this crusade as a lecturer in the University of Dschang, where I was initially recruited and posted before subsequently moving over to UB thanks to Prof. Sammy Beban Chumbow, who asked me to come and start the Department of Gender Studies in UB.

That’s how we took off in UB. A lot of people supported it and with structural adjustment policies being introduced at the time by Government and the World Bank, the role of women in the processes were crucial. Researches across the world and Cameroon have shown that women cushioned the effects of the structural adjustment programmes. People now began coming up with programmes on how women can fit in the development prospects of their respective communities.

With UB at the forefront with this department, we won the hearts of many and became the first university in Cameroon to have that specialty in the educational and scientific empowerment of the woman. We now have the technocrats to train women and gender in development. The Ministry of Women & Family Empowerment had also just been created, so there was the need for this capacity to be built, not only for government but for the civil society too.

How much of this education that you’ve put in place is leading women to political limelight?

That’s a big question! The primary role of the Women and Gender Studies Department, UB, is to raise awareness.  By virtue of the creation of that department, we’re involved in public affairs; holding seminars, workshops, building the capacity of women to understand the power relation of men & women. The idea of gender as a social construction – men & women, the implications on development started with the department. Awareness raising is ongoing. 

I have given several talks, written several books and papers on the issues and related developments. So too my other colleagues in the department, who have come up with other research topics, which have opened the department to other departments in UB and out of UB, people coming to relate their own areas of specialisation with gender. In the area of politics, from independence, we had a handful of women, today, it is evolving.

There are now indicators that politics is not for men alone. It is for women and men. We’ve students who are doing research in gender & politics. There are many people in that field but we’re trying to understand the issues facing women and men in politics. Why are there few women in politics? Why are there few women wanting to take the frontline?

As a gender expert, what are the reasons for that? Why women are reticent?

There are many reasons; does the political playing field in Cameroon recognise women as being part and parcel of politics? Can the public recognise a capable woman and stand behind her? And not say she is a woman? Is the public open? Instead of shifting blames, what is the way forward?

We must deconstruct ourselves – both men & women. The women should know that politics is not meant for men alone. Women are in the majority. Politics is the power of number. If we can use it, understand the issues, we should be able to use it not only for the benefit of us – women, but for a sane society.

Women should be able to understand what is politics, what is it that we want as growth? What is it that will foster development in Cameroon? What is it that will enable women work alongside men? When women understand that, then we will make inroads. Women cannot just be supporting their husbands, even if it is taking you (woman) off track. We must understand the subject matter, where we want to go to. What is it we want? What do we see as development? 

When we understand all these, then we know what the politician is saying and you know where you’re going to. Some people say women for women, but there could be a political constituency that is gender sensitive. And we can vote for that. It also depends on what is on the manifesto of that political agenda. Women should understand what is suitable for them and not society dictating. There is a lot of education still to be done.

The education is ongoing, yet some women are shy, how do we break that yoke?

If you look at socialisation, a lot of women are not trained to look at the political domain as theirs. They’ve not gone to a point where they think they can own it. From childhood, our parents should be training women and men to be critical about development issues. Children; boys and girls should be lead to develop their leadership capacities. And not constructing what their leadership capacity should be. Let the boy and girl gain mastery in all they wish to do.

Not for somebody to generate, then you follow, no!! Women do have leadership skills; it is a matter of recognising it and encouraging those who are into it. You can see what happens in our little social and community groups, especially the njangi groups. Women have to understand that they just have to move higher and higher, mixing it with education. We have to stand up and not fear anybody, to speak in a crowd.

The trend is changing, you are part of it, for those deterring others, what are you telling them?

In a society, you will find those kind of persons, even amongst men, it is not all who are interested in politics. It is not all women who like politics. It requires certain competence and stamina. We should not bother about everybody, but we need a critical mass. A critical mass will galvanise the others.

You must speak the language of the people, get the women to understand what they like, then they will follow you. Leaders need but the critical mass. In a constituency, how many people speak out? I may not be at the forefront but my ideas should vote for me. Women should avoid preparing late. People should also think affirmative action. It is good.

How far do you intend to go with this crusade?

Until I retire and even if I do, anytime this topic comes up, I will talk without hesitating.  Let me also debunk the argument that women are women’s enemy. Women have been used by culture, by socialisation to reverse the issues. That is back lashing. If something is not good for the community, what stops all of us men and women to decry it? Why is it women? There were reasons in the past for the widowhood practice, as an example, before it went off track, but same women who are maltreated in the widowhood practice have brothers, brother-in-laws, do they see this as good on their sisters, mothers?

Can that practice not be stopped in a community? It is something constructed. And so, it can be stopped. It is not upholding our culture. And when it gets to another level, men say women are against themselves. It is not true. Women are not supposed to vote any kind of women because they are women.  Women are supposed to argue, discuss, vote and get the best. A discussion of women cannot be that women are against women.

No! Men do it. Why is it that when men are in competition, society does not say men are against men? Let journalists, especially those in Cameroon, stop justifying a practice that is not plausible. We’re in a society, we’ve our cultural and traditional practices, very entrenched in them, but we need to look at them. A lot of those practices are constructed on women and hold them down from freely exercising their political rights. That is the issue.

Thank you Prof. Joyce!!

Thank you very much, you are welcome!!

First published in The Post print edition No 01368

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