The struggle for gender equality has been going on for a long time. It can be said that there has been notable developments in the attempt to narrow the gap between men and women.
Nevertheless, gender equality is far from reality. This assertion is especially true in Third World counties and even in emerging economies in Asia and Europe. The solution calls for an overhaul in the way people understand equality, women’s rights and education.
It is no longer enough to simply clamor for equality, women all over the world must redefine what it means. The rights-based-approach also requires an overhaul because it is easy to create international laws favoring women’s rights. But in terms of implementation in the local level there is still so much that remains to be seen. It must begin with a radical change of perspective when it comes to the way people understand gender.
According to a progressive view of feminism there is a need to take a few steps backward when it comes to the discussion of equality. There is the need to focus on the difference between men and women (Sen 10). In the past the focal point was on equality. It was inevitable to force society to consider that women must be treated in the same way it treats men.
The call for equality was mistakenly understood as a call for similar treatment. Now, feminists and other activists bewail its failure. There is now a desperate need to differentiate women from men when it comes to the discussion of social problems (Sen 12). It is no longer enough to simply strive for equality because it is time to study differences based on circumstances and needs.
Feminists discovered the awful truth that in their struggle to achieve equality they have created gender neutrality wherein solutions are being crafted without giving thought to the specific issues faced by women (Sen 12). It is time to develop solutions that are crafted based on the specific needs of women.
The radical alteration when it comes to the discussion regarding equality can be understood through this statement: “The systematically inferior position of women inside and outside the household in many societies points to the necessity of treating gender as a force of its own in development analysis” (Sen 123).
It must be pointed out that in Third World countries women do not possess the means to initiate social mobility. Their identity is closely associated to their male relatives such as their husbands and fathers.
In many societies around the world the value of women is dependent on their relationship with the head of the household. Their rights are intertwined with the need for protection and guidance from a male relative.
Their value exists only because men are willing to take care of them and shield them from the harsh realities of the outside world. In other words their utter dependence on men restricts them from accessing the benefits of international laws and international initiatives that were created to change their lives. There is therefore the need to focus more on the unique struggles of women in society.
Before going any further it is crucial to emphasize the pitfalls when it comes to asserting the rights of women when it comes to the need for similar treatment in comparison to men. Recently there are those who pointed out that if this path is pursued then the inevitable outcome is the creation of a dichotomy in society (Pearson 201).
The insistence of equality amidst the obvious differences between male and female will result in a dilemma for many women. Thus, if they insist on equality then there can no longer be any differences between the two.
It may be seen as a psychological victory for women but in reality this kind of mindset can result in the creation of policies that inadvertently favor men over women (Pearson 201). It is important to achieve equality but with an eye towards the unique attributes of women.
A good example of the negative effect of equality can be seen in the need to create policies regarding maternity leave in the workplace. Women are blessed to bear children. It is a capability absent in men. In a normal workplace there are female and male employees. In the course of the employment women get pregnant and they need to ask for a maternity leave.
Furthermore, when it is time for them to deliver the baby they need to stop working for at least two months to take care of the baby. If the rights-based approach is used here, then, they are entitled to a maternity leave.
However, the issue of equality crops up because men will say that they could not avail of any maternity leave and therefore it is unfair that women can avail of something that practically amounts to a two-month paid vacation.
From the perspective of women, the pregnancy, delivery of the baby and nursing the baby for two months, can never be considered as a form of vacation. However, this is the implication when women insist on similar treatment, a type of gender equality that does not consider the differences between men and women.
The inability to differentiate men from women carries certain repercussions. Women can never demand a level playing field because every time they argue and every time they negotiate for equal treatment it boomerangs on them unexpectedly. It is not enough to simply demand for change and it is not enough to simply clamor for gender equality. There is a need to redefine what it means to be treated in the same way as men are treated.
The Impact of Globalization
It is time to overhaul feminist thinking because of the impact of globalization in many parts of the world. As a result there are now metropolitan centers that forces women to live in bondage.
Feminists all over the world made the error of asking only for jobs when they need to emphasize the type and quality of jobs that must be given to them. If they simply argue based on human rights and the right against discrimination then society simply gives them what they want without determining if this is good for them in the long run.
It must be pointed out that the availability of jobs does not provide them the ability to break free from oppression. The availability of work can mean the transfer of oppression from the home to the workplace. Look around the deplorable working conditions in China and India and one will say that there is much that needs to be done.
Feminists must fight not only for the rights of women but also for their differences. Women have maternal instincts, and that their joy is not only in found in their ability to provide for their family in financial terms. It is also found in their ability to take care of husband and children. Feminists must change the way they view gender equality.
They must consider the basic instincts of women and discover that they are happy if they are given time to spend time with their family. But the clamor for equality has forced women to stay away from home and work 12 hours a day. There are jobs that force them to work overtime and without the ability to deal with their other needs because doing so makes them less reliable than men.
Consider for instance a discovery made by economists and feminists alike: “In the new booming export sectors of China, or elsewhere in East and South-Asia, where routinely issues of excessive working hours, low wages, and the absence of employment security and social protection have become commonplace, the conditions for work for the mainly rural migrants in those factories bear little resemblance to the regulated protected ideal of the formal economy (Pearson 204).
This must be a wake-up call to redefine the goals and aspirations of the feminist movement.
In a globalized economy work is no longer the issue. Women can now find work but they may have traded one form of oppression with another type of suppression. Feminists also discovered that in most countries the occupational structure is flat (Pearson 206). There is no opportunity to climb the corporate ladder so to speak. If a woman was hired to perform some menial task then it is most likely that she can never go up the next level.
Aside from redefining the meaning of equality and women’s rights, it is also important to focus on education. The availability of jobs is not enough to provide the means to break free from oppression.
The key is education and women must be given access to it. The United Nations was correct when it declared that the poor educational treatment of girls is “not only a matter of discrimination; it is bad economics and bad social policy” (Stromquist 144).
It is of crucial importance to provide women access to education, because without it, there is no chance for upward social mobility (Stromquist 144). This contention is based on the principle that “it is education that determines the level of prosperity, welfare and security of the people” (Dore 1). If they are prevented access to education then women will continue to suffer in poverty without the capability to improve their situation.
It is also important to address issues relating to poverty because in most cases it is poverty that is the main culprit why women are unable to attend school (Vavrus 527). However, it must be pointed out that there are also social factors that are involved (Levinson 116).
There is also the need for structural reforms specifically when it comes to the management of resources in terms of the poor and underprivileged (Brock-Utne 191). There is also the need to re-evaluate the implications of deregulation, liberalization and privatization.
Principles on deregulation create the capability to remove the direct intervention of governments. It is based on the idea that a free-market system is the best way to increase cost-efficiency. However, a free market system can also create a highly-competitive environment or the skyrocketing of prices as the government can no longer deal effectively with inflation.
A free market system can backfire especially if certain businesses had taken advantage of an open economy free from the regulation of governments (Levinson 115). In the long run men will have major control over resources and as a result, women are left with leftovers (Vavrus 10).
The same thing can be said about liberalization (Stromquist 15). In theory liberalization can be seen as a heaven-sent solution to the plight of women but in essence liberalization is synonymous to equality because women are treated as equals in the world dominated by men (Stromquist 15).
At first liberalization as a theory of economics seems beneficial to women but not after all the other social factors are considered (Sen 15). For example, in a liberalized society women are given the same opportunities as men but at the end they are unable to capitalize on these opportunities (Sen 15).
They may have equal opportunities when it comes to the ability to apply and be accepted to work in an entry-level position (Vavrus 527). But in the long run men are promoted at a faster rate than their female counterparts (Vavrus 527).
It is of crucial importance to redefine the meaning of equality. Women must not only clamor for their rights they must also argue that they are different from men. Their struggle for equality has created something that they did not expect and it is equal treatment on the basis of what men can do.
But they have to argue that women have unique attributes and policies must be created to address those needs. It is also important to focus on education and to re-evaluate economic principles relating to liberalization and deregulation because these can create more harm than good in the long run.
Brock-Utne, Bama. “Cultural Conditionality and Aid to Education in East Africa.”International Review of Education 41.3, (1998): 177-197. Print.
Dore, Ronald. The Disease: Education, Qualification and Development. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1996.
Levinson, Bradley. “Concepts of Adolescence and Secondary Education in Mexico.” Comparative Educational Review 43.2 (1999): 115-146. Print.
Pearson, Ruth. Feminisms in Development: Contradictions, Contestations and Challenges. New York: Zed Books, 2007.
Sen, Amartya. Gender and cooperative conflicts. New York: United Nations University, 1987.
Stromquist, Nelly. Education in a Globalized World: The Connectivity of Economic Power, Technology, and Knowledge. Boston: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002
Vavrus, Frances. “Making Distinctions: Privatization and the Uneducated Girl on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.” International Journal of Education Development 22.5 (2002): 527-547. Print.