Gender inequality is a complex phenomenon that does not seem to have a conclusive argument. According to Rives and Yousefi (1997), the statement above is right in its articulation that the problem is prevalent and widely spread all over the world (p. 90).
This has prompted scholars to critically debate about the issue with varying opinions among those that support it and those that oppose it.
The argument supporting gender inequality derives its support from the belief that there is injustice that stems from unequal access to resources and opportunities based on gender or sex.
Rhode (1997) says that as a result, gender equality movements have sprang up allover the world from the beginning of the last century culminating to passage of various acts by different governments allowing inheritance of property by people of both genders and criminalizing any act that is contrary to those (p.102).
Despite the strides made by society in stemming gender inequality, it will be naive to assume that gender equality has been achieved in the world today.
Rhodes (1997) further says that Even the most advanced societies that boast of constitutions that guarantee universal freedoms and human rights experience different forms of discrimination based on sex (p. 114).
Rhode (1997) concludes that gender inequality nowadays has become synonymous with the struggle of women fighting for the same treatment as men (p.76). It is not correct however to assume that only women are negatively affected by gender inequality.
Historically however, traditions of different peoples who inhabit the earth have been biased against women often showing open prejudice against them compared to men REFERENCE (own words).
Women have since time immemorial been subjected to restrictions that have ensured they are treated as sub humans. All cultures from European, Asian, and African have considered women to be subordinates to their men.
These discrimination has been passed on to successful generations through socialization and has over time been accepted a way of life REFERENCE (own words).
Rives and Yousefi (1997) say that little boys are taught from a young age to behave in a superior manner while girls are taught to respect men and look upon them as the providers and ultimate destiny deciders (p.106).
Men are regarded as the heads of the family and major decision makers. Women are traditionally not allowed to inherit property as it is assumed that they will get married and would have access to the husband’s property. Even then, few have a major say on the how family property should be managed REFERENCE (own words).
Rhode (1997, p. 28) says that besides general cultural traditions, religion has played a major role on propagating gender inequality and sex discrimination. For instance, the world’s two major religions; Christianity and Islam have openly shown preference of the men folk to women.
Women are not allowed to hold high positions in these religions because they were not considered full human beings. Only men went out to talk to God, wrote the holy books, and up to date, carry out religious functions.
The language itself used in these books makes no effort to hide its prejudice against women as human beings are referred to as men.
While some sections of Christianity have undergone reforms and accommodated women in their ranks, many have not. Islam on its part is more or less, what it used to be since its inception as far as women issues are concerned (Rhode 1997 p. 28).
According Ridgeway (1992, p.86), it may not be correct per se to say that its only women who are aggrieved by the gender imbalance but majority of the cases that depict gender inequalities involve women on the receiving end
According to Oxfam (2011, p 1), quoting UN (2005, pp 2), gender inequality that has resulted in the discrimination of women through denial of basic human rights is a leading cause of poverty in the world today.
Oxfam (2011, p 2) adds that majority of women in the world have little or no control on matters of sexuality, reproduction and marital choices.
Oxfam (2011 p 2) further adds that women have diminished recourse to legal and political protection and recognition. Women also rank poorly in terms of access to public knowledge, and decision-making power compared to their male counterparts.
According to Robeyns (2002, p.457), positions like the above mean women have reduced participation in public affairs hence increasing their vulnerability to abuse and subordination.
Many organizations have carried out research to paint the clear picture of the problem. This paper will focus on some of the studies carried out so far, the sectors that have been hardest hit by gender discrimination and some of the forms through which gender inequality has manifested itself in the society.
Facts about Gender inequality
Oxfam (2011, p 3) referring to IPU (2009) estimated in 2009 that only 18.4% of women made up composition of parliaments in the world. Far less women contributed to major decision making in the world. It therefore means few women participated in making laws and decisions that directly affect them
UNESCO estimates that there are almost 780 million illiterate people in the world (United Nations 2005, pp 2). Furthermore, there are over 75 million school drops out in the world according to the UN body.
Two thirds of the illiterate population is women while over 55% of the school dropouts are girls (United Nations 2005, pp 2). The blatant lack of access to information as shown above clearly puts women at a disadvantage in terms of access to information and knowledge REFERENCE(own words).
Statistics about wage earnings too paint a grim picture about the position of women. According ITUC, women make an average of 84% of what men mage in income.
This is besides the fact that they are largely concentrated in the informal sector and exposed to dangerous working conditions. Ridgeway, (2011, p 326) says that the instability associated with this work and the low earnings have compounded the problem leading to income disparities between men and women.
By virtue of giving birth, women are exposed to more risk than men are.
The world health organization estimates that over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy while millions ranging from 8-20 million suffer irreversible injuries and permanent disabilities from pregnancy related complications (United Nations 2005, pp 3).
Factors cited earlier as low pay and lack of education contribute greatly to this situation. Further highlighting the poor treatment of women in healthcare, the UN estimates that more than half of the people living with HIV in the world are women (United Nations 2005, pp 3).
According to Ridgeway (2011), both men and women are exposed to the same risk of contracting the virus.
However, lack of access to health care by women in equal measure as men, coupled with low pay, minimal rights to decide sexual matters and lack of adequate information due to illiteracy have contributed o the high cases of HIV in women (p.127).
Though both men and women experience domestic and sexual violence, the problem is more prevalent in women than men are. Systematic rape is common in many countries that leave women traumatized, pregnant, or infected hence living disjointed lives.
The UN estimates that between 10-68% of women experience domestic violence and abuse from their sexual partners. The high cases show trend where culprits are not brought to book due to weak institutions or laws that are biased against women or not updated to deal with delicate women issues (United Nations 2005, pp 4).
While men suffer as causalities in conflicts, women and children make up over 85% of refuges in the camps. The women are usually not well looked after and the men who survive the conflicts often flee their families.
Laws to address the situation that is highly disadvantageous to women are almost non-existent (United Nations 2005, pp 4).
The above statistics depict a precarious situation for women and do not at all reinforce a notion that gender inequality may be a two-way phenomenon where men are also negatively affected. Even if there is a situation like that, women are clearly more affected than men are REFERENCE (own words.)
Manifestation of gender inequality
Gender inequality has manifested itself through many ways in society. In most of these cases, its women who bear the brunt of the injustices that are as a result of the inequalities.
According to Jacobs (1995) there are numerous practices carried out all over the world that amount to gender discrimination, the Asian and Middle East region has some of the most disturbing cultural practices that do not favor women (p. 68).
Miller et al (2009, p. 257) says that in western cultures, divorce is accessed by either partner who feels aggrieved hence cannot continue to stay in the arrangement.
However, some cultures like in Lebanon the divorce process is extremely punitive to women until many prefer to stay in their dysfunctional marriages to divorce. The laws governing such places have heaped both legal and financial obstacles on the part of women who would like to divorce effectively locking them out of the process.
Egyptian women are allowed to initiate divorce if they wish. However, the law makes it difficult for them to be granted their wish since it requires them or their families to repay dowries. The law further demends that they give up all the rights on the couple’s finances.
In Lebanon, women who experience domestic violence must produce an eyewitness for them to be granted divorce proceedings, a requirement that is quite stringent and difficult to fulfill.
The situation is no different in Israel. The right to divorce can only be given by the husband and never the wife. On the other hand, men in the above territories can do as they please as far as divorce is concerned Miller et al (2009, p. 305).
According to Spade, and Valentine (2008, p. 203), access to education by girls is lower compared to that of boys. Everywhere in the world with the exception of a few countries, the enrollment of boys is always higher than that of girls.
In Afghanistan for instance, the Taliban regime that aggressively enforced fundamental Islamic practices banned enrolment of girls to school. Still the literacy rate of women in the country is low owing to the fact that there is a shortage of female teachers, who must teach girls from a certain age.
The most discriminative practice in the country involves taking girls to school at puberty, effectively ensuring lack of uniform education among women from an early age.
Some communities in the Middle East and Africa demand that women walk accompanied by a male relative, even if the male companion is the age of a child. In other countries of the Middle East, husbands have the right to restrict their wife’s movements by filling papers at the airport that ban their women from traveling.
In other countries like Libya, married women must have a written permission from the husband authorizing her travel abroad. The practices are quite discriminative to women especially considering the demand places women at par with children Miller et al (2009, p. 310).
Women in such communities cannot decide what is right for them. Jacobs (1995) says that religious and selfish interests reign supreme and women are the losers at the end of it all (p. 56).
In the Middle East there are no laid down judicial procedures combating violence against women, especially sexual violence. Men have absolute control over women and battering is always treated as a domestic matter outside the state’s jurisdiction.
The system is not favorable at all to women who experience violence of any kind. Police stations do not allow reporting of cases of abuse nor do they take actions when actual cases are reported (Jacobs 1995, p 80).
Female infant discrimination
Blau (2006, p.308) says that there is a traditional believe that boys are better than girls are. Preference for boys over girls has led to increased infanticide, neglect, and abandonment of girls by parents who are desperate for boys.
In China and India, for instance there are high abortion rates of female fetuses by parents in search of boys. Such cases show the level of discrimination and outdated thinking that people have towards women.
Sectors hardest him by gender inequality
According to Tischler (2007, p.48), effects of gender inequality are universal. Many systems through which human beings operate have had negative impacts of gender inequality.
Education, the economy and labor markets and politics are some of the sectors that have experienced gender inequality and the negative consequences that are associated with it.
According to UNFPA, education for girls ensures long-term economic benefits for the entire society, access to more economic opportunities by girls and engagement in public life (United Nations 2005, pp 5). Educated women tend to make wise choices about health by bearing fewer children.
On the other hand, education increases girls bargaining power in sexual matters resulting in reduced chances of infection by HIV. The agency however casts some doubt about the achievement of millennium development goals on gender balance in the enrollment of girls into school.
According to the organization, there has been some progress but regions like south western Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind in the enrollment of girls to school.
Blau (2006, p.308) adds that in countries that fall in these regions, choices about sending children to school are made and more often than not boys are sent to school while girls are left out (p.198).
Some of the issues that discourage girls from going to school include provision of safe transport, construction of separate amenities from both genders and discouragement of gender stereotyping in classrooms.
The above are very prevalent and greatly contribute in to the gender inequality that is witnessed in the education sector. The same situation is witnessed in the secondary school level where enrolment of girls is same as that in primary school. In some cases its lower (United Nations 2005, pp 5)
Bruckner (2004) says that, to ensure economic security for women and sustainable development and growth of economies, gender inequality must be done a way with in the labor sectors (p.84).
According to the UN, gender inequality in the Labor market is manifested through occupational discrimination, wage gaps based on gender and the uneven representation in informal employment, unpaid work, and high rates of unemployment (United Nations 2005, pp 5).
The UN further says that the majority of the working poor in the world are women. The working number up to 500 million and out of that, women comprise 60%.
The undervaluation of women’s work and the potential of clashing of their careers and other obligations like giving birth and raising families, contributes to the situation above (United Nations 2005, pp 5).
Kendall (2007, p. 248) says that some countries have even gone further and placed restrictions on the type of work that women should do and the earnings they should make.
Further more women earn less even when they do the same kind of work as men. Bruckner (2004, p.157) asserts that far less women own businesses compared to men and over 60% of all women who work in household businesses are not paid for their services.
There has been significant increase in the number of women elected to their national assemblies over the last decade. Despite the progress, national parliaments are yet to achieve the gender parity that they are supposed to have.
Lie & Brym, (2006, p. 69) assert that some of the factors that have ensured limited women participation include traditions about the role of a woman in different cultures. Women traditionally were not expected to live a public life. The tradition is still existent and greatly hinders women’s ascension to politics.
According to Bruckner (2004), another factor that has hindered their full participation is their economic status is that many belong to the low cadre class and cannot afford the resources necessary to join politics (p. 58).
Owners of such resources are mostly men. Finally the role of women in society as care givers and major raisers of families have complicated their chances of joining politics and vis avis the national assemblies (United Nations 2005, pp 6)
Towards gender equality
The 19th century Suffragette movement gave rise to the struggle for gender equality. Since then much has been achieved though more needs to be done. A number of countries now have laws that criminalize discrimination on the basis of sex.
However, considering the fact that subordination of women is ages old, it will take an extremely long time to undo the negatives that womenfolk have gone through for them to be in the same level as men.
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