Gender equality, also known as a sexual equality, is the state of equal ease of access to resources and opportunities regardless of gender, including economic participation and decision-making; and the state of valuing different behaviors, aspirations and needs equally, regardless of gender.
Gender equality, equality between men and women, entails the concept that all human beings, both men and women, are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles and prejudices. Gender equality means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. It does not mean that women and men have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equity means fairness of treatment for women and men, according to their respective needs. This may include equal treatment or treatment that is different but which is considered equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and opportunities.
There has been criticism from some feminists towards the political discourse and policies employed in order to achieve the above items of “progress” in gender equality, with critics arguing that these gender equality strategies are superficial, in that they do not seek to challenge social structures of male domination, and only aim at improving the situation of women within the societal framework of subordination of women to men, Â and that official public policies (such as sate policies or international bodies policies) are questionable, as they are applied in a patriarchal context, and are directly or indirectly controlled by agents of a system which is for the most part male. Â One of the criticisms of the gender equality policies, in particular, those of the Â European Union, is that they disproportionately focus on policies integrating women in public life, but do not seek to genuinely address the deep private sphere oppression.
A further criticism is that a focus on the situation of women in non-Western countries, while often ignoring the issues that exist in the West, is a form of Â imperialism Â and of reinforcing Western moral superiority; and a way of “othering” of domestic violence, by presenting it as something specific to outsiders – the “violent others” – and not to the allegedly progressive Western cultures. Â These critics point out that women in Western countries often face similar problems, such as domestic violence and rape, as in other parts of the world. They also cite the fact that women faced de jure legal discrimination until just a few decades ago; for instance, in some Western countries such as Switzerland, Greece, Spain, and France, women obtained equal rights in Â family lawÂ in the 1980s.Another criticism is that there is a selective public discourse with regard to different types of oppression of women, with some forms of violence such as Â honor killings Â (most common in certain geographic regions such as parts of Asia and North Africa) being frequently the object of public debate, while other forms of violence, such as the lenient punishment for Â crimes of passion Â across Â Latin America, do not receive the same attention in the West. It is also argued that the criticism of particular laws of many developing countries ignores the influence of Â colonialism Â on those legal systems.
There has been controversy surrounding the concepts of Â Westernization Â and Â Europeanisation, due to their reminder of past colonialism,Â and also due to the fact that some Western countries, such as Switzerland, have been themselves been very slow to give women legal rights.Â There have also been objections to the way Western media presents women from various cultures creating stereotypes, such as that of ‘submissive’ Asian or Eastern European women, a stereotype closely connected to theÂ mail order bridesÂ industry.Â Such stereotypes are often blatantly untrue: for instance women in many Eastern European countries occupy a high professional status. Feminists in many developing countries have been strongly opposed to the idea that women in those countries need to be ‘saved’ by the West. There are questions on how exactly should gender equality be measured, and whether the West is indeed “best” at it: a study in 2010 found that among the top 20 countries on female graduates in theÂ scienceÂ fields at university level most countries were countries that were considered internationally to score very low on the position of women’s rights, with the top 3 being Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman, and only 5 European countries made it to that top: Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Georgia and Greece.
There has been criticism thatÂ international law,Â international courts, and universalÂ gender neutralÂ concepts of human rights are at best silent on many of the issues important to women and at worst male centered; considering the male person to be the default. ExcessiveÂ gender neutralityÂ can worsen the situation of women, because the lawÂ assumesÂ women are in the same position as men, ignoring the biological fact that in the process ofÂ reproductionÂ andÂ pregnancyÂ there is no ‘equality’, and that apart from physical differences there are socially constructed limitations which assign a socially and culturally inferior position to women – a situation which requires a specific approach to women’s rights, not merely a gender neutral one.Â In a 1975 interview,Â Simone de BeauvoirÂ talked about the negative reactions towards women’s rights from the left that was supposed to be progressive and support social change, and also expressed skepticism about mainstream international organizations.
In 2010, theÂ European UnionÂ opened theÂ European Institute for Gender EqualityÂ (EIGE) inÂ Vilnius,Â LithuaniaÂ to promote gender equality and to fightÂ sex discrimination. In 2015 the EU published the Gender Action Plan 2016â€“2020.
Gender equality is part of the national curriculum in Great Britainand many other European countries. By presidential decree, the Republic of Kazakhstan created a Strategy for Gender Equality 2006â€“2016 to chart the subsequent decade of gender equality efforts.Personal, Social and Health Education,Â religious studiesÂ andÂ Language acquisitionÂ curricula tend to address gender equality issues as a very serious topic for discussion and analysis of its effect in society.
A large and growing body of research has shown how gender inequality undermines health and development. To overcome gender inequality theÂ United Nations Population FundÂ states that, “Women’s empowerment and gender equality requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policy-making. These levels include reproductive health, economic empowerment, educational empowerment and political empowerment.”
UNFPAÂ says that “research has also demonstrated how working with men and boys as well as women and girls to promote gender equality contributes to achieving health and development outcomes.
While in many countries, the problem lies in the lack of adequate legislation, in others the principal problem is not as much the lack of a legal framework, but the fact is that most women do not know their legal rights. This is especially the case as many of the laws dealing with women’s rights are of recent date. This lack of knowledge enables to abusers to lead the victims (explicitly or implicitly) to believe that their abuse is within their rights. This may apply to a wide range of abuses, ranging from domestic violence to employment discrimination.Â The United Nations Development Programme states that, in order to advance gender justice, “Women must know their rights and be able to access legal systems”. The UNÂ Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against WomenÂ states at Art. 4 (d) “States should also inform women of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms”.Â Enacting protective legislation against violence has little effect, if women do not know how to use it: for example a study of Bedouin women in Israel found that 60% did not know what aÂ restraining orderÂ was;or if they don’t know what acts are illegal: a report by Amnesty International showed in Hungary, in a public opinion poll of nearly 1,200 people in 2006, a total of 62% did not know that marital rape was an illegal (it was outlawed in 1997) and therefore the crime was rarely reported.Ensuring women have a minim understanding of health issues is also important: lack of access to reliable medical information and available medical procedures to which they are entitled hurts a women’s health.
Prashant Tyagi (Intern)
LEXIS & COMPANY