Gender Justice by Rusha Mukherjee

MEANING, OBJECT AND UTILITY OF GENDER JUSTICE

The concept of gender, in the modern sense, is a recent invention in human history. The ancient world had no basis of understanding gender as it has been understood in the humanities and social sciences for the past few decades. The term gender had been associated with grammar for most of history and only started to move towards it being a malleable cultural construct in the 1950s and 1960s.

Judith Butler, author of the seminal text Gender Trouble argues that gender, whether male or female, is constructed more through social and cultural conventions than innate biological drives or genetics. Gender Trouble proposed that the concepts of man and woman, or boy and girl, are projected onto us by an incredibly complex web of language, meaning, and signs which are re-enforced by dominant ideological positions. In most cases, this begins as soon as a new baby is born, or even before. Just ask anyone what colour is traditionally associated with a baby boy, and then ask the same question for a baby girl. Not everyone will give the same answer (some will even be suspicious of the question), but the overall responses are highly likely to reveal some preconceived notions about gender – blue for a boy, pink for a girl. These traditional roles are then re-enforced by our expectations of how each gender should behave, or, more importantly, through how we encourage them to “act.”

GENDER IDENTITY AND GENDER ROLES

Gender identity refers to a personal identification with a particular gender and gender role in society. The term woman has historically been used interchangeably with reference to the female body, though more recently this usage has been viewed as controversial by some feminists.
There are qualitative analyses that explore and present the representations of gender; however, feminists challenge these dominant ideologies concerning gender roles and biological sex. One’s biological sex is directly tied to specific social roles and the expectations. Judith Butler considers the concept of being a woman to have more challenges, owing not only to society’s viewing women as a social category but also as a felt sense of self, a culturally conditioned or constructed subjective identity. Social identity refers to the common identification with a collectivity or social category that creates a common culture among participants concerned. According to social identity theory, an important component of the self-concept is derived from memberships in social groups and categories; this is demonstrated by group processes and how inter-group relationships impact significantly on individuals’ self perception and behaviors. The group of people belongs to members with the definition of who they are and how they should behave within their social sphere.
Categorizing males and females into social roles creates a problem, because individuals feel they have to be at one end of a linear spectrum and must identify themselves as man or woman, rather than being allowed to choose a section in between. Globally, communities interpret biological differences between men and women to create a set of social expectations that define the behaviors that are “appropriate” for men and women and determine women’s and men’s different access to rights, resources, power in society and health behaviors. Although the specific nature and degree of these differences vary from one society to the next, they still tend to typically favor men, creating an imbalance in power and gender inequalities within most societies. Many cultures have different systems of norms and beliefs based on gender, but there is no universal standard to a masculine or feminine role across all cultures. Social roles of men and women in relation to each other is based on the cultural norms of that society, which lead to the creation of gender systems. The gender system is the basis of social patterns in many societies, which include the separation of sexes, and the primacy of masculine norms.
Philosopher Michel Foucault said that as sexual subjects, humans are the object of power, which is not an institution or structure, rather it is a signifier or name attributed to “complex strategical situation”. Because of this, “power” is what determines individual attributes, behaviors, etc. and people are a part of an ontologically and epistemologically constructed set of names and labels. For example, being female characterizes one as a woman, and being a woman signifies one as weak, emotional, and irrational, and incapable of actions attributed to a “man”. Butler said that gender and sex are more like verbs than nouns. She reasoned that her actions are limited because she is female. “I am not permitted to construct my gender and sex willy-nilly,” she said. “This is so because gender is politically and therefore socially controlled. Rather than ‘woman’ being something one is, it is something one does.”More recent criticisms of Judith Butler’s theories critique her writing for reinforcing the very conventional dichotomies of gender.

GENDER JUSTICE

Gender Justice, simply refers to equality between the sexes. Gender justices is a correlation of social, economic, political, environmental, cultural and educational factors, these preconditions need to be satisfied for achieving gender justice. Globally, gender justice as a cause has gained in strength over the years, as it has been realized that no state can truly progress if half of its population is held back.

Consumerism and cultural heterogeneity has brought in its fold more objectification of women. Apart from these issues, there are still many cultures in the world where the condition of women is still deplorable, they still have no control or right of themselves or their bodies or their children. The condition is worse in Africa and the Middle East. Gender Justice refers to harmonizing of rights and needs of women into mainstream society. Justice in this sense means more balanced behavior, an end to violence and equal distribution of social necessities.
Globally, the United Nations has established a strong mandate for gender justice. The focus on gender equality and gender justice has been there since the inception of the UN. In 1946, a separate body was framed to work on the advancement of women. The Commission on the Status of women worked from its inception to collect and compile data on women’s situation around the world, to promote women’s human rights and raise awareness of, and support for, their contribution to development. The Decade for women (1976-1985) four world conferences on women (between 1975- 1995) contributed significantly to raising awareness and commitment to gender equality and gender justice.

OBJECT OF GENDER JUSTICE

Gender justice itself covers vast areas so the object is also diverted into various dimensions. Gender justice as the full equality and equity between women and men in all spheres of life, resulting in women jointly, and on an equal basis with men, defining and shaping the policies, structures and decisions that affect their lives and society as a whole seeks to achieve a life of dignity and freedom to women as a basic human right. It includes sharing of power and responsibility between women and men at home, in the workplace, and in the wider national and international communities. Gender justice is indispensable for development, poverty reduction, and is crucial to achieving human progress.
Gender justice seeks to achieve social transformation, to remove the rigidities in traditions and beliefs which can be achieved only at societal level through awareness and education.
Gender justice also provides a path to address the problems of lack of education, development deficit, poverty, improper enforcement of the laws, lack of awareness among women, deep rooted patriarchy, etc. to achieve the goal.

UTILITY OF GENDER JUSTICE STUDIES

Any course in Gender Studies includes a method to appreciate the ideologies, social patterns, and descriptions that shape our world and our lives. It raises questions about how and why a gender divide is created or preserved and also many times, resisted or weakened. Gender Studies explores the multiple interfaces amongst race, caste, class, and gender. It investigates traditional disciplines through an interdisciplinary perspective that focuses on the significance of sex as a social construct and the importance of gender and gender roles. It also advances the historical and existing portrayal of both women and men in religion, arts and literature and many other arenas. Gender studies is a field that has emerged from women studies and indisputably is still very strongly correlated in many academic institutions all over the world. As gender is so fundamental to what we do as human beings, every epistemology has a contribution to make to this field, whether it is psychology, cultural studies, anthropology or any other discipline. Gender studies as a field promotes an understanding of power and privilege in a socio-cultural context. It develops in the learners’ sensitivity and promotes critical thinking skills by studying the ways in which gender and sexuality interact with social constructs such as race, caste, ethnicity, class and ability or disability.
It rejects, or at the very least subverts, traditional assumptions on what it means to be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. A quote from the French philosopher and social theorist Simone de Beauvoir is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the subject. She wrote: “One is not born a woman, one becomes one.” This basic idea is the center point for many of the most influential gender studies theorists, including Judith Butler, author of the seminal text Gender Trouble. While Gender Studies is a good route into political or social activism, there are many other benefits to studying gender. Gender studies is a broad, interdisciplinary subject that encompasses literature, history, sociology, law, public health, and much more. It also encourages a critical approach to identifying problems, intellectual curiosity, and open and creative thinking that’s essential for innovation and progress. In other words, students who opt for gender studies are not limiting their career choices. In fact, it is arguable they are doing the very opposite.
So here are four reasons about utility of gender studies:

It relates to pretty much anything:
The idea of gender as a social construct requires a multidisciplinary approach. Because if gender is more of an abstract idea than a biological fact, then it is impossible to focus on a single subject area. For example, gender roles have changed dramatically within the last century, but this change was driven by an intersection of cultural factors ranging from science, economics, shifts in religious attitudes, political movements, digital technology, artistic representations, and medicine. Just think about the contrast between the traditional idea of a 1950s housewife and the contemporary advertising archetype of the city-dwelling young professional woman. This ‘new’ gender role is now accepted and promoted in many cultures, and is borne out of many political and social developments, such as the availability of birth control, equal opportunity legislation, and free market principles which create services and products that reflect and enable new gender norms.
In gender studies, one will study politics, critical theory, literature, history, sociology, and psychology, all from a feminist or gendered perspective. To put it another way, gender studies can apply to pretty much anything, and will provide a solid grounding in a range of academic subjects that can lead to many different career opportunities. It will also help in personal life. Gender studies is about looking at the world from a new perspective, and one will be able to use critical skills to make sure the best out of everything. It can help build better friendships and relationships based on a deep understanding of who you as individual, rather than a gender.
It transcends gender:
One of the most critical terms in gender studies is intersectionality, which can also be referred to as intersectional feminism. Intersectionality describes the interconnected relationship between social categories, such as gender, race, and economic status. This overlapping system of identity creates a more nuanced view of how individuals relate to dominant ideological positions.
Without the concept of intersectionality, such individuals can become lost in broad social categories, which can fail to adequately express individual difference or identify the potential for oppression or exclusion. Gender Studies clearly acknowledges the role of gender in creating identity, but, by applying its own multi-faceted approach to gender, it has conceptualised a new analytical framework for understanding (and potentially overcoming) the interlocking systems of power that impact the most marginalised members of society.

Gender studies is about equality:
The elimination of prejudice and discrimination isn’t just a moral issue, it is also a vital legal one over the world, making gender studies an essential tool in the ongoing struggle for equality and opportunity for every individual.
Woman make up half of the workforce and yet are noticeably underrepresented in the top political and corporate positions, and even more so in specific industries like engineering and tech. And while some scientific research pose its the possibility that hormonal differences can, albeit very subtly and indirectly, affect the type of professions men and women are drawn to, gender studies raises a vital question: are such choices driven by our biology or are males and females more influenced by cultural norms and expectations?
Either way, a female engineer will almost certainly be outnumbered by her male colleagues, and an awareness of new concepts around gender ensures that employers create a working environment that provides enough opportunity for every worker, no matter their gender. And there’s plenty of evidence that this is already happening. In the 1970s, women occupied just seven percent of jobs within the STEM fields. Today that same figure is at 24%. This might not be the jump that many people had hoped for, but it’s proof women are benefitting from more opportunities than ever before, and of how genders studies is making a significant contribution to this continuing trend.
Gender Studies has real-world consequences:
Gender Studies is a complex subject, and leading academics like Judith Butler and Julie Kristeva are among some of the greatest intellectuals of the last 20th century. Their texts re-examine the very foundations of psychoanalytical theory, Western philosophy, and the objectivity of scientific research. Their arguments are incredibly nuanced and can take years of academic study before being fully appreciated. As such, a cursory reading can lead to the incorrect conclusion that such ideas are purely theoretical, but it’s important to remember that they have real-world consequences.
Gender studies have a variety of career options beyond academia, including roles in NGOs, charities, and women’s organisations. What’s more, many people working in professional and volunteer sectors are turning to the subject to deepen their understanding of the issues they face daily. Examples include people running women’s shelters on a volunteer basis or human rights lawyers working towards the protection and expansion of anti-discrimination legislation.
Studying gender provides a unique and stimulating intellectual challenge. More importantly, it can be a first big step in enacting real changes that can improve the lives of countless people all over the world.
Gender studies is about so much more than women’s rights. In fact, the same arguments can be applied to theories of masculinity and the ways in which they may enforce cultural stereotypes upon men. It’s essentially an inclusive project aiming towards creating the social, political, and cultural conditions that can provide the greatest freedoms and opportunities to every individual, regardless of their gender, race, or sexuality.

SOLUTIONS OR WAYS TO FACE CHALLENGES:

1. Talk to women and girls:
A fundamental reason we have not yet achieved gender equality in every realm is that women and girls’ voices are too often excluded from global and national decision-making. When programmers’ and policies are designed without women’s needs central to their foundation, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. If grassroots women had been adequately consulted in decision-makers would have been able to anticipate that girls would still be held responsible for many home chores, caring for younger siblings and fetching water, and have known that a major obstacle for girls’ education is that girls are at risk of physical and sexual assaults when they have to walk long distances to school.

2. Let girls use mobile phones:
The majority of girls in India don’t have access to using basic technology such as phones and computers because of infrastructure related challenges and economic reasons. Increasingly we see bans on girls using mobile phones. The dialogue on girls’ access to Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] education and women’s role in technology has not even started to be acknowledged. Can girls and women access equal resources, opportunities and rights without access to technology?

3. Stop child marriage and sexual harassment:
If we want girls to be able to complete education we have to end child marriage. We also have to seriously address sexual harassment of girls. Insecurity is one of the reasons parents give for marrying their daughters. It is also a major barrier to girls’ full participation in education.

4. Make education gender sensitive:
There has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. This is critically important for girls to come out of schools as citizens who can shape a more equal society.

5. Raise aspirations of girls and their parents:
One of the key strategies must be to change how girls, families and society imagine what girls can be and can do. We need to give girls images and role models that expand their dreams.

6. Empower mothers:
Empowering women on the community level one will also enhance girls education. When mothers are educated and empowered to make choices in their lives, they enable their daughters to go to school.

7. Give proper value to ‘women’s work’:
The unpaid work women and girls do provide the foundation for the global economy. This fact needs to be highlighted more in the media, with the private sector and in communities. More research and data for messaging on this point could be useful in promoting the key role and contributions women and girls make to the economy and the need for proper recognition and compensation.

8. Get women into power:
A proven way to overcome many systemic barriers to a woman’s success has been increased participation by women in local, regional and national legislation as empowered change agents. A global goal of equal representation is still a long way off, with only one woman for every four men in parliamentary houses. A woman’s voice and her ability to become a leader in her community is fundamental to empowering women.

9. Encourage women into non-traditional vocations:
Supporting women in non-traditional jobs is crucial in not only making long-lasting change in their lives but also help break social taboos.

10. Stop the violence:
The UN has found that globally, one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime, with most violence against women perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner. The World Health Organization, London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, and the World Bank Group have done a lot to consolidate and expand on what we know about the prevalence of violence against women, and effective prevention and response strategies., but there is still a lot we do not know.

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