You don’t need to search far into history to start seeing striking evidence of discrimination against women. However, with more female leaders than ever, in politics and business, many people wonder if sexism is still an issue. Nonetheless, millions of women continue to fight for equality. The road to equality between the sexes has been a long and bumpy one, with many obstacles and turns throughout its course. Just in the past 50 years a profound number of changes have taken place, and this has led many people to believe that gender discrimination is something already in our past. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
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Discrimination in North America and Europe
It is true that in many western nations, women have the same legal rights as men. In European Union Law, gender equality is at the core of some of the most significant treaties and pieces of legislation. In the EU women are more likely to attend university and live longer than men. Laws that protect maternity leave are more extensive than most other places in the world, including the USA. All this is good news for women in Europe. Nonetheless women do still earn less on average than men. However, there is growing resistance to the idea that this pay gap is based on direct discrimination. Many people believe that the facts point towards a difference in attitudes and career choices, rather than sexist employers. As Thomas Sowell – senior fellow at Stanford University – writing in the National Review, points out:
In the USA girls have had an educational advantage over boys since the 1980s, coming out of school with higher grades, despite boys performing better in standardised tests and the more prestigious STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths). More women than men graduate from universities in the USA as well.
Women are less likely to work in politics in the USA. Again this is likely to be down to personal choices or cultural pressure, rather than direct discrimination or sexist hiring practices.
Women make up a small amount of the total elected officials in the USA. Women account for less than a quarter of Congressional seats, making up about 18 per cent of the 535 seats in Congress. There are only 20 female senators out of the 100 total, and only five female Governors across all 50 states.
When running for political office women often face discriminatory questioning that detracts from their political viewpoints. The media focus on questions about mothering and their wardrobe at a much higher rate than they do with men, despite the large number of fathers that hold elected office.
Women are less likely than men to vote in the UK, where gender equality is arguably better than the situation in the USA. However, in the USA women are slightly more likely to vote than men.
Based on the information above it becomes clear that gender discrimination isn’t as simple as most people believe. Those who write on the topic tend to have an agenda to support, and are often not objective. Many of the issues that people put down to direct discrimination against women in the western world regarding work, education, employment and legal right are either down to personal or cultural choices made by women, or misconceptions about the facts. Arguably, focusing on these misrepresentations damages important discussion on very serious gender issues such as sexual violence, or serious rights discrepancies in parts of the world that don’t enjoy the same levels of equality that Europe, the USA and other nations do.
Are you familiar with how to change that perspective regarding discrimination against women in the near future?
History of Discrimination against Women in Developing Nations
In many developing nations around the world the situation for women is much worse than it is in the places discussed above.
In the far eastern country of Malaysia, the local custom of adat dictates that the sons of a family are seen as an asset, and therefore they enjoy many rights and freedoms not afforded to the daughters of the family. Despite this the Malaysian constitution affords the same legal rights to men and women. Nonetheless, economic and social inequalities do occur.
In Bangladesh, another developing nation, the distinction between genders begins at the moment of birth. Male children are ritualistically welcomed into the community at birth, whereas girls are not given the same welcome. Daughters are seen as a financial burden on the family, and often women are blamed or tormented by their husbands for birthing a female child. Girls are less likely to attend school and afforded fewer educational opportunities.
In China, the role of women changed drastically during the Mao Zedong era (1949 – 1976). Communism allowed women, who had previously been mostly limited to existence inside the household, to become social beings. Despite constitutional enshrinement of gender equality, gender gaps still exists. There is also evidence of gender discrimination in hiring practices. Furthermore, according to All-China Women’s Federation, 30 per cent of women in China experience domestic violence.
Throughout Africa there are issues with gender discrimination. Forced marriages, genital cutting, forced sterilisation and forced prostitution are some of the biggest issues that the continent faces. 56 per cent of women in Tanzania and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia’s rural areas report being victims of domestic violence. Even when laws are implemented to combat these abuses, simply passing legislation isn’t sufficient. Often enforcement infrastructure doesn’t exist. However, work is being done to change this. In Rwanda, for example, gender desks are being established at police stations, where people can go for help in domestic violence issues. In Burkina Faso, education campaigns supporting the outlawing of genital cutting were added to the curriculum in 1996.
In Latin America many women experience employment discrimination, working in informal jobs that are unregulated. Women there are twice as likely as men to be unpaid workers. In countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua and Panama, Women’s rights activists have identified laws that tolerate marital and other forms of rape, and advantage men in marriage over their spouses. There are also widespread issues of sex trafficking of women.
In Saudi Arabia women have only just achieved political enfranchisement; however, there is still a long way to go before approaching a society as equal as most European nations. Saudi women cannot walk outside uncovered, meet men who are not family in public, drive or even open a bank account.
The above is only a small snapshot of the global issues that women face. These human rights violations should be the top priority for activists and people concerned about women’s rights. The sooner people stop thinking in terms of Team Man versus Team Woman and we all start thinking in terms of Team Human, the faster we can all move, together, towards fairer societies.
Overcoming Discrimination against Women
Discrimination against women is something that many people have grown accustomed to, and that is a problem. Accepting and forgiving discrimination – even in small amounts – will lead to continued discrimination throughout future generations.
Parents can address the subject of discrimination with their young daughters by opening a dialogue about what makes them feel different than the boys they know. Children are incredibly insightful about their bodies and social roles. Discussing potential forms of discrimination that are present in your daughter’s life can help her develop strategies to cope and more efficiently manage her role as a developing woman.
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