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Gender issues have become topical due to development of various women rights and feminist movements. Gender inequality is now considered to be one of the forms of discrimination – sexism. The majority of the progressive world claims to have a democratic order and equality of opportunities for everyone. In practice, however, these claims find little proof. Most of the cases revealing gender inequality are connected with suffrage and political presence, working conditions, religious beliefs and they are also often reflected in everyday life.
Despite the tremendous progress in certain countries, the others still witness a great deal of a crisis situation. Gender Inequality Index is a part and parcel of Human Development Report since 2010, which proves the concern of international community with gender problems. Global Gender Gap Report 2011, presented at the World Economic Forum, suggested the following figures: 135 countries under research were led by Iceland, the bottom of the list was occupied by Saudi Arabia, Mali, Pakistan, Chad and, finally, Yemen. Criteria taken into consideration while making the list of counties are economic participation and opportunities of women, access to education, health care and survival rate and political presence (Gray, 2011). The importance of such reports cannot be underestimated, as they are based on comprehensive multilateral researches and embrace a lot of countries of various development rates. Due to them people from all over the world have an opportunity to overlook the real situation and get continuous updates on the matter.
E.O. Wright and J. Rogers present an overview of gender gap in the USA in their book. The authors mention that the transformations of gender roles since 1900’s can be considered one of the most quick and fundamental social changes in the history of mankind. For more than 7000 years embracing the human history gender relations have been characterized by male domination.
Gender stereotypes survived up to the 20th century, and the roles of women and men were strictly divided into housekeeping and working. According to authors, patriarchy began to be considered as a practice needing change already at the end of the 18th century, and women’s suffrage was won only at the end of the 19th century. If the ideas of refusal from patriarchy did not manage to become omnipresent through 19th and 20th century, in the second millennium only a few support the submission of women to men. In spite of the fact that some spheres of social life are considerably more resistant to changes, the overall situation witnesses a quite different “context of cultural norms, political and social rights, and institutionalized rules” (Wright & Rogers, 2010). After the brief excursus to the history the sociologists define the crucial notion of gender in relation to the notion of sex: the latter is a biological property of the organism while the former is a socially constructed and created entity.
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Emancipated women want both to pursue career goals and realize their womanhood through maternity. Some of them are really successful in both domains. However, all women face the same difficulties finding a job and ascending the ladder of advancement. It is a common fact that men usually receive higher salary than women on the same job position. Working conditions of females are unstable in some countries. It is connected with the peculiarities of their way of life. Family being a priority, a woman might lose her job due to a prolonged maternity leave or often overtime leaves caused by health problems of her children. Men present fewer problems for the employer, so their career may be considered more stable. Some professions are deemed to be unsuitable for women. They, of course, try to prove otherwise and erase all the possible profession distinctions based exclusively on their gender.
More and more professional spheres which were earlier considered to be an exclusive prerogative of men are now successfully pioneered by women, for instance, some countries have a long tradition of enlisting females to the armed forces (Israel), and others have only recently made this step to gender equality (Germany). However, there are some dangers not connected with the specific character of job description. Thus, women on workplaces more often become victims of sexual harassment than men. The way to solve this problem is strict legislature: if all employers are aware of the consequences of their obscene actions, they will think twice before venturing something of a kind. No doubt, psychological therapy of victims and prevention of sexual harassment are also essential parts of problem solution.
Political endowment is a subdivision of a professional dimension of gender gap. Regarding this, the world has been witnessing considerable progress. In the USA and in Europe a share of women representatives in governmental bodies is constantly increasing. Some countries have even set certain minimal limits for presence of women in state structures. Moreover, staff lists of a great many of international organizations reveal active participation of women at all levels. Women’s suffrage is an accomplished deal in practically all countries with only some exceptions.
The USA is the homeland of political correctness. PC presents the lexical reflection of aspiring to gender equality. Political correctness activists prove their point by the fact that as long as there are language-based offending and biased distinctions of genders, preferring males over females, there can be no gender equality. They have a lot of proponents in the USA and even more opponents abroad. The latter claim the unnecessarily extreme manifestations of this linguistic approach to gender gap problems.
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However, with a reasonable attitude PC might render additional aid to the fight for equal gender rights. Notorious are gender-related traditions existing in some Islamic countries. Among them are forced marriages of pre-teenage girls, complete dependence on spouses’ consent in matters of obtaining education and getting a job, professional gender segregation, non-admission to high governmental ranks, right granted to husband for domestic violence, horrible practice of murders for honor, etc. Comparing historical evidence with the present time situation, Wright and Rogers maintain that “in some societies at some points in history, women were virtually the slaves of men, completely disempowered and vulnerable” and continue by claiming that “in some contemporary societies they must cover their faces in public and cannot appear outside of the home without being accompanied by an appropriate man” (Wright & Rogers, 2010). What can be done if the legislation – Sharia – presupposes fundamental differences connected with the roles of men and women as for rights and obligations? These discrepancies are found in marriage and divorce issues, legal position, clothing and education, thus embracing practically all possible spheres where gender inequality is traceable. Centuries-long traditions cannot be changed, and it means that it is an issue of attitude. The task of the international community is not to remain silent observers of extreme cruelty cases and outrageous breech of women’s rights.
Deemed as weaker sex, women are often subjects to domestic violence. Mostly, they are assaulted because the men are sure they would not show resistance and in aftermath would be too uncomfortable and scared to share their situation with anyone. There is a powerful movement against domestic violence, all the victims of it may come to group sessions and communicate with other women, which makes the awful burden easier to bear. Moreover, women are encouraged not to be afraid to address the police or relevant organizations. Human trafficking is also a social vice mostly directed at women. Everyone may contribute to fight against these evils; one should simply be more attentive to what happens around and show some initiative. Victims of cruelty should also change their attitude towards themselves and the assaulters. Refusal from some gender stereotypes might also be of help when dealing with everyday aspect of gender gap.
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One-gender approach would also be a biased one. Although there is more evidence supporting the idea that mostly women suffer from unfair treatment due to their gender, men cannot be excluded from the gender gap landscape. Thus, Michael S. Kimmel, Professor of Sociology from New York in his lecture prepared for the occasion of International Women’s Day Seminar at European Parliament (Brussels, Belgium) suggests that males should also contribute to maintenance of gender equality and eliminate the cases of unfair treatment towards either of genders. In his speech he emphasizes gender stereotypes common for all men and encourages them to accept the transforming world without harm to their image of masculinity (Kimmel, 2001). The scholar refers to the great progress achieved by women fighting for their rights and does not eliminate the possibility of gender role changes caused by this development. In Europe, for example, extended paternity leave is becoming a common practice. And for fathers who stay at home with their babies there is nothing humiliating in it. On the contrary, men tend to spend so little time with their families lately, that paternity leave becomes a kind of historical compensation for the lack of communication with children. Discussing new types of gender relations in modern life, Sandy Ruxton points out that a lot of men, and especially those who belong to the groups in certain societies characterized by dominant and supreme character persist in holding power over and deriving services from women, which makes them resistant to advances towards gender equality. But the author suggest that there also exist other types of men who transcend the stereotypical ideas of masculinity and rigid, inflexible gender stratifications and who feel more open to the idea of supporting gender equality. The fact that the concept of gender equality in all its facets starts to find more and more support among men proves that this problem is really important and that elimination of inequality must be a process implemented in tight collaboration of representatives of both genders.
A successful gender equality activist Saadia Zahidi (whose official position is Senior Director, Head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leaders and Gender Parity Program) suggests the ways of overcoming gender inequality, giving economy-related examples that stress counter-productivity of gender gap within an enterprise. According to her, empiric data on the international level shows that “countries that invest in girls and integrate women into the workforce tend to be more competitive” (Zahidi, 2012). Although, she maintains that general approach to hiring and keeping female staff members has not yet become enrooted in companies’ policy. Implying the great accomplishments made in the relevant sphere, the official states that all the new domains where gender equality should be introduced must be conquered gradually, literally “one case at a time”.
Taking all the above-mentioned into consideration, one may assume with conviction that gender inequality does exist and offers great difficulties to the development of society. In order to overcome this unpleasant phenomenon all the countries need to become more tolerant and take more action, for ignoring the problem and escaping it will not bring any results. Gender stereotypes should be eradicated as well, which is, probably, the most difficult task of all, as they involve culture and traditions. The social harm of gender inequality also has economical consequences. It allows concluding that this phenomenon hinders the general progress, thus it should be eliminated.