Gender inequality is obvious or hidden disparity in treatment of individuals due to their gender performance. Gender inequality is also referred to as social gender discrimination. Leaving aside the arguments on biological sex factors, the socially defined gender inequality is constructed through social interactions and manifests in numerous dimensions of daily life. Gender inequality is the most obvious in education, at home and within employment. While the United States of America if proud of being a discrimination-free country, a closer look at American society reveals that gender inequality is a matter of primary importance. Gender inequality intersects diverse fields of culture and communication as it has direct impact on social position, image, and functioning of males as well as females. Research suggests that gender inequality is socially bound to culture of the nation and is a result of social stereotyping based on gender and innate abilities of women and men.
Gender Inequality from Historical Perspective
In 1870, Queen Victoria wrote to Sir Theodor Martin a letter complaining about the state of women’s rights. She Queen Victoria was not in need to protect her rights or privileges, she saw the obvious prejudice towards women in 19th century England. Today, 140 years later, women suffer from the same gender inequality. As Amartya Sen noted, “Within each community, nationality and class, the burden of hardship often falls disproportionately on women” (2001). The modern world is characterized by unequal distribution of the burden between men and women. Gender inequality exists in all countries, despite of their economic, social or cultural specifics. Moreover, gender inequality may take many different forms; it is a collection of interlinked problems which require immediate attention.
Interestingly, gender inequality in some parts of the world is a matter of life and death. In particular, there are unusually high mortality raters of women in societies where rights of women are not protected (North Africa and Asia). Furthermore, the unexplained preference for boys over girls in male-dominated societies manifests in the form of parents waiting for the newborn to be a boy. While the wish to decide on the gender of a child was mythical only a couple of decades ago, modern techniques allow determining the gender of the unborn child long before the birth. Consequently, it has resulted in the sex-selective abortions that are very common in many countries (Korea and Singapore, for example).
Demographic characteristics may not show any gender bias. Thus, the analysis on gender inequality is purely cultural and social phenomenon. Gender inequality is not widely discussed in the United States because the government guarantees gender equality. However, government of Afghanistan actively excludes girls from getting education. In countries without similar legislation, girls still do not have the same opportunities as boys do in education. Furthermore, gender inequality is present in lack of basic facilities available to women. Females are not given opportunities to cultivate their talents and are limited in their social participations.
Gender inequality is not limited to differences in physical characteristics. Historically, young women were warned about those masculine women who strived to assume ‘male’ social functions. Male functions included war, commerce, politics, philosophy and science (Amartya 2001). Thus, women were put under pressure to remain ‘feminine’ which was a direct limitation of their functions to wives, mothers, and housekeepers. In other words, women were getting used to their socially-imposed roles without even thinking about gender inequality.
As time passed, societies started to evolve. More and more women began questioning their social position in male-dominated community. Women realized that their abilities and skills were not determined by biological characteristics. Thus, the feministic theories were developed and women throughout the world, especially in developed countries, declared a war against inequality and gender stereotyping. Undoubtedly, today women enjoy more freedoms and better protection of their rights, but no full gender equality has been achieved. Women are openly stereotyped in education, employment as well as at home and politics.
Gender Inequality in Education
“Education is widely recognized as the gateway to economic security and opportunity – particularly for girls and women” (Sharma 2007). Furthermore, Sharma argues that gender bias has negative impact on education opportunities for girls. One of the factors contributing to gender inequality in education is poverty. Economic development of the country plays the main role when it comes to dealing with such costs as tuition fees, uniforms and transportation. In families with many children, parents support education for boys rather than girls. At this moment, the social stereotyping becomes important: parents believe that educated men have better chances to get well-paid employment than educated women. The root of this assumption is social stereotype.
Ironically, gender inequality in education is not the result of scarcity of places in schools. On the contrary, the bias emerges from attitude and expectations held and vividly promoted in communities. Social traditions and cultural beliefs have a limit impact on girls’ educational opportunities. There are thousands of young females throughout the globe who are not able to read, write and calculate. Lack of education complicates efforts to enter market-focused production. It affects family welfare and diminishes woman’s potential contribution to development of the community, both socially and economically.
Numerous studies prove that there is a gap in opportunities of higher education for young women and young men. Gender bias in education is observed in the most developed countries in Europe and North America. Thus, the assumption that gender inequality in education is related to economic conditions in the country is not an effective explanation. The root of gender inequality in education is cultural and social. From cultural perspective, the traditional functions of women are maintained and promoted. From social perspective, male-dominated society does not believe in equality between men and women in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities.
One of the reasons why gender inequality in education persists is insufficient research. “Theorists who have focused most directly on the issue of gender inequality have approached the subject from a critical, feminist, or neomarxist perspective. Critical scholars seek to explain how the educational system reproduces gender inequality in society despite its provoking resistance to such inequality on the part of women students” (Jacobs 1996, p. 153). For example, researchers suggest that the culture of romance leads young women away from a focus on their studies and careers. Based on observations with students, researchers suggested that college experience is tangential to intellectual and career development among young women. In other words, women simply do not want to go to college. However, the primary problem with this explanation is that it is not useful for elucidating on gender issues.
Other studies do not provide theoretical explanation for gender inequality as well. For example, Baron-Cohen, a leading expert of autism, believes “that men on average are programmed to systematize better and women to empathize. Men are more technologically innovative, while women are more family-centered” (Luna 2008). This statement alone reveals that the research of Baron-Cohen is based on traditional gender stereotypes. While the study may reveal why there are more women in psychology and less in engineering, it fails to explain why gender inequality is present in education.
Gender Inequality in Employment
Gender inequality in education suggests that women are very likely to be in poverty because they have fewer opportunities to find employment. In particular, 29 percent of households led by single females are below the poverty level, as compared with just 12 percent of households led by single males” (Mexico 2007). Thus, statistics proves that one of the primary causes of gender gap in poverty is that females are traditionally employed in ‘female’ jobs such as service industry and administrative support. Women are rarely promoted to upper management positions and, therefore, do not enjoy professional equality with men.
In terms of employment and professional promotion, there is an evident gender inequality. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that women do have open access to all professions but they tend to opt for traditionally female occupations voluntary. One of the possible explanations for their choice is lack of trust into the social system: women are confident in their failure to achieve success in traditionally male professions. Thus, they choose ‘female’ jobs to secure their future. The gap separating men and women is wide in many countries, both developed and developing. Women have lower employment rate and are paid less. Young women, in particular, suffer double discrimination: 1) they have to deal with additional barriers during the transition from education to employment; 2) they are discriminated against for being women (low status jobs and low-paying positions). As the result, young women are over-represented in traditionally female jobs (nurses and secretaries) and under-represented in positions requiring responsibility and decision-making.
From theoretical perspective, human capital theory suggests that education, knowledge, training, and experiences are valuable factors for potential employers. However, these factors are often embedded in gender. Human capital theory fails to explain why women earn less than men. Nevertheless, the social aspect of human capital theory provides unexpected insight on gender inequality in employment. In particular, Douglas (2007) suggests that presence of women within a certain occupation leads to lower wages. In other words, jobs that are predominated by women are characterized by lower wages simply because women reduce the amount of prestige associated with specific job. Therefore, men leave female-dominated occupations. From social perspective, human capital theory suggests that society viewed women as less competent workers who deskill the occupations.
The special attention should be paid to the gender inequality in terms of occupational segregation when groups of people are assigned specific tasks according to their gender. Occupational segregation occurs because women and men possess different physical, emotional and mental capabilities. While this statement is only an assumption, the majority of people in society believe it. Based on this belief, society distributes employment opportunities based on types of jobs women and men are suited for the best. Nevertheless, this theory does not explain why women are excluded from holding jobs associated with power and prestige.
Examples of Gender Inequality
In addition to gender inequality in education and employment, women suffer a number of discriminatory practices throughout the world. While gender discrimination could be understood as normal a hundred years ago, modern practices and laws can hardly be comprehended. For example, in Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive and even ride bikes. The legal prohibited has put the government into dilemma of how to get half a million of girls to school on buses that can be driven only by men: “If no men are allowed to come in contact with schoolgirls, and women aren’t allowed to drive, who will be driving the school buses?” (10 Extreme Examples of Gender Inequality” 2007). Furthermore, girls are not allowed to leave the school buildings and the police officers have the right to bear them for attempt to leave.
In many countries, women have no right to diverse their husbands easily. In Lebanon, for example, the divorce on the basis of abuse must be backed with a testimony of an eyewitness while the medical document on physical abuse is not good enough. While in Egypt women can initiate a divorce, they have no right to couple’s finances and must replay their dowries. In simple words, Egyptian women pay for their freedom. Interestingly, Egyptian men have an opportunity to forbid their wives from leaving the country for any reason. The gender inequality is even more ironic in Saudi Arabia where women must obtain a written permission from their husband to travel on public transportation. Gender inequality makes women vulnerable to violence. In many countries there are no laws penalizing domestic violence because it is considered to be a matter of privacy outside the jurisdiction. Battered women are told to return home while the shelters do not exist. Spousal rape in a non-existence issue in Islamic countries as husbands have an absolute right to bodies of their wives’ at any time.
Gender Inequality: Concluding Notes
Gender inequality is an important social problems and it needs immediate solution. While developed countries pass legislation promoting gender equality in society, the research reveals that gender inequality is a part of daily life for millions of women. Young females, in particular, suffer the most because they are deprived of opportunities in education and employment. Firstly, they have to deal with gender bias in colleges and universities. Secondly, young women face challenges in finding appropriate employment. Despite the legislative efforts to outlaw gender-based discrimination, most women are forced to seek traditionally ‘female’ jobs in service and administrative sector.
Analysis of gender inequality in education suggests that women are in less favorable situation than men in the United States as well as other countries throughout the world. International human rights organizations strive to bring gender equality concepts into every community of the most distant places. However, there are numerous violations of fundamental human rights in Asian countries. As it was mentioned in previous section, girls living in Afghanistan are not allowed to go to schools. Ironically, international organizations have no opportunity to change the laws of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, developed countries should solve gender inequality problem within their own boundaries first. Women in United States have more educational opportunities than females in Afghanistan, but gender inequality is still a real social problem.
Gender inequality is not a matter of biological factors. Gender inequality should be analyzed through the lenses of social discrimination based on socially defined stereotypes of women. In other words, women suffer from gender inequality not because they are women biologically but rather because the male-dominated society creates specific limits of women’s functions in society. For this reason women are denied an opportunity to occupy upper managerial positions and are not admitted to prestigious universities and colleges.
The special attention should be paid to the hypothesis that women themselves contribute to increasing gender inequality. In particular, women accept the socially-defined stereotypes. Young females pursue degrees which are traditionally marked as ‘female’. It does not mean that there are no female scientists or CEOs though. It means that women tend to choose professions which do not create any social tension. As human capital theory suggested, women are viewed as less competent workers. However, women are also responsible for maintaining the social gender stereotypes due to their passive acceptable of ‘female’ occupations.
In conclusion, gender inequality undermines the fundamental democratic values. Moreover, gender inequality is based on stereotypes which divide society on strong, intelligent men and incompetent, weak women. Social functions of women are determined by their gender while there is no scientific research to prove any link between social function and gender. Education and job market are dominated by men while the most important root of gender inequality is social culture. Gender inequality is not a matter of economic, social or cultural development of the country. It is common in any society. Women are direct victims of gender inequality but they are also responsible for their victimization because they maintain the social stereotypes.
- 10 Extreme Examples of Gender Inequality. (2008). Web.
- Amartya, S. (2001). Many Faces of Gender Inequality. India’s National Magazine, 18 (22).
- Jacobs, J. (1996). Gender Inequality and Higher Education. Annual Review of Sociology, 22, 153.
- Luna, J. (2008). University Meets Gender Equality. New University, 41 (27).
- Massey, D. (2007). Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System. NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
- Mexico, R. (2007). Gender Equality in the United States: The Impossible Dream? AssociatedContent.com.
- Sharma, G. (2007). Gender Inequality in Education and Employment. LearnigChannel.org.