Gender Inequality and Discrimination
A look at the perceptions
In every society, people as male and as female are expected to make an exclusive role performance. This role internalisation is done through a process of gender socialisation. Irrespective of gender, people have equal access to resources and services necessary to achieve their individual potential and fulfil their obligations to their household, community, and more broadly, society.
Traditionally, the expected role performance of the female places her in a secondary position in the social structure. All institutions-social, economic, political, religious, and ideological-have been dominated by men. Despite legislative steps, prejudices, traditional attitudes and practices continue to perpetrate discrimination against women, and no country in the world can claim to have fully achieved gender equality. Significantly enough, national efforts and international movements received momentum in the previous decades, and organisations have started adopting measures for integrating women into the development process. The present position is a step forward but far from satisfactory or set goals in this sphere.
The term ‘gender’ arose as a tool for analysing the inequalities between the sexes due to patriarchal institutional structures. It started with assessing the gender role, gender analysis, gender needs, gender interests, and gender perspectives. At present, globally, in developed and developing nations, like India in particular, attention is focused on matters relating to gender discrimination that leads to societal imbalances. Realisation of the necessity of bringing to the limelight the issues of gender, gender equality and inequality has been primarily due to the fact that women constitute one of the crucial segments of the human population. It is widely accepted that without the active participation of women all developmental programmes remain fruitless.
Women’s special and weakened status stems from a common ideology, and from belief in an essentialist, biological and psychological incapacity. Be they philosophers, religious preachers, political leaders, social reformers or scientists, all have justified the inferior status of women in society. The natural differentiation between man and woman does not imply inequalities. Yet, natural and social differentiations have been manipulated through creation of systems of stratification and a pattern of inequality.
It is important to understand the social conditions that specify that women are to be given particular types of work, thus giving them a status lower than that of men. It is generally, irrationally, legitimatised on the basis of her child-bearing capacity, distinct physical attributes, and a built that is shorter in height than that of a man, and in a certain sense, her vulnerability. Social structure was itself so arranged and patterned that its consequences led to inequality between genders. In a patriarchal society, institutional patterns of residence, inheritance, lineage, patrilocal, patrilineal, and patriarchal family structure represent and justify inequality between genders. There is a direct relationship between marital residence and male dominance.Studies reveal that non-male based residence gives women more freedom of choice in mate selection, more protection from a potentially abusive husband, and more freedom to end an unsatisfactory marriage. Altogether, economic, legal, social, and cultural beliefs generate a social definition and self-image of women in a society.
Religion, as an institution, has been one of the most pervasive and persistent factors in defining a woman’s role and her status. Ruether identifies religion as “…undoubtedly, the single most important shaper and enforcer of the image and role of women in society. The transcendental source-which is omnipotent and sacred-acquires extremely powerful instrumentality of legitimacy for various pronouncements affecting the status of women directly and indirectly. In behavioural and institutional forms, it governs the entire life cycle and every day life of women in most of the societies.”
The overall milieu of values creates conditions in which women work, behave and live in a particular way. It creates a psyche and self-image that leads to development of self-perception of being inferior to men. It also leads to formation of belief systems regarding women, assigning them specific roles, and defining a code of behaviour, both within family and outside.
Gender inequality exists in the structure of division of work into public and private domains, which leads to: I. Non-recognition of work related to women in family: child-rearing and other domestic functioning. II. Certain activities undertaken by women in agriculture and handicrafts were not recognised as an economic contribution by society, and for a long time, by planners and officials. III. Creation of such values and institutions that make her work within family and deprive her of all such activities that are outside home and socially recognised.
Commonly, there are two distinct features of the gender role of women, first, her role as a woman, and second, her status as a woman. Unfortunately, women suffer from dual deprivations: one that of being a woman and the other of being a woman of a lower caste or class. Many women do not view themselves as autonomous beings due to their cultural socialisation.
The issue of gender equality is closely related to law, equality and justice, and its denial has led to discrimination of women in almost all fields of human activity. Social equality and justice are two of the most prized ideals of a society, but social inequality and injustice are features of every known society, past and present. Different forms of atrocities are linked to one another and are manifestations of gender ideology. The world that has always belonged to men is still in their hands, and institutions and values of the patriarchal civilisation still exist.
The status and role of women and the related issues have always attracted the attention of academicians, political thinkers and social scientists, in developing as well as in developed countries, because of the widely accepted truth that a society built on the inequality of men and women involves wastage of human resources that no country can afford. It is a generally accepted fact that gender equality can only be realised by making women economically, socially and politically empowered. Women empowerment has become the goal of many development policies and programmes, which also look at indicators of empowerment to reveal the extent to which women are already empowered, and to evaluate if such policies and programmes have been effective towards their stated aims.
In the late 1980s, the concept of Women in Development was shifted to Gender and Development Approach (GAD). The new approach is based on two perspectives. Firstly, it argues that women’s status in society is deeply affected by their material conditions, and by their position in the national, regional, and global economies. Secondly, it recognises the fact that women are deeply affected by the nature of patriarchal power in their societies at national, community and household levels. It advocates for basic intervention with an analysis of roles and needs of men and women in an effort to empower women, and to improve their position relative to men in ways that will benefit and transform society as a whole.
In the GAD, there are two policy approaches: Practical Gender Needs and Strategic Gender Needs. Practical gender needs relate to women’s daily needs in caring for themselves and their children, whereas strategic gender interests relate to the task of changing gender relations and challenging women’s subordinate position. The GAD focuses on the interconnection of gender, class and race, and the social construction of their defining characteristics. It recognises the differential impact of development policies and practices on women and men, and sees women as agents, not simply as recipient, of development.
Within this context, meaning and perspective, the UNDP in the 1990s introduced an agenda for fruitfully incorporating various development approaches. Its new development discourse and focus on ‘equity’ and ’empowerment’ created a fresh dimension in terms of women’s development approach. The earlier paper prepared by the GIDP, titled, Gender and Sustainable Human Development: Policy Perspectives (1995), now ‘gender equality and equity’, is put forward as the essence of the programme and the operation of the UNDP.
Women’s empowerment is central to human development, which as a process of enlarging people’s choices cannot occur when the choices of half of humanity are restricted. Targeted actions aimed at empowering women and righting gender inequalities in the social and economic sphere, as well as in terms of civil and political rights, must be taken alongside efforts to engender the development process.
Perspectives of global policy have enabled the developing countries to identify the underlying causes of gender inequality, and have helped to develop a more desirable strategic approach. That shows that gender equality and sustainable human development are intertwined. All females should have opportunities for personal growth, security, realisation of rights, control of fertility and health, literacy and opportunities to participate in the political and economic system. In tune with the international movement, there has been a profound change in the status of women. The gender gap is narrowing down, and women are entering the production system, thus breaking the barriers of social moulds.