Societies are always evolving and the changes that continuously occur together with academic research create new ways of perceiving and understanding our environment. It also creates new knowledge. These actions or phenomenon are constantly transforming our daily lives and the way we think, perceive things and interact with the world around us. This knowledge also helps us to find more effective ways of managing our human resources. In this environment, more and more women continue to participate and make significant contributions to society at large, which in the past centuries they have not been able to do. The inclusion and participation of women enriches the life of everyone.
Although a progressive or developing society can be seen as one that is making progress towards gender equality, it is imperative to account for the prevalent historical gender inequalities, the inadequacies that still exist and its negative effect on societies at large. These factors have a direct effect on improvements in life conditions such as quality of life, life expectancy, literacy and sometimes in the breakdown of equilibrium or harmony in societies. There is no doubt that there are many benefits when there is a wide and diverse participation in any population or society – it just enriches the lives of everyone.
Gender inequality profoundly affects the world we live in today in many ways – the visible wage gap in the workforce, accessibility to education and lack of political representation are three key areas; the social consequences of these inequalities are wide ranging and have come about through the inherent and structural make up of the institutions that effective and functioning societies have come to rely on.
The institution of education has and continues to not be as easily accessible for many people around the world. Access to schools, distances from where people live, lack of money, gender and status are just some social variables that still prevent many people from having the opportunity to receive even a basic education. However, gender inequality has been and still is a problem even for contemporary society. When Marie Curie – the first woman recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics and the only woman to win it twice (Chemistry) to this date left her native Poland to study in France she did so because of her gender and lack of opportunity; she was not allowed to further her education in Poland.
Due to historical, cultural biases and norms there have always been barriers preventing women from having the opportunity to receive an education. The systematic gender stereotypes enforced by monarchies and the wealthy elite who created the various schooling institutions prevented women and girls from getting an education. Often in the past and even today in some societies women have been viewed as chattel. Socially accepted gender roles confined women to the home while their husbands, sons, and brothers sought an education. Education can be imperative since it creates broader critical thinking, enriches lives and opens avenues of opportunity. Furthermore, the ability to read and write and in particular female literacy has great consequences on society. They can be cumulative and have a domino effect in nature and our overall environment.
Research shows that as female literacy rates rise, fertility rates decline rapidly and tend to stabilise around the natural rate of reproduction of 2.1 children per woman (E Todd “After The Empire”).
As a consequence, world population will stabilise over the next few decades and planetary resources, which are finite, will slowly move toward sustainability and perhaps affect climate change positively. These and other related phenomena are co-existent and have a cascading effect from a simple issue of gender equality and participation.
However, ever-present gender stereotypes and overall inequality still prevent equal opportunities for everyone. The majority of women still do not have the opportunity to go to school because they are seen and treated as the primary caretakers of the family household. Why would a woman need an education when her role does not require much “thinking”? These historical attitudes and standards is still prevalent in many cultures around the world. Not only have they prevented women from achieving their full potential, but also has stifled their creativity, entrepreneurship and to a great extend competition; which in turn prevents innovation and the quality of human life. It profoundly affects the world and the environment in which we live. In the past the lack of education constrained most women to being a homemaker or caregiver. Even today in many societies a woman eager to learn or seek an education to improve herself can be perceived as being ungrateful, selfish, and a deviation from the expected norms.
It was not until the late nineteenth century when women were recognized under the law to be able to receive some education. Although this was a significant and important moment in history, gender inequality still persists in the education system globally. Gender inequality is especially prevalent in developing countries where women and girls are forced to stay at home and educating women is considered heresy in certain religions and is not a priority. These societies dominated by male hierarchies fail to understand the cumulative negative consequences of these actions and the impact gender inequality is having on their populations in general.
In fact, in some societies there is grave danger for women who attempt to go to school or educate themselves. There is the possibility of being kidnapped, assaulted or even killed – the courageous Pakistani Women’s Education Activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai (Malala) is a testament to the extreme challenges that still face young women seeking an education in many parts of the world. Although both men and women, especially in developing countries often face harsh conditions when trying to get an education, women and girls are more likely to be held back simply due to the fact that they are female. The diverse perspectives and benefits that women bring when educated are not understood; furthermore, inherent fears that exist in many cultures stand as obstacles to gender equality in education.
While it is important to understand how gender inequality affects one’s ability to get an education it is equally important to recognize the division between what is an acceptable field of study for men in comparison to women. Both men and women face gender discrimination dependent on which field of study they are in. When women were encouraged to go into professions such as lawyers, politicians, doctors, it was still seen as a taboo, something unnatural for a woman to do. It is only recently that women are being supported and encouraged in fields of study that were dominated by men. An example of this is the large number of women that have enrolled and are succeeding in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, which provides diverse opportunities for women. To a large extent while access to education for women especially in the developed or western world has shown great improvement the emphasis of equality in education has now moved into certain fields of study previously dominated by men. Although some may think that providing and encouraging women is giving them extra help that men do not receive, it is important to understand that by doing this, competitiveness increases, ingenuity and creativity is fostered and there is more collaboration between the genders. Several studies have also shown that men and women think and process information differently and hence provide a better different perspective on many issues and challenges.
In focussing and allowing equal access to both genders, opportunities for men have also emerged – men have moved into fields of study and jobs that were once considered the forte of women. Some examples of these jobs are nursing, teaching and administrative jobs. However, men too seem to face discrimination and challenges in these fields. Their masculinity is often questioned and they can still be frowned upon for doing the jobs that were traditionally considered a woman’s role. Gender inequalities often have negative influences on society at large and can lead to social divides and strife. Hence gender inequality can be a double-edged sword that must be blunted or eliminated so that societies can prosper and citizens can enrich the quality of their lives.
It is often remarked that when a woman stands up to give a speech, people first look at her physical attributes, the clothes she is wearing, even the tone of her voice before considering listening to her. This is not a cynical statement and sadly most often rings true even today. This is especially true in the field of politics and public life where how women dress, how women look, the tone of their voices is more of a discussion in the Public Square or Social Media than the content of their words or the solutions and ideas they propose to overcome challenges or issues at hand.
Women have bravely and tirelessly fought and continue to do so for equal treatment and representation in politics. Even the right to vote came considerably late for women. However, surprisingly historically women leaders have emerged from developing countries rather than the developed or industrialized world – the first ever women Prime Minister was Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and subsequent leaders from Israel, Ms. Golda Meir and Ms. Indira Gandhi from India have blazed a trail. Even today the world’s second largest democracy and largest economy – the United States has a vitriolic and somewhat ambivalent attitude towards their aspiring female leaders. The mere appearance of strength, uncompromising conviction and fortitude in a female leader is often viewed in a pejorative manner and terms coined to reflect this attitude. The longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher was called “the Iron Lady” by the Soviet Press. Yet, her domestic achievements in dealing with the economy, British unions and her contribution to world peace and détente in dealing with the Soviet Union is overshadowed by that of President Ronald Reagan. The public discourse toward women leaders are often personally demeaning and ignore the content in direct contrast to male leaders. Commentators and pollsters commenting on aspiring women leaders in politics often espouse, “the country is not yet ready for a female leader”! A platitude often used by many to sway the public away from a woman.
Historically and to this day men in power continue to unabashedly make decisions about what rights a woman has to her own body. It is not only ironic but also condescending and obnoxious that an overwhelming number of men make the formulations of reproductive and abortion laws. These actions and others purport to say that women are incapable of thinking for themselves and are inconsequential. The lack of female representation and decision making on issues such as abortion and reproductive matters create disharmony, mistrust, tribalism and divisions along gender lines that eventually spill over into society and creates new problems and strife. Furthermore, the public purse is then often used to punish and decide who is entitled to health and social benefits related to these issues. Eventually women and children pay the price and become a burden on society at large.
It is unsettling to think about how much rioting and disagreement would occur if a room full of women were making imperative decisions about men’s health. What is the difference between a man and a woman that gives them more power to take away their reproductive rights? Instead of giving women the opportunity to make their voices heard, they are regulated, told what to do without the opportunity for a meaningful contribution to the discourse and outcome. The power dynamics that are involved in political institutions are made for the rich, elite and mostly men so that full control and the status quo is maintained. To have a token number of women sitting with hundreds of men wanting their ideas and voices heard continues to be the traditional socio-political roles. The outcomes are predictably poor and society is often affected negatively and deprived of thoughtful and clever ideas and solutions.
One of the most important turning points in politics was when women were given the right to vote. Although this was a positive impact on women, the question still arises as to why women were not granted the right to vote when men were. The historical social gender inequality steeped throughout history made it acceptable for women not to be included at the beginning of the political narrative. It was left to women to fight and go against the systematic gender inequality in order to be seen and treated as prominent participants and contributors to the collective society of which they are a part.
“Gender is considered to be a master status so women are considered to be a political demographic. In other words, women are supposed to have certain political priorities (usually having to do with children and education) that unite all women as a voting bloc.” (Lumen, Gender Stratification and Inequality).
Underrepresentation, lack of recognition for significant roles women have in society and unequal treatment are all effects of gender inequality.
Women are less likely to run for office due to scrutiny. Scandals of infidelity with men in politics can be seen as not a big deal with men usually able to recover relatively easy from the ramifications of their actions. However, women involved in infidelity scandals are heavily scrutinized for their irresponsibility and selfishness, because it seems like only women are recognized as being primary caretakers of their children. The gender inequality and stereotypes are not only present in the political workplace it is also very present in the general public who does the electing. In an article about the perceptions of femininity in leadership, the author found that:
“The data strongly reflects the “think manager–think male” perception (Schein 1973, 2001). Perceptions of leadership were positively correlated with masculinity and negatively correlated with femininity. These findings from a sample of young, modern, educated participants of the post-industrial age reveal that the stereotypical view of leadership as masculine is still present and strong in our society. Modern students still hold traditional gender expectations—at least in regard to leadership” (Johanson, pg. 788).
This sheds more light on why there is a lack of representation in political environments. Focusing on the statistics about voter probability, there is a question to be asked as to what has impacted the reason for believing that a male leader will be better, more effective than a woman. It is not simply just men who are not comfortable with it but many women as well. Inherent gender norms that constrain women are not only causing men to view a woman leader as problematic but women are being impacted by the gender discriminatory rhetoric as well.
When taking a “helicopter view” of the workplace the effects of gender inequality are especially evident. It is how control is probably exercised the most against women. It is a known fact that economic freedom for women translates into many benefits and more choices for women that in turn affects society at large. The overall improvement in life conditions for women from wage equality translates into economic freedoms, which in turn has a myriad of benefits for society. A simple example of this is the ability of women earning a fair or equal wages and benefits for a similar job a man is doing; it provides women with the ability to pay for daycare, perhaps live independently and make other choices without being dependant on a spouse or social assistance. In more harsh situations the ill effects of the lack of education opportunities and economic or wage inequality can turn into more dangerous and harmful long-term effects on the choices made especially by women. These include prostitution and drugs that eventually have a profound and devastating effect on the individual, their families and society. It can cause mental issues, overwhelm the medical, Police and justice systems which in turn affects society at large. It is woefully short sighted to once again not look at the cascading and inter related effects that gender inequality perpetuates throughout society.
The wage gap between men and women has been a continuing battle that never seems to result in a fair consensus. While there has been steady improvements and consciousness in society about the gender wage gap, on average women still earns approximately seventy-nine cents for every dollar a man makes doing the same job. This wage discrepancy can be attributed to various things; however, the most accurate explanation comes from recognizing the systemic and cultural impacts of gender inequality in organizations.
“Women everywhere are over-represented in low-paying jobs and men in high-paying jobs, national gender gaps depend significantly on the extent of class inequality – the distance between the top and bottom of the ‘wage structure.’ (Mandel and Shalev, pg. 1874-1875)
When a woman with the same qualifications, schooling and background as her male colleague is getting paid far less to do the same job, there is something very wrong going on.
However, the question is why does this occur and why has injustices like these been ongoing for so long. The answers are revealed by looking at the historic workforce as a male-dominated industry created by high power individuals. The effects of gender inequality can be seen when looking at employment segregation. Employment segregation is determined by demographic attributes, more often than not based on gender. Looking at the occurrence in the workplace employment segregation can be seen as some explanation to the gender wage gap and decreasing labour involvement.
For countless centuries women have been used chattel to fulfill needs rather than considered valued members of society. The various day-to-day pressures women undergo are further accompanied by certain historic stereotypical ideas that women are required to have children, and need to be housebound to care for them and raise these children to be positively contributing citizens of the state. Generally speaking there is some merit and empirical evidence that suggest parents who stay at home and are involved during the formative years of their children’s lives, bring about many beneficial outcomes in their children’s quality of life. Thereby making a positive contribution to society
Nevertheless, discussions and issues surrounding recognition of these facts are often put aside and valued less. If gender equality were widespread and accepted even in this sphere of society, these issues and the greater benefit to society would be recognized and given priority for formulating policy that benefits everyone. What makes staying at home, putting in numerous tiring hours caring for children, any less of a job than another and why cannot this “job” be gender neutral and recognized globally? It relates back to gender inequality and all the cascading effects that it causes in society.