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GENDER DISCRIMINATION

Gender discrimination can be defined as the behaviours, attitudes and conditions where an individual is deprived of a right or a privilege and is misjudged solely on the basis of gender. Traditionally directed towards women, this menace permeates the society in various ways. The difference in gender is not restricted only to families but the society in general. It originates from the pre-existing religious beliefs, societal norms and social perceptions.

There, perhaps, has never been an era in history where women were treated equally to men. The creation of Adam and Eve is the starting point for our traditional view of masculinity and femininity. The notion that Eve was created for and from Adam has led to the myth of women’s subjugation to men. This is further supported by the fact that males are physically stronger than females. This superiority in physical strength has resulted in the creation of patriarchy where heading the family is considered solely a man’s prerogative. The patriarchal system assigned males more positive attributes than females because men are considered stronger, smarter and brighter than the women. Thus all attempts made by women for their own growth and development, were thwarted mainly because their motivation to do so was considered irreligious and unnatural.

Such religious and social views found their way into the realm of literature as well where women were portrayed as “sweetly unreasonable,” “an intellectual monstrosity,” and a “shrew” that had to be “tamed.” Shakespeare’s said, “Men are deceivers ever,” but it never received the recognition as did his words, “Frailty thy name is woman” got. These ideas and sayings have been deeply rooted in the subconscious of not only the ‘superior’ gender but also of the females and it has proven to be the last nail in the coffin of women’s right to grow and prosper.

The collective power of religious, societal and literary ideas has left little room for impartial thinking. It is usually misconstrued that gender discrimination is only prevalent in Asian — or more accurately Muslim — countries. But, the growing reservations over the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, gives us a fair idea that such is not the case because 44 out of the 161 states ratifying the Convention expressed their reservations in implementing certain provisions on cultural, religious, constitutional and political bases. It’s mind-blogging that the list of these 44 countries included the names of United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, France and Germany.

The evitable enigma of gender discrimination comes in several forms.

Its most subtle forms can be seen in language. Various languages reflect the power that males have historically held in almost all aspects of life. The use of masculine words, which broadly refer to all humans such as man, father, master, brotherhood, fraternal, etc., projects the idea of male dominance. Languages such as Chinese, German, French and Spanish use masculine forms in default.

Occupational discrimination also occurs when males receive privileged treatment over females. This is evident through the marked disparities in the quality of job opportunities, working conditions, incentives and most importantly salaries. This discrimination is not only the feature of underdeveloped countries but developed countries are also plagued with it. A study shows that the average gender pay gap in the European Union states was 17.5 % in 2008.

Gender imbalance also intrudes into the political arena. The female suffrage movement took off in 1867. New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1893 and Saudi Arabia was the last to grant this right to women — in 2011. The fight for equal status of females has not ended here. There is an ongoing battle to ensure gender equality.

These discriminatory practices are rampant in our households as well. The preference for sons and intra- household biases in the distribution of food are examples of such discrimination. Even today, in many parts of the world, females have no role to play in making the decisions in the family.

Violence against women is the most acute form of discrimination. Such violence can be explained as Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) which may include female infanticide, child marriages, honour killings, ritualistic widowhood practices and domestic violence.

There is an excessive need that we grow out of our old thinking and traditions. The first step towards this goal must be taken by the females themselves. They must make efforts to cut loose from the bondage of discrimination and realize that the word woman is not synonymous to “subordination.” Females should work for changing the way men think of the opposite gender. Educated women should come forward to make efforts to educate girls and to eliminate the gender imbalance. They should also work for reducing poverty which is a catalyst to gender discrimination. Media should also play its constructive role in portraying a woman as an individual who realizes her own resources and potentialities. In addition to changing social attitudes and values, it is also important to enforce laws that promote equal rights for women because all individuals in a society cannot think alike.

Females are an important section of the society. Without their unimpeded participation, no nation can march towards achieving social, moral, economic and political prowess. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan rightly stated that “gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

By:Fatima Ali Bokhari

The writer is a Clinical Psychologist
and can be reached at:
fatimaalibokhari@yahoo.com

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