In this paper, we look at gender discrimination against women in terms of early childhood investments, earnings in the labor market, education or asset ownership. Gender discrimination is prejudice against a person due to his or her sex. Gender discrimination may arise from traditional stereotyping of roles between males and females and encompasses the belief that one’s sex is superior compared to another’s. This paper relates to a lot of literature on gender discrimination in various fields as labor market discrimination and market interactions.
Gender discrimination and sexism arise from issues of power (gender-specific) that is expressed in several ways that give boys and girls different sets of privileges right from birth. Resources are normally divided unequally into families, and the difference between the living standards between men and women is most pronounced in poor families.
Conceptualization of Terms on Gender Issue
Sex: This is a biological difference between men and women. It is based on the differences in reproductive organs and functions of both men and women. The biological and physiological difference between the two sexes manifests itself in terms of reproductive organs, chromosomes, hormones, and distinguishes men from women (WHO, 20).
Gender: This implies the socially constructed differences between men and women. Gender is described in terms of social norms, activities, behaviors, relationship and responsibilities that are assigned by society as suitable for men and women (WHO, 10). The understanding of gender may vary in different countries, races, religions and ethnic groups.
Gender equality: This means that, as human beings, both genders have equal rights and opportunities irrespective of their gender. It also means that all people have an equal opportunity to develop their personal abilities and make independent decisions. Gender inequality and gender equality is the extent to which men’s and women’s opportunities are constrained or enhanced based on their gender respectively (World Bank, 2).
Gender discrimination: It implies that based on sex, a person may not enjoy similar rights with a person of the opposite sex. Discrimination may be expressed in different ways such as laws and implicit stereotypes, norms that limit an individual’s freedom and unequal distribution of resources.
Discrimination can occur in different ways such as laws that deny women the right to own and inherit land, laws that don’t uphold women rights and does not punish wrongdoings of men against women, norms that exclude women from decision making processes, distribution of resources in a way that discriminates women and employment sector that prejudice women.
The battle of the sexes is more noticeable in poor families than in the rich. The family is rarely a unit for equal distribution of resources as is often assumed by economists. Women receive less food and education in poor families as men keep a third to two thirds of their income for themselves (Rose, 99).
In order to achieve gender equality and enable women to have power over their lives and health, women should have the power to make their own decisions and to control their financial situations. Lack of reproductive health rights underscores women’s lack of power over their own bodies. This lack of empowerment has led to high social costs and increased poverty. Guaranteeing gender equality is vital for combating poverty and strengthening women’s rights.
Gender discrimination arises from persistent inequality between men and women in all aspects of life. The degree of manifestation of gender discrimination varies amongst different cultures, regions, economies and religions differently. Gender discrimination is considered to be a major constraint to development and has been found to be a factor causing violence against women (Jannatul and Mustafizur, 11). Gender inequality, therefore, is a major subject of concern to policy makers worldwide because of the need for enhancing economic growth and continuing the development process (CPD-UNFPA, 2).
Bringing equality between men and women is a common goal of the global society since it had been articulated in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. In 1948, gender issue and eradicating discrimination based on sex was included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) of the United Nations in 1979. This was considered a great step towards the elimination of gender discrimination and creation of equal rights for women. It also puts emphasis on the legal rights of women, civil rights, reproductive roles and rights, impact of culture and the barriers on advancement of women (World Bank, 22). In 1995, women held the fifth World Conference on women in Beijing. UN member countries committed to taking a number of actions to promote the economic rights of women and eliminate gender discrimination.
Even though sexual and reproductive health of women was given priority following the UN conference in Beijing, they have been increasingly marginalized in the recent years. Instead, the priority has shifted to public health issues such as malnutrition, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs without considering the gender power perspective. Almost half a million women die yearly as a result of pregnancy, about 78,000 die of illegal abortion. Women die because they are denied the power to decide over their lives and lack of access to medical information (Farida, 11). Violence against women is a manifestation of unequal balance of power between the genders and plays a vital purpose in the spread of HIV/AIDS. Violence and the threat of violence follows women throughout their lives and the risk is higher amongst married women than in the unmarried (Tamale, 4).
As at now, there have been significant changes in the efforts to promote gender equality at national and international level. Previously, it was assumed that modernization and overall growth in the economy would improve the position of women by promoting both men and women equally (CPD-UNFPA, 22). During this period, attention was accorded to women’s reproductive health, more importantly on access to food, contraceptives and healthcare. By early 1970s different women activists, policy makers, social workers and policy makers had put a lot of pressure on their governments to change policies and create better strategies to address gender issues (Farida, 11). Thus, the year 1975 was declared the International Women’s year while 1976-1985 was declared UN Decade for women. Consequently, International Donor Agencies such as International Labor Organization (ILO), World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO) extended their mandate to include improving gender related action plan.
In recent years, a significant progress has been made towards eliminating gender discrimination. For example, the literacy rate amongst women has increased tremendously, the gender gap between primary and secondary school enrollment rate reduced and women involvement in the labor force is higher than it has ever been in the world. Despite the huge effort in reducing the gender gap, there is still discrimination against women as women have less access to resources and economic opportunities compared to men. In addition, they still have limited access to various services and their movement is still restricted in some countries (World Bank, 12).
It is obvious that the position of women has slightly changed, and they have achieved little economic gain due to the traditional socio-economic structure (Shahnaj, 28). Thus, evaluating gender situations and measuring the impact of the approaches used in reducing gender discrimination is vital for social and economic development since zero gender discrimination has not been achieved (Tamale, 24). Gender differences and inequalities in access, needs, and resources should be analyzed to form a policy framework that is gender responsive.
The society and economy as a whole should be covered with an assessment to conceptualize how the society and household conditions determine the opportunities and resources for males and females (OECD, 20). Gender situation has been rapidly changing in the last two decades due to global economic transition and social change. Even though progress has been made in different aspects, women still receive less investment for health care, education and mental development (UNICEF, 10). Low literacy rates amongst women aged 15-49 has increased the number of child marriages and adolescent motherhood. Eventually, this leads to early marriages, women malnutrition and low access to medical services and information.
Different studies (BBS, 6; BBS, 25) have shown that gender discrimination against women, deprivation and subordination still persist as reflected by key indicators such as high mortality rate, low literacy rate, high levels of unemployment and low average wage.
Studies into the relationship between gender discrimination and socio-economic status of households have given mixed results. According to Rose (9) households with higher economic status were found to be less discriminative of girls and women. She established that land ownership tended to increase the level of survival for girls compared to boys. Households with more income and financial stability treat boys and girls equally when it comes to allocation of nutrients and medical care (Berhman, 8). However, Miller found that higher socio-economic status of households discriminate against girls more, especially in areas where the society is patrilineal.
As the above examples show, avoiding focusing on gender, ethnicity, and age is at the center of political choice. Similarly clearly focusing on these issues in order to reduce poverty is also a choice. It is extremely important that gender discrimination issues are put in the limelight since if they are not, it will lead to gender based unequal access to resources and power. Women should be addressed in same terms as men in dialogues and partnerships. Priority should be given to programs that support women’s empowerment by strengthening women’s organizations. Responsible bodies such as political leadership, NGOs and policy makers should be at the forefront in the fight against gender discrimination.
There should be adherence to formal commitments that have been made to guarantee equal opportunities for men and women, including legally binding UN conventions like CEDAW and political agreements at the world UN conferences in Cairo and Beijing in 1994 and 1995. There should be a focus on women’s rights like access to resources such as land as well as freedom from violence and ability to make personal decisions as important aspects of rule of law.
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