Defining Gender Equality
Gender equality is the idea that everyone, regardless of gender, has equal access to resources and opportunities. These include access to education, economic participation and independence, and political participation and representation. This means that gender is irrelevant when it comes to valuing different behaviors, aspirations, needs, and opinions equally. The idea of gender equality also extends to the legal, social, and political rights, freedoms and protections that a state must offer to all citizens regardless of gender.
Origins of Gender Inequality
According to a study published in the European Journal of Archaeology, gender equality can be traced back to the period in history when humans began to settle and develop agriculture. This observation resulted from an analysis of graves on the Iberian Peninsula that are estimated to be between 5000 to 8000 years old. Other works have found that gender inequality had become integrated into Middle Eastern society by the second century BCE. Most research indicates that the idea that men are more important than women arose at a time in pre-history when written records did not exist.
Studying these and other graves has revealed a disproportionately higher number of male graves than graves for females and children. This might be an indicator that men were more likely to be afforded proper burials in comparison to women and children. Also, the items found in some graves also presented clear differences. For example, male graves were more likely to have weapons and other items of value, whereas graves for females were more likely to have ceramics and pottery.
Some graves have also revealed some similarities as well. The ‘best’ graves didn’t always belong to men, which indicates that men didn’t always enjoy fundamental superiority over women. As the first signs of gender inequality can be seen in Neolithic or Copper Age excavations, this may indicate that gender differences may have arisen as a result of cultural practices rather than biological factors. This is because these findings are among the earliest indicators of the development of culture.
Therefore, we can conclude that gender inequality is an extremely old phenomenon and, hence, deeply rooted in most cultures across the world. Scientifics studies have only recently begun to understand how and why gender inequality came into existence. Understanding its origins may help people understand that biology may not be as important as we have been led to believe; one of the determining factors in our perceived social value.
A Brief History of the Progress of Gender Equality in the United States
Gender equality seems to be as old as civilization itself, and has taken many 1000s of years to, finally, be on the decline. Gender inequality in the United States has seen a downward trend through most of its history, but the progress has been at a snail’s pace through much of it. It’s only over the last century or so that substantial progress has been made.
The Seneca Falls Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 is one of the most important milestones in the struggle for women’s rights and equality. It was the first planned gathering in the United States that was dedicated to the discussion of women’s rights. It was attended by some of the earliest and best known women’s right activists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, as well as a surprising number of men. Stanton’s ‘Declaration of Sentiments, Grievances and Resolutions’, which was presented at this convention, can be called the foundation of the Women’s Suffrage Movement – the struggle for women’s right of self-determination. The next few decades would see an increase in women’s rights activism which, in addition to achieving suffrage, lead to a progress in social, economic and political equality. Voting rights, in the USA, were extended to include women in 1920 as a result of decades of activism. This period between 1848 and 1920 is often considered the first wave of feminism.
American involvement in the two World Wars bore surprising results in the struggle for women’s rights and empowerment. Conscription of American soldiers for the First World War resulted in vacancies as well as the creation of new businesses and jobs. This lead to a substantial increase in employment opportunities for women, while the men were away at war. However, women were offered significantly lesser wages in comparison to their male counterparts. However, once the war ended, many women, once again, found themselves struggling to compete with men for employment opportunities.
World War II created a similar situation. However, this war lead to the creation of many new technologies that also resulted in improved standards of living. Domestic tasks became easier, leaving women with a lot of free time. This gave women more time to get educated, gain experience and achieve access to more employment opportunities, especially in service industries.
The Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) was an alignment of political, economic and social activism and feminism that emerged in the late 1960s and continued until the 1980s. This movement engulfed most of the western world. This is often considered a part of the second wave of feminism which focused on socio-economic freedoms, empowerment and sexuality.
Most theorists agree that the third wave of feminism began in the 1990s. However, there is considerable disagreement on where the third wave ended and the fourth wave began. Many believe that there’s no fourth wave and that we’re still going through the third. In recent times, there has been a greater emphasis on the redefining of gender roles and even gender itself. There has been a focus on sexual harassment, sexual orientation and other aspects of the female experience. The new fight is against traditional patriarchal mindsets, and for opening up to new ideas and opinions. Recent movements such as the #MeToo movement has brought discussions about sexual harassment and gender issues to the forefront once again.
While economic opportunities are only one of the many aspects of gender equality, it can be a good indicator of progress. Since the Second World War, female participation in the workforce has taken a quantum leap. More women are pursuing higher education and career opportunities than ever before. However, there is still work to be done. For instance, the statistics from the 2018 Census indicate that women are still making 82 cents for every $1 earned by a man. These figures are average earnings for different races and the situation is even worse for minority women.
Gender Equality in the US vs the Rest of the World
The global gender gap, measured in terms of access to health, education, political, employment and economic opportunities is on the decline. It narrowed slightly to 68.6%, seeing an improvement of 0.6% between 2019 and 2020. At the current rate of change, it will take more than 99 years to achieve true gender equality.
Nordic countries have dominated the World Economic Forum’s gender equality reports since they first began in 2006. Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden occupy the 1st to 4th places on the report, respectively, for the year 2020. While gender inequality has seen a downward trend through most of United States’ recent history, gender inequality persists in various forms such as in political representation, wage gaps and unequal distribution of household chores. The US holds the 53rd place on the report, falling 2 places over the last 12 months. This indicates that progress has slowed down and, may have reversed, over the last year or so due to factors such as government policies. A United Nations (UN) report indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic may be one of the reasons behind this, and may reverse the progress on a global scale, if left unaddressed.
The Importance of Gender Equality
The UN promotes that belief that gender equality is a fundamental human right and is important for global peace, prosperity and sustainability. The last few decades have seen exponential progress in gender equality in many parts of the world. So why is gender equality so important? Here are just a few of the reasons.
1 – Economic Progress
Female involvement in the workforce means greater diversity, and a greater likelihood of fulfilling a country’s economic potential. An increase in female entrepreneurship will result in the creation of more jobs and, hence, a decline in overall unemployment. Gender pay gaps end up being a burden on the economy. Women having more money is also good news for businesses. Increased female economic participation and a decline in inequality has the potential to have a significantly positive impact on the GDP.
2 – Decline in Crime
From sexual harassment in the workplace, to domestic violence women are frequent victims of crimes. A society with a greater degree of gender equality would improve the crime statistics significantly and have a positive impact on the lives of women and the society as a whole. Women free of fear and violence are more likely to contribute positively to the world.
3 – Healthcare
Research shows disparity in the quality of healthcare received by men and women. Diseases that affect women are less likely to be funded and researched. Gender equality will, therefore, result in greater research, healthcare, and longer lifespans. Women are also less likely to be affected from mental health issues resulting from causes related to gender inequality.
4 – Alleviation of Poverty
Poverty can be reduced significantly when the burden of household income is shared between men and women. This will, in turn, result in better standards of living.
5 – Reduction in Human Trafficking
While both males and females fall victim to human trafficking, women make up the large majority. With access to education, greater awareness and better employment opportunities, women are less likely to end up in situations where they become victims of forced trafficking.
6 – Happiness
Women are more likely to be happier when they have the same rights and liberties as men. Giving women the right to choose what to do with their lives has a positive overall impact on the society.