Issues of Gender Discrimination in Education
How it works
World over, equality in education, employment and access to productive resources have been noted as needed indicators for economic development.
Writing on “Women’s Experiences in Labour Force Participation”, Nkoli (2005) reported, Women participation in paid employment for a long time was characterized by female dominance in lower cadre jobs and minimal participation in executive, administrative, scientific and technological professions. A major constraint was due to initial disparity in access to education along gender lines, which dated from the colonial period. That disparity has been attributed to early missionary and colonial educational policies, which favoured homebound education for women (Fafunwa, 1974; Mann, 1985) and attitudes of local people to female education. Robertson (1986:93) reported that in Africa, colonialists, as well as local people, used gender as the criterion for decisions on access to education.
How it works
According to Barbara Bailey and Suzanne Charles little attention has been given to the range of personal, social and economic factors that both independently and in combination have historically determined differential access and performance between and among different groups of male and female students in the Caribbean.
Despite the numerical female advantage in institutions of higher learning, women remain disproportionately under-represented in the Caribbean labour force, overrepresented in the unemployed labour force, have higher job seeking rates than males and, on average, earn less than their male colleagues at all levels of educational achievement.
The privileging of males in the paid labour force is facilitated, in part, by the traditional sex segregation of the curriculum, which begins in high school and continues into tertiary level. Moreover, the numerical dominance of females at the higher levels of Caribbean education systems is mediated by class and gender hierarchies, which position them in the school’s curriculum in ways that de-emphasise the development of leadership capabilities and fails to equip them for higher paid technology-based job opportunities.
In the context of gender, conflict theory argues that gender is best understood as men attempting to maintain power and privilege to the detriment of women.
Men can be seen as the dominant group and women as the subordinate group. While certain gender roles may have been appropriate in a hunter-gatherer society, conflict theorists argue that the only reason these roles persist is because the dominant group naturally works to maintain their power and status. According to conflict theory, social problems are created when dominant groups exploit or oppress subordinate groups. Therefore, their approach is normative in that it prescribes changes to the power structure, advocating a balance of power between genders.
In most cultures, men have historically held most of the world’s resources. Until relatively recently, women in Western cultures could not vote or hold property, making them entirely dependent on men. Men, like any other group with a power or wealth advantage, fought to maintain their control over resources (in this case, political and economic power). Conflict between the two groups caused things like the Women’s Suffrage Movement and was responsible for social change.
Friedrich Engels, a German sociologist, studied family structure and gender roles from a Marxist perspective. Engels suggested that the same owner-worker relationship seen in the labor force could also be seen in the household, with women assuming the role of the proletariat. This was due to women’s dependence on men for the attainment of wages. Contemporary conflict theorists suggest that when women become wage earners, they gain power in the family structure and create more democratic arrangements in the home, although they may still carry the majority of the domestic burden.
Both masculinity and feminity are performed gender identities, in the sense that gender is something we do or perform, not something we are. In response to this phenomena, the sociologist Charles H. Cooley’s developed the theory of the “looking-glass self (1902). In this theory, Cooley argued that an individual’s perception of himself or herself is based primarily how society views him or her. In the context of gender, if society perceives a man as masculine, that man will consider himself as masculine. Thus, when people perform tasks or possess characteristics based on the gender role assigned to them, they are said to be doing gender (rather than “being” gender), a notion first coined by West and Zimmerman (1987). West & Zimmerman emphasized that gender is maintained through accountability. Men and women are expected to perform their gender to the point that it is naturalized, and thus, their status depends on their performance.
Women who desire to start their own businesses also face obstacles resulting from the gender stereotypes and biases in our society. The major barrier encountered by these aspiring entrepreneurs is lack of access to bank loans, which they often need in order to get their businesses off the ground. In Jamaica, as in many other Caribbean countries, women applying for loans will need more documentation than men and are often viewed as credit risks by bank officials even when they are as qualified as men who are granted loans (Paulin, 2003).
Even Caribbean religions give evidence of gender inequality. In the Palo Monte and Santeria religions of Cuba, for example, it is very unusual to find women occupying the highest positions. It is more common and permissible for women to participate in, rather than lead the ceremonies, to cook food and act as personal helpers to the religious leaders (Taylor, 2001).
The feminist perspective of gender stratification more recently takes into account intersectionality, a feminist sociological theory first highlighted by feminist-sociologist Kimberlé Crenshaw. Intersectionality suggests that various biological, social and cultural categories, including gender, race, class and ethnicity, interact and contribute towards systematic social inequality. Therefore, various forms of oppression, such as racism or sexism, do not act independently of one another; instead these forms of oppression are interrelated, forming a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination. In light of this theory, the oppression and marginalization of women is thus shaped not only by gender, but by other factors such as race and class.
Dr. Cynthia Barrow-Giles, Professor of Political Science at the University of the West Indies and export on gender issues in the Caribbean, notes that not only are there barriers to women’s participation in the Caribbean, but the pool of women candidates is also limited. She also mentions the following structural impediments for women:
- Socialization: the views on the social roles of the sexes
- Economics: women are challenged by having to juggle careers and domestic responsibilities, especially when they are single heads of households. This is exacerbated when the economic decline in a country causes loss of jobs.
- Politics: political parties have not addressed the challenges facing women, and have not generally provided special assistance to attract them to the political arena.
- Financing: women lack access to political money and independent financial resources.
Ultimately, the debate needs to bear in mind that despite challenges made to existing gender systems, increased opportunities for women must be viewed against the backdrop of the resilience of patriarchal systems, which continue to serve traditional interest and motive and which combine to maintain the status quo and ensure that the gains of men are not significantly disrupted. Unfortunately, this system works not only against women, but is also inimical to many men.
Barbara Bailey and Suzanne Charles stated, and I quote that “Ultimately, research must now be focused on analyses of the ways in which race, class and gender intersect and impact on all levels of the education system. The phenomenon of differential performance has to be assessed in relation to ways in which macro-level structures and systems privilege some and subordinate others, regardless of sex, with the intention of transcending traditional gender norms, and contributing to the building of a new type of society that is based on principles of full participation for males and females as equal partners in both the private and public spheres.”
Gender inequality is a very real and ubiquitous problem in Caribbean society. It is reflected in virtually every sphere of Caribbean life and continues to be a hindrance to the total development of the region. Recognizing that gender inequality is a problem, however, is only the first step in eradicating it. Only by acting on this knowledge and broadening our minds as individuals will our dream of a fair, just and egalitarian society ever become a reality.
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