The Unequal Treatment of Individuals Based on their Gender
The unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender is a deeply rooted problem in most societies, even our own. Discrimination of women in health, education, and politics has consequences for the development of their lives and their freedom of choice. A country’s culture directly impact how gender equality is exercised as a basic human right.
The first step to finding suggestion and solutions for this global problem, is understanding what it is: “Gender equality is, first and foremost, a human right. Women are entitled to live in dignity and in freedom from want and from fear. Empowering women is also an indispensable tool for advancing development and reducing poverty. Empowered women contribute to the health and productivity of whole families and communities and to improved prospects for the next generation.”
Globally, the discrimination of women is caused by several issues. Not all of these issues are present in all areas, however, these are the basic reasons why global gender inequality exists. Limited access to resources, education, and basic healthcare, long determined and sustained gender preconceptions and widespread gender-based violence are the foundations of this seemingly insurmountable problem. So, what is standing in our way? Let’s look at each of our barriers independently. Women’s access to, and use of, natural resources is likely to differ from that of men’s, as a result of gender division. Women often have customary access to agricultural land for food and to forests for foraging and fuel collection. However, women rarely have any legal tenure. Attitudes towards land tenure for women can restrict women’s opportunities to make decisions about the use of land and resources.
Access to education is also an obstacle. Large gender gaps exist in access, learning achievement and continuation in education in many settings, most often at the expense of girls. Poverty, geographical isolation, minority status, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, and traditional attitudes about the status and role of women, are among the many obstacles that stand in the way of women and girls fully exercising their right to participate in, complete and benefit from education.7 Study after study shows that educating girls would be an incredibly effective way to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health.
Significant inequities in access to health care services and overall health status persist for women, especially in the area of reproductive health. Today, at least half of the world’s people lack access to essential health because they are not available or are financially out of reach. A disproportionate number of these people are women and girls. This is unacceptable. A woman should not have to choose whether to purchase food or pay for a health visit.8
A gender stereotype is a generalized view or preconception about attributes, or characteristics that are or ought to be possessed by women and men or the roles that are or should be performed by men and women. Gender stereotypes can be both positive and negative for example, “women are nurturing” or “women are weak”. Gender stereotyping is wrongful when it results in a violation or violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. An example of this is the failure to criminalize marital rape based on the stereotype of women as the sexual property of men. Another example is the failure of the justice system to hold perpetrator of sexual violence accountable based on stereotypical views about women’s appropriate sexual behavior.
Violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 (35 percent) of women and girls worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women is not only a cause of gender inequality, it is a consequence of it. In many places, gender-based violence is reinforced by discriminatory laws and exclusionary social norms that undermine women and girl’s opportunities for education, income and independence.
Everything we have learned over the past decade shows that when women are empowered—through economic opportunity, health care and education—the benefits go far beyond the individual. Families, communities and nations are better off. Population growth slows, economic growth is stronger, and countries have more capacity, as well as more room to make choices which favor sustainability.6 So, if that is true, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?
The answer is, they are. There are several government and non-government agencies that have made global gender equality a priority. Organizations That Address Gender Equality
While most countries recognize that equal rights should exist between men and women, this is often not the case. Many have produced regulations intended to fight discrimination and programs granting women access to health, education and economic rights such as land ownership. But these regulations don’t seem to solve the problem. We need compassionate organizations to fix the gap concerning gender equality.
InterAction: Since 1992, InterAction, through its Commission on the Advancement of Women, has worked to advance female empowerment and gender equality in the policy and practice of InterAction members and other agencies. ProMundo: Promundo is a global leader in promoting gender justice and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls. CARE: CARE’s commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality is based on decades of expertise in dozens of countries and in every development sector. We see gender as a cross-cutting issue that we address in every program to make an equal world free of poverty. Sonke Gender Justice: Sonke’s vision is a world in which men, women and children can enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. They work across Africa to strengthen government, civil society and citizen capacity to promote gender equality.
International Planned Parenthood: IPPF pushes for legal and policy reforms which combat female genital mutilation (FGM), early forced marriage and other forms of gender discrimination. Centre for Health and Social Justice: CHSJ is a resource organization on issues of men, masculinity and gender, health rights of marginalized communities and reproductive and sexual health and rights. White Ribbon: White Ribbon is the world’s largest movement of men and boys working to end violence against women and girls, promote gender equity, healthy relationships and a new vision of masculinity. UN Women: UN Women, among other issues, works for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls, empowerment of women and achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security. National Organization for Women: The National Organization for Women Foundation (“NOW Foundation”) is an organization devoted to achieving full equality for women through education and litigation. The Foundation focuses on a broad range of women’s rights issues, including economic justice, pay equity, racial discrimination and women’s health and body image. And, World Health Organization: The Global Gender, Equity and Human Rights team, comprised of staff across all six regions as well as in some WHO country offices, oversees the integration of gender, equity and human rights into healthcare programs and policies across the different program areas that make up the World Health Organization.
Each and every one of these organizations are doing their par to chip away at an issue that seems daunting, if not all together impossible. However, for the focus of this paper, we are going to be looking at Equality Now. Since 1992, this international network of lawyers, activists and supporters have held governments responsible for ending legal inequality, sex trafficking, sexual violence & harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and child marriage. The basic premise of this organization is that social change often begins with legal change. They help advance women’s and girls’ rights, because when women and girls, men and boys are treated equally, “everyone wins.”12 Their mission statemen states, “Every day, women and girls around the world face violence and discrimination. Sexual exploitation, harmful cultural practices and systemic inequalities violate their human rights and prevent them from reaching their potential. This kind of inequality is bad for everyone, not just for women: research shows that where women and girls are treated unfairly, there is more societal conflict and less economic stability. It is our intention to achieve legal and systemic change that addresses violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people, and how its people treat each other. When women and girls have fewer rights than men and boys, violence and discrimination are legitimized and ignored. That’s why we use a unique combination of legal advocacy, regional partnership-building and community mobilization to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world.
One of the many initiatives of this organization is the elimination of what they call Harmful Practices. Harmful Practices is an all-encompassing term used by the United Nations to categorize forms of violence or ritual discrimination, primarily committed against girls and women, that have become culturally normalized. There is no comprehensive list of harmful practices, however some of the most common include: Female genital mutilation, child and forced marriage, bride kidnapping and polygamy. These practices represent a denial of the dignity and integrity of the individual and a violation of human rights.
Harmful practices have the following characteristics: They constitute a denial of the dignity of the individual and violate human rights and fundamental freedoms of women as recognized under international law. They constitute discrimination against women and are harmful because they result in violence, negative physical, psychological, economic or social harm. They are traditional, emerging or re-emerging practices that are kept in place through social norms that perpetuate male dominance. These stereotypes are imposed on women by families, community members or society at large, regardless of whether the victim provides, or is able to provide, full free and informed consent.
There are provisions under national, regional and international law that prohibit harmful practices and oblige states to take measures to eliminate both harmful practices and their root causes. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requires states take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.
The Maputo Protocol starts off by defining harmful practices as ‘all behavior, attitudes and/or practices which negatively affect the fundamental rights of women and girls, such as their right to life, health, dignity, education and physical integrity’. Article 2(2) of the Maputo Protocol requires states to ‘modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of women and men … with a view to achieving the elimination of harmful cultural and traditional practices and all other practices.
Another initiative of Equality Now is their efforts to fight against gender-based violence, a subject we dealt with pretty heavily in this class. When women and girls can live free from the threat of sexual violence, they can live healthier lives. When communities are safer for women and girls, they are safer and more prosperous for everyone. Equality Now’s work to end sexual violence can positively impact not only the woman or girl – but also her entire community. 12 Overwhelmingly committed by men against women, sexual violence can take many forms, including rape, domestic violence and harassment and objectification. Violence against women and girls is rooted in inequality. Around the world, rape and sexual abuse are everyday violent occurrences affecting close to a billion women and girls over their lifetimes. However, despite the pervasiveness of these crimes, laws are insufficient, inconsistent, not systematically enforced and, sometimes, promote violence. The work of Equality Now is to advance global gender equality supports their efforts to get justice for survivors and victims of sexual violence – with the ultimate goal of preventing violence altogether. Equality Now uses the law to end violence against women and girls by advocating for strong laws and policies to protect women and girls from sexual violence, making sure that the justice system works, with proper investigation, prosecution and punishment of offenders, pushing for legal procedures that support survivors and prevent re-victimization and working with partners to bring specific cases to national, regional and international courts to underscore the global nature of this human rights abuse.
The last, and probably most important work being done by Equality Now, is their work toward achieving legal equality. They believe that legal equality is the first step to gender equality. A country’s laws set the tone for how it treats its people, and how its people treat each other. When women and girls have fewer rights than men and boys, violence and discrimination are legitimized and ignored. Equal treatment under the law is fundamental to creating a happier, fairer, more prosperous world for everyone. 12 Equality Now, uses a unique combination of legal advocacy, regional partnership-building and community mobilizations to encourage governments to adopt, improve and enforce laws that protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world. This involves urging governments and policymakers to enact and enforce laws that promote equal rights for women and girls, holding governments accountable to international human rights standards, making the justice system works for women and girls and elevating cases to national, regional and international courts and bodies, inspiring people around the world to fight for equality.
The reason Equality Now is able to make any strides at all is the fact that many areas of the world have adopted, and attempted to put into practice, several initiatives to legally mandate equality. International human rights law is the set of rules and minimum standards that governs relations between nations and sets standards for how a State treats its people. It guarantees equal rights, protections and access to justice for women and girls.12 For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1966, states that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.” (Article 26). There is also the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted in 1979, has been ratified by more than 50 countries in the world. And, although the United States has not ratified the resolution, over 40 cities and local governments have adopted CEDAW ordinances. This treaty, sometimes described as the “bill of rights” for women, was the first to address women’s rights as human rights.
Because of the existence of these mandates and others like them, Equality Now can use their powers to enforce action. Each country’s government sets laws that apply to individuals within its borders. Since these national laws have the most direct effect on individuals, it is critical that they meet international standards. By advocating for stronger national laws that follow regional and international standards, we continue to create a fairer world for women and girls.12 Regional laws often match international laws and are sometimes tailored to specific issues in that region. Equality Now uses regional and international human rights law to hold governments accountable for their promises and to bring local issues to the attention of human rights bodies.
At the moment, Equality Now has urgent issues pending. Some of the most important of these are Sudan Uprising; Let us not forget the women; Make Equality A Reality for All Muslim Women; and even United States: End Sexual Harassment in the Workplace! Their website, located at https://www.equalitynow.org, gives detailed summaries of their initiatives, invitations to donate or join letter writing campaigns, as well as thoughtful stories and personal experiences.
Equality Now is composed of 35 staff members, led by the Global Executive Director. Each of Equality Now’s regional offices—Africa, the Americas, and Europe—is led by a regional director. The staff collectively has a strong background is human rights law, legal advocacy, and international and regional frameworks. The global Board of Directors consists of individuals with diverse expertise and geographic perspectives. Board member skills and areas of knowledge include international policy and women’s and human rights; finance, organizational management and strategic planning; and communications, marketing and fundraising.12 Their combined expertise has brought about some substantial, albeit slow, change.
In 2015, in nations across the globe, Equality Now helped protect hundreds of thousands of girls through a multitude of ways. After working with international organizations to promote ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In countries like Somalia and Egypt, it was made illegal. In the United States, Equality Now supported the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, strengthening Federal trafficking laws and further crippling the sex tourism industry. And, in a precedent-setting decision, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights officially informed us that it had ruled in their favor in the case of “Makeda,” who was abducted, raped and forced into marriage in Ethiopia at age 13. This case, which started in 2002, was one of their first and longest-running campaigns under their Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund.
Globally, no country has fully attained gender equality. Scandinavian countries like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden lead the world in their progress toward closing the gender gap. In these countries, there is relatively equitable distribution of available income, resources, and opportunities for men and women. The greatest gender gaps are identified primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. However, a number of countries in these regions, including Lesotho, South Africa, and Sri Lanka outrank the United States in gender equality.14
So, if you are a girl, you can stay in school, help empower your female classmates to do the same and fight for your right to access sexual and reproductive health services. If you are a woman, you can address unconscious biases and implicit associations that form an unintended and often an invisible barrier to equal opportunity. If you are a man or a boy, you can work alongside women and girls to achieve gender equality and embrace healthy, respectful relationships. You can fund education campaigns to curb cultural practices like female genital mutilation and change harmful laws that limit the rights of women and girls and prevent them from achieving their full potential.
- United Nations Population Fund. (n.d.). Gender Equality. Retrieved from http://www.unfpa.org/gender/
- Unfpa.org. (2019). Gender equality. [online] Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/gender-equality [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].
- Littlefield, M. (2015). Encyclopedia of Social Work. [online] Oxfordre.com. Available at: http://oxfordre.com/socialwork [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].
- Davidson, L. (2014, October 28). Gender equality will happen – but not until 2095. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11191348/Gender-equality-will-happen-but- not-until-2095.html
- Gender equality and development. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/social/gender- development
- United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women Homepage. (2009). Retrieved from https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw
- Education and gender equality. (2017, November 23). Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-and-gender-equality
- Gender equality must be at the core of ‘Health for All’. (2018, March 08). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/statements/2018/gender-equality-health-for-all/en/
- Gender stereotypes and Stereotyping and women’s rights. (2014, September). Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org//documents/issues/women/wrgs/onepagers/gender_stereotyping
- Violence against women, a cause and consequence of inequality. (2018, November 19). Retrieved from https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/blog/2018/violence-against-women-cause- consequence-inequality.html
- “20 Organizations That Address Gender Equality.” Raptim, 15 Dec. 2016, www.raptim.org/organizations-that-address-gender-equality/.
- “Equality Now.” Equality Now, www.equalitynow.org/.
- “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/.
- “Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.” Global Issues: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, www.peacecorps.gov/educators/resources/global-issues-gender- equality-and-womens-empowerment/.”