13 September 2011
(Ảnh chụp tại Athens/ thủ đô Hy Lạp 2014)
“Research how gender equality leads to gender equity, then, research a developing country that has taken steps to improve its gender equality. Develop a strategic plan for how those steps could be applied in a country with lower gender equality. Finally, use research to support ways gender equity can impact the global economy.”
Universally, women have been sidelined in shaping their societies and their own lives; inferior access to resources and opportunities has capped women’s full potential. The global community is crying out for political leaders, activists, educators, or just any courageous voice to give momentum to the modern women’s movement — a fight to seize long barred opportunities. It is time to heed its call and recognize that women remain as the largest untapped pool of strength, ingenuity, and sagacity for growth and development. Discussion upon strides made towards gender equality in a developing country like Rwanda and the possible application of such steps in Niger, a country ranked lower on the human development index, reveal that gender equity positively impacts an economy: narrowing gender gaps corresponds with greater economic competition. This conclusion illustrates and enhances gender equality as an economics issue, rather than purely a human rights issue, because perhaps it is via this standpoint that gender equity —women’s education, health and empowerment — will be realized. The study of such effects is done so by first dissecting the distinctions and linkages between gender equality and gender equity.
Although gender equality and gender equity are very different concepts and are not interchangeable, they are interconnected given that the attainment of gender equality leads to the development of gender equity. In this regard, the definition of gender spans farther than being a matter of different biological characteristics. It instead “…refers to the economic, social and cultural attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female” (Spierenburg and Wels 85). Cultural and societal norms dictate what attire, behavior, occupations, ambitions and talents are appropriate for women. These expectations reflect the invisible confines that women face daily. However, the social mechanisms that construct gender expectations can also be used to deconstruct them to bring gender equality and, ultimately, gender equity. Understanding gender equality involves recognizing it as “…equal enjoyment by women and men of socially-valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards” but also involves recognizing that it does not mean that men and women become the same (Dodhia, Johnson and Secretariat 33). Having the same chances in life is the first step to have women and men share equally power, influence, and all spheres of life. Although achieving gender equality provides all with the same access and rights, it does not ensure fairness. Equal is an objective term, a very black and white concept that does not account for the different needs and experiences of men and women. Gender equality fails to accommodate for these differences. As exemplified in the case of paternity and maternity leave in the workplace, both men and women can be entitled to equal leave time of five days. The situation described is equal yet still unfair. Merely providing equal treatment does not accommodate the considerable differences of both sexes which may affect the result of equal treatment. In contrast, gender equity fills in the gaps that gender equality leaves open.
Gender equity considers the distinctions between men and women and provides a means to benefit from equality. Equity implies fairness in the treatment of the two genders; it is a normative term that better encompasses the nuances of what is necessary to level the playing field for all (Grown and Valodia 8). Gender equity does not presume a hypothetical ideal but instead compensates for women’s historical and social disadvantages so they can benefit from the opportunities provided. To realize true equality to the utmost degree, laws and policies, beyond stipulating equality, need to dissolve the institutionalized lower status of women and to address the handicaps that limit women as second class citizens. While gender equality is essential, it is not sufficient to help women overcome sex-based discrimination and prejudice. Gender equality leads to gender equity. The former presents access to the full range of political, economic, civil, social and cultural rights but it is gender equity that empowers women to use these rights to fulfill their greatest potential. If there is political and community commitment then cultural, traditional and religious attitudes are amenable to change thus enabling women to rise to the levels of men and perhaps even further. When a people are determined to improve the state of women’s rights, they in turn increase the welfare of their country as a whole.
Regardless of its status as an impoverished developing country, Rwanda has made tremendous advancements to improve its gender equality through greater access to political representation, healthcare, and education. The burgeoning movement to improve gender equality reappeared back on Rwanda’s political agenda when “…NGOs and women at the grass-roots level... met with representatives of the Ministry of Gender and Women in Development and the Forum of Women Parliamentarians to…[recommend] specifications to make the constitution gender-sensitive and increase women’s representation in government” (Ballington 158). The collaboration between community members and officials with the resolve to better the wellbeing of their country enhanced gender equality and human development. From a proletariat effort grew the successful implementation of gender responsive legislation. In 2003, parliament ratified the constitution: stating a commitment to ensuring equal rights between Rwandans and between women and men without prejudice to the principles of gender equality and instating a progressive gender quota that calls for at least 30 percent of the positions in parliament to be occupied by women (Olonisakin and Ikpe 110). Before, Rwandan women were fully enfranchised and awarded the right to run for election—thus granting gender equality in the context of having political power and representation. However, this ideal of equality by simply adding women’s rights proved to be inadequate and ineffectual. The government and people of Rwanda acknowledged and corrected this flaw by reserving 24 seats in parliament in women-only elections, that is, only women can stand for election and only women can vote. Rwanda has reached gender equity in parliamentary representation because of the additional measures that counteract women specific obstacles. Today Rwandan women have the highest representation in parliament in the world, gaining an additional 15 seats in openly competed elections and now occupying a total of 56.3 percent of the seats (Ballington 158). Having women share the political responsibility and influence is a massive gain towards equity in its most profound sense. Countries that include and embrace women in decision-making processes rectify power inequity and overall give its people more autonomy to manage their own lives.
Rwanda has made immense improvements to combat a type of power inequity that often penetrates even the most personal realms of a person’s life: self-ownership. Women who do not have control over their sexual and reproductive life are imprisoned by their own bodies. Self-ownership is intrinsically linked to realizing women’s highest potential; unplanned pregnancies, sexual coercion, and transmitted diseases are the most prevalent obstacles for women in developing countries. As a result, Rwanda has established sweeping reforms on health and family planning services. In 1981, the Rwandan government founded the National Office of Population which integrated family planning services into all of the health-care facilities which included offering“… contraceptive supply systems [and the] training [of] health workers for family planning provision”(Angwafo and Chuhan-Pole 461). Over time these services have created real change: from 1992 to 2007, the contraceptive prevalence rates rose 20% while maternal and infant mortality rates plummeted 22% (Angwafo and Chuhan-Pole 456). When political commitment and action exists, legislation can bring noticeable improvements in all that gender equity embodies (human health, rights and happiness). This approach connects gender equity with freedom from sexual discrimination, satisfaction from a safe sex life, and unbarred access to information and services related to reproduction. Such rights are vitally necessary to nurture sustainable development for women and nations alike because only healthy and safe individuals can develop their ambitions, talents and interests to the fullest extent. The future of a nation is inextricably linked to the fate of girls.
Rwanda continues to strive to provide the opportunity of a brighter future for women and the nation through the gateway of education. Education instills knowledge which, in turn, is power in areas of social construct, politics and economics. Aware of this fact, the new Rwandan constitution stipulates that state primary schools are free, with no one being denied access, or deprived of them, because of their sex (Booth and Briggs 28). Girls must have the prospect of gaining the same skill set and knowledge base as their counterparts to be considered as equals. The government also set in place additional mechanisms to further support gender equity like “…public sanctions against parents who fail to send their children to school, social integration, non-discriminatory guidance for career selection, access for girls to nontraditional subjects, and scholarships” to lead to the equal enrollment of girls and boys in primary school that Rwanda now boasts (Booth and Briggs 28). Policies that address the systematic barriers to achieving equality prove to be effective. Overall, it is access to education that is vital to the attainment of gender equity. Unfortunately, there is no culture or country that is destitute of inequality.
Niger, a country in dire need of development, can greatly benefit from the measures applied in Rwanda; the aforementioned steps in political representation, family planning and education can aid Niger it in its path to attain gender equality. In the case of government representation, women run organizations should reach out to community leaders and elected officials to voice their concerns, interests and suggestions regarding the legitimization of women’s rights in the constitution. Currently in Niger, women only hold 12% of seats in parliament—a far cry from equal representation (Skaine 128). Instating a specific gender quota regarding the composition of parliament would enable women to make decisions and take actions to achieve and maintain the welfare of the environment in which they live in. Mobilization of campaigns encouraging all to support the adoption of the gender sensitive legislation will bring the strive for gender equity to light. Similar campaigns can be applied to establish legislation for women to achieve and maintain their own reproductive health, sexual health, and academic ventures. Through the process of advocacy, coalition building, and message management, issues such as shortages of family planning services and primary and secondary schools can be brought to the attention of Niger’s public and parliament. For Niger, there is nowhere to go but up regarding self-ownership and access to education. Nationally available family planning services and information, like in Rwanda, has the ability to produce meaningful change by protecting the women of Niger from unsafe abortions, reproductive related deaths, and sexual abuse. Free and unbiased access to primary education empowers girls; it empowers girls to learn, work and reach their full potential. The common ground for change to occur in Niger is for women to voice their concerns, be heard by their government, and collaboration between the two for gender equity.
Gender equity is coveted by developing countries to not only to increase human development but also economic growth. The admittance of one half of the world’s population to the halls of classrooms, the workplace and industry will ensure economic growth that will endure. Gender equity allows us to tap into all of society’s human capital—its pool of talents, knowledge, personal attributes, and skills represented in the capability to perform labor so as to yield economic value. Thus “…in many studies focusing on human capital, the result is that the level of human capital affects the growth of GDP”, that is, there is a strong positive correlation between the rise of human capital and economic performance (Leeuwen 171). Specifically, studies in Indonesia and India evidence that “…[human capital and productivity] growth in the first half of the twentieth century [explain] about 56% of GDP growth” (Leeuwen 78). On a macro level, there is a long run relation between the level of GDP and human capital due to the accumulation of changes on the micro level. The human capital theory states that investments in people, such as education and on-the-job training, increase their competence in the labor market and thus generates a higher income for households: producing direct prosperity for individual families and ultimately prosperity for the global society. However, the increase of human capital and economic growth only ensues with the attainment of gender equity. The evident patterns of women’s inferior access to resources and opportunities causes the great gender gaps and overall the low economic growth in many countries. However, due to women’s lower status, investment in women will yield greater results. It is because women tend to be less educated, and because marginal returns on education decline, women’s marginal returns will be higher. So on aggregate, there should be more social and economic gain from women’s education and development than men’s (Schultz 85). As shown, investment in particularly women is ‘smart’ economics. It is gender equity—women’s full inclusion in government, healthcare and education—that permits investment in human capital and without it, potential is lost to the global economy and society as a whole.
As more than a marker for human development, gender equity plays a role in economic prosperity, especially in settings with great gender differentials and in the time of economic decline. As discussed, it is possible to examine the steps made towards gender equality then gender equity in order to once again apply them in aim to advance the global economy. It is clear that the price of women’s discrimination is not just women’s discrimination—it is inept governance, higher rates of poverty, poor health, institutionalized inequity and much more. The problems that encumber women, encumber the world. Now let us hear the voice of that world, let us learn from that voice and let us ignore it no more.
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