How We Still Don’t Understand Gender Equality


Do you believe in equal rights for all genders?

Are you aware of the inequalities prevalent in your society?

Do you play your part in ensuring those inequalities are eliminated?

If everyone reading this answered yes, yes, and yes, there would be no gender discrimination in the world. However, the truth is far from it. According to a 2017 Ipsos study, only 88% globally believe in gender parity, only 72% acknowledge it exists in their country, and just 68% claim to advocate for it actively.

How is it that despite four waves of feminism, extensive awareness campaigns, and numerous worldwide reforms, we still haven’t achieved gender equality? The answer is simple: We don’t understand what it is.

Instead of exploring intellectual ramblings venturing into the philosophical, let’s start with the basics:

What is gender?

Gender is a very abstract term that refers to the attitudes, behavior, and personal traits considered appropriate for biological sexes. It is not binary and confined to the extremes of a masculine man or a feminine woman. Instead, it falls along a broader spectrum, varying by how we perceive ourselves, not how society defines us.

However, it would be foolish to presume that society doesn’t influence gender. After all, we consider certain behaviors more befitting to a man than a woman because we are conditioned to believe so. Such inflexible mindsets lead to the marginalization of gender-variant communities, breeding a form of discrimination we rarely consider.    

Even though talk about women empowerment is rife, voices raised for transgender rights still go considerably unheard. Public acknowledgment is skewed, despite both issues being just as important to true equality. A global study conducted by Ipsos uncovered that only 52% of participants see transgender people as naturally occurring, instead of viewing them as mentally ill or engaging in sin.

Thus, grasping the fundamental essence of gender as boundless, rather than limited, is the first step towards equality.

The second step is asking:

What is gender equality?

This question isn’t as conspicuous as it sounds. We can repeat the same answer of equal rights and opportunities as everyone else, but it will only scratch the surface.

The truth is that equality is only absolute in our utopian fantasies. Human perceptions are what define it.

Consider this: women defendants are less likely to be convicted than men of a crime, possibly due to pregnancy, maternal responsibilities, and a higher probability of remorse. For some, this is fair, as women are usually primary custodians, and statistically less likely to commit crime than men. For others, it is not, as sentiment should not corrupt matters of the court.

Which opinion is truly gender-equal?

Moreover, gender equality transcends into the dimensions of race, social class, disability, and religion, as each of these factors can exacerbate discrimination. This intersectional view represents the wisdom we need to solve several social dilemmas.

To demonstrate, The Islamic Relief Assistance Foundation discovered that the most marginalized group in Iraq were women representing minorities, while in Gaza, it was those left by their husbands. Identifying such oppressed groups in each region will bridge gender gaps. However, this is a widely ignored concept, even today.

That isn’t to say progress hasn’t been made. The WEF Global Gender Gap Report in 2019 attested to growth in egalitarian societies and positive attitudes towards gender fairness.

However, misunderstandings still exist regarding gender variance. Even though there are three boxes instead of two in sex-specific questions in most official forms, it is a legal acknowledgment of identity and does not signify societal acceptance.

A uniform perception of equality hasn’t emerged either, with more men believing gender disparity has lessened than women. Transgender equality is underrepresented in such statistical surveys.

All of it points to one sobering fact: the concept of gender equality is still a mystery to many. It’s time to dig deeper and do better.

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