We all have our own opinions and preferences about how an ideal society should look like. Accordingly, we are presented with a range of activities we can choose from and present ourselves with. These activities are mainly set by your society and by the family you are born in. As long as you choose to stay within that pre-defined frame, you wouldn’t believe there is any discrimination happening. If you ever step outside of it, you would feel the growing discomfort of people around you. Hence, choosing a nonconformist path for yourself may not look like a good idea at first glance. For example, 28 million girls in West and Central Africa still have no access to education. Even if they do have access, unequal gender norms make it unlikely for them to stay in schools and complete their education. 67% of the female dropout occurs as a result of school-related gender-based violence.
The issue of health
Unfortunately, there are both men and women who still don’t support the idea that there should be equal rights for men and women because they are not the same. Explaining the differences between the two sexes, or even the differences between two people who belong to the same sex, is an extremely complex, multifaceted issue, however, most would build their argument purely on biological grounds. Persistence of convictions, such as women having lower status in society, reproduces the existing disadvantageous situations for women, thus creating previously non-existent inequalities. A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in 2018 examined the relationship between gender discrimination in the workplace and health outcomes. The study argues that perceptions of gender discrimination are significantly associated with worse self-reported physical and mental health. Another study published in Science Magazine reveals that there is a causal relationship between social status and immune response in macaque monkeys.
The strength of their immune systems depends heavily on where they are placed in the social hierarchy. A change in their social status has a direct influence on their immune system as well. Humans are no exception to this. As Margaret Chan, the 7th director general of World Health Organization, says:
As the author of the book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men” Caroline Criado-Perez mentions: Uncomfortable workforce is unproductive workforce. The declined productivity of women caused by workplace discrimination further feeds the ground for bias about women and influence them to avoid traditionally male-dominated career fields like engineering.
The issue of illusion
Many believe we have already reached equality for all, thus they don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Ipsos, a global market research and a consulting firm, asked more than 17,000 people in 23 countries whether women have equal opportunities compared to men. 45% of women surveyed think they have equal opportunities to men, while six in ten men believe the same. World Economic Forum thinks differently:
According to the same survey, India considers itself the most equal of the countries surveyed, yet the UN’s gender inequality index places India at the bottom of the 23 countries surveyed by the firm. While the survey doesn’t state the reasons causing this illusion, seeing women in top leadership positions, for example, is definitely an influence. After investigating 5 studies, Oriane Georgiac and Aneeta Rattan concluded that seeing progress for women’s representation in top leadership positions causes both men and women to think that women have greater access to equal opportunities, which then decreases their concern with gender inequality in pay and other domains.
The issue of tradition
People who are simply happy with their traditional gender roles and don’t see any need for gender equality do exist. A study where psychologists surveyed 6000 New Zealanders indicates that the endorsement of sexist ideology is linked to higher subjective well-being for both men and women. Another study published in The American Sociological Review recorded higher scores of satisfaction for both men and women when conventional roles were practiced by both sexes and lower scores of satisfaction when the duties were focused on equality.
It is unwise to think of gender inequality as merely a social justice issue. It is a public health issue as well. Overgeneralizing facts and believing we have reached equality when data proves the contrary only makes the issue worse. Yet not everyone perceives gender inequality in the same way, making it unlikely for them to strive for equal rights.
Header image from Pixabay