Gender is a concept that is widely used and perceived in many quarters to mean “women’s issues”. In reality, gender refers to socially determined roles and relations between males and females. From the wider picture, the term “gender” refers to a socio cultural classiﬁcation of women and men. This classiﬁcation is based on societal norms and values that deﬁne the roles men and women should play in society.
Gender roles are quite different from sex roles of men and women. Sex roles are purely biological, natural and God-given. They cannot be changed. For example, the man makes the woman pregnant and the woman gives birth to the child and breastfeeds it.
Gender roles, on the other hand, are determined by the society, which assigns different responsibilities to men and women, e.g., cooking for women and decision-making for men. Gender roles can therefore be changed and vary over time and from community to community. These gender roles are consciously or unconsciously carried into the classroom dynamics by both teachers and pupils and this in a way impacts on the learning processes.
Some Fundamental Gender Concepts
The following are a number of related concepts that underlie the development of a clear understanding of gender.
Gender is a term used to illustrate or depict how women and men, girls and boys in given society associate in a given space (school, family, church, place/ society). It refers to roles and responsibilities that society, culture assigns to male and female basing on their biology- male and female. This suggests that what we know as the appropriate behaviour and responsibilities of men and women are not because of our biology, but are determined by society dos and don’ts for male or female. Of most concern on gender are the values, taboos, myths, proverbs, and resource and power distribution framework, in most societies, that disadvantage females and beneﬁt men/boys.
Afﬁrmative Action (AA): also referred to as positive discrimination is a deliberate action to redress past and present inequalities, e.g. on the basis of gender, region, race and disability, in order to provide equal opportunities to everybody to fulﬁl their personal potential. AA is not a favour, it is a right.
Socialization: is the term used to stand for the means or process by which boys and girls are tamed to ﬁt in what a given society (village, clan, school, peer group, family) values as being male or female. These include proverbs, storytelling, myths, books (novels) and rewarding systems. For instance a girl, who is given a mirror as a gift to congratulate her upon her academic excellence, is indirectly reminded of beauty as something to look at. When a boy is given a mathematical set, he is indirectly guided to think of using this set. Thus while the girl’s education attention is distracted to look at beauty, the boys attention is more focused to books (look up to subject like physics that use the mathematical set).
Gender discrimination: Denying opportunities and rights or giving preferential treatment to individuals on the basis of their sex.
Gender inequality: unfair and imbalanced outcomes for girls and boys/women and men that arise in our schools, families, religions, villages because of unfair and imbalanced amounts of power, resources and opportunities placed before girls and boys. Gender gap, gender discrimination and gender oppression are components of gender inequality in a school, village and religious centre.
Gender gap: refers to quantiﬁable signs of gender inequality in a society, school or family. This can be done by means of counting/computing to determine which boys or girls are disadvantaged against the other in a system of operation.
Gender equality: The elimination of all forms of discrimination based on gender
so that girls and boys, women and men have equal opportunities and beneﬁts
Gender equity: Giving equal treatment to girls and boys, women and men to access resources and opportunities. In the provision of education it refers to ensuring that girls and boys have equal access to enrolment and other educational opportunities.
Gender relations: Relationships between women and men acquired through the process of socialization in terms of power sharing, decision – making, and division of labour within the household and in the society at large.
Gender roles: are activities and duties seen suitable for girls and boys in given society: family, culture and religion. Girls and boys learn their assumed roles and
duties through their day to day interaction with their parents, teachers, peers and religious leaders. Women’s duties and activities are in most families, companies paid less or nothing. This has made women and girls seem less important to society, whereas their (women) work, supports almost all human life. This has is one of the signs of gender inequality that is sought to be changed, through gender awareness.
Gender stereotype: The constant portrayal, such as in the media, conversation, jokes or books, of women and men occupying social roles according to a traditional gender role or division of labour for example: Women cannot make good engineers. In a number of children’s textbooks, for example, women are seen as cleaners, caregivers and nurses, and men are seen as drivers, doctors and leaders. Such images reinforce gender roles, which are socially constructed and in way make girls not to aspire for top professionals positions.
Social construction: A process, through which a given community assigns, institutionalises and legitimises gender roles.
Gender mainstreaming: The consistent integration of gender concerns into the development and implementation of policies, plans, programmes and projects at all levels, including national, community, school and classroom.
Femininity: Supposed distinctive ways of acting and feeling of women. It comprises characteristics claimed by society to constitute femaleness as opposed to maleness. By acting to ﬁt with many of these characteristics, women and girls often limit their potential especially in areas such as education.
Patriarchy: An ideology and social system that propagates male supremacy or male power and superiority over women as natural and God given. The operating argument is that men are biologically, intellectually and emotionally superior to women. On the other hand, women are considered to be weak and dependent on men for protection, guidance, upkeep and general survival. This ideology is institutionalised through active formal and informal systems, backed by ideas, beliefs, practices and culture and sometimes force. A patriarchal ideology is the key factor in the structural gender inequality in most of our societies.
Gender neutral: The claim some people make when they want to present themselves as not practicing gender-based discrimination. What it often masks, however, is the failure to take gender issues into consideration, and this can translate into discrimination against girls as it fails to pay attention to the distinct and special needs of girls and boys.
Gender blindness: The failure to recognise the differences between males and females and therefore leading to failure to provide for the differences.
Gender sensitive: The ability to recognise gender issues. It is the beginning of gen’der awareness and a move towards gender responsiveness.
Gender awareness: Implies the ability to identify problems arising from gender inequality and discrimination, even if these are not apparent on the surface.
Gender responsiveness: designing of appropriate mechanisms for addressing or correcting inequalities between girls and boys/women and men in a school or company or college. For example a school can decide to give extra lessons in physics and mathematics so as to improve girl’s performance.
Empowerment: Empowerment comes from the word power. It is used in most development initiatives to stand for the need for those who are oppressed and powerless to challenge oppressive structures. In gender terms it speciﬁcally means girls and women’s ability to have access and control in all societal aspects- be they social, economic and political.
The Social Construction of Gender
Gender is a social construct that is manifested at various levels and reinforced by various structures: the structures include;
Household: at the household level, girls and boys are assigned different roles, rights and beneﬁts. This begins when they are small, and persists through issues of, for example, succession and inheritance.
Community: Socially constructed roles are reinforced through differential allocation of roles, rights and privileges. Women and girls cook and serve at community meetings, while men deliberate on issues and make decisions.
School: Teachers treat girls and boys differently, by reinforcing stereotyped gender roles and using texts, curricula and management styles that reinforce gender stereotypes.
Religion: Religion is used to reinforce gender inequalities in society by positioning women in a subordinate status to men. A text in the Christian Bible, for example, saying that wives should submit to their husbands is often used to dominate or even abuse women.
Government: Gender neutral policies and plans, as well as the limited number of women in decision making processes and positions, reinforce gender stereotyped roles, rights and privileges.
Media: The media plays a big role in portraying stereotypical images of women and men that reinforce gender inequalities. For example print media portrays women as beautiful, smart in dressing and men as successful in business, good managers etc. These stereotypes directly impact negatively on career aspirations of girls.
All these forces position women in a lower social status compared with men – socially, economically, politically and culturally.
Note: A realization of the negative impact of these socially constructed positions and roles is the beginning of becoming gender aware, which then requires gender analysis of the above aspects and subsequently gender responsiveness.
Reﬂection Point Now that you know about gender issues, what are you going to do differently to address these concerns in your school?