Status of Women

HSB 4U1 CPT BY KAREN LAW

INTRODUCTION

The status of women is a very uncertain and inconsistent factor across the world. In some nations, the status of women is strong and valuable; equal to men. In others, women are viewed as inferior and are valued much less than men when it comes to their contributions to their nation. Some women are so undervalued that they do not even hold the same rights as men. This website will aim to explore some of the differences between nations that have high status for women and those that do not. Although Canadian women share the same rights and freedoms as men, they must face the barrier of the glass ceiling. Around the world, women in countries with state religions, low education rates, and ruling classes that do not promote gender equality have to bear inequality simply because they are deemed less valuable than men.

Women and Sociology

Dorothy Smith is a female sociologist that theorized that the role women have in sociology is very minimal because many cultures are socially constructed by the standpoint of men. Laws, legal systems, and language are all founded from the male viewpoint. For example, in Canada, there is a disproportional representation of females in the group of leaders that makes and sets policies for the nation. Although more than half of Canada’s population is female, only 32% of judges appointed by the federal government are women (Coeur, 117). This male standpoint is internalized by all of society so finding a voice that includes a true female view is very difficult (Coeur, 180). When related back to Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, who theorized society’s domination by a ruling class (cultural hegemony), the major ruling class in Smiths theory is men. Ideologies about society are all traced back to the male standpoint, and until everyday experiences of women, workers, and marginalized groups are accounted for, sociology will continue to reflect this male standpoint.

Education

A global trend that has arisen is the correlation between high rates of female education and low fertility rates. Nations with increasing education for women have seen a fall in their fertility rate, such as Canada. Canada has one of the world’s highest populations of educated women, and also one of the lowest fertility rates with 1.61 (Coeur). In Canada 99% of women over the age of 15 can read and write (World Factbook). Education also has a strong correlation to the status of women in a nation. For example, Canada was ranked the best G20 nation to live in for women and it also happens that 62% of university graduates in Canada are female (Baldwin). The worst G20 nation for women was India, which has a 50.8% female literacy rate (World Factbook).

Plan Canada is a charitable organization that runs a campaign called Because I Am a Girl. This organization aims to provide education for girls around the world in order to improve not just the girls’ lives but the nation’s overall wellbeing. The following are statistics taken from Plan Canada’s resources:

  • For every extra year a girl stays in school, her income can increase by 15 to 25%
  • There is a 20% increase in child survival when household income is in a mother’s hands
  • If 10% more girls attend school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%
  • When a girl receives more education, she is 6X less likely to be married as a child and will have 2.2 fewer, yet healthier children who are more likely to go to school themselves
  • Each extra year of a mother’s schooling cuts infant mortality by between 5 and 10% (Girl's Education)

G20 Best and Worst for Women

Religion

The second worst G20 nation for Women was Saudi Arabia (Baldwin). Saudi Arabia has a very strong religious background compared to Canada that has a secular government that allows all its citizens to freely practice the religion of their choice. The state religion of Saudi Arabia is Islam. Islamic beliefs outlined by the Qur’an teach that women hold less value than men (A Woman's Worth Relative to a Man's). "The male shall have the equal of the portion of two females" [Qur'an (4:11)]. In Saudi Arabia social stratification occurs by not only classes but also by gender. Women are automatically seen as lower ranked people. This ascribed status stems from religious factors and can oppress Saudi Arabian women so much that they live in a closed system.

MEDIA

The media can have a large impact on cultural values and norms. In North American Society the media is constantly transmitting information to citizens all the time. By using Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony and a ruling class, one can infer that when there is a strong positive female presence in the media, some of these ideologies will be absorbed by society. Albert Bandura’s learning through observation can also apply to the media, because many learnt behaviors, beliefs and norms are learned through media and media figures. If the media can produce positive images of women, the media can also display negative perceptions of women. In a survey given to male and female teenagers between the ages of 16-18, data of perceptions of women and the media were collected. Survey results revealed that women are sometimes misrepresented by the media and the most common portrayal of women is being sex symbols. This is valuable information because it gives insight to how the current dominating class is choosing to represent women. In order to bring about messages of quality, women need to be fairly represented in all forms of media, not just as sex icons in movies.

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Emma Watson (2:17 – 3:53) is a United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador. It is positive media figures like Watson who will help to guide society towards gender equality (UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson).

Emma Watson to United Nations: I'm a feminist

Status of Women in Canada

Canada has one of the highest human development index and rank. Canada holds a 0.902 HDI and is 8th highest in the world (Human Development Reports Canada). However, when comparing the separate HDI of Canadian male and females, females have a lower index of 0.893 versus males, 0.906 (Human Development Reports Canada). This information reveals that there is still gender inequality in Canada. Although the gap between male and female is not drastically visible in areas such as education or human rights, it is noticeable in the workforce. For every $1.00 earned by man, a woman will earn $0.83 in Canada (Coeur, 154). Not only are wages unequal for women, but prestigious professions are also dominantly held by males. Women are 200% to 300% less likely to hold senior management positions than men (Coeur, 154). Although these statistics are staggeringly disproportional, studies have shown that highly educated professional women prefer jobs that allow them to spend more time with their family. These same women also choose work with shortened hours once given birth to children (Coeur, 179).

Glass Ceiling Article

The glass ceiling is a metaphorical barrier where the next position can be seen but not reached by certain people although they are qualified and deserving employees.

Women's Rights is Human Rights

The United Nations General Assembly assumed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which includes:


  • all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights;
  • Everyone is entitled to all the right and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kinds such as race, colour, sex … or other status.
  • Slavery and slave trade shall be prohibited in all other forms (Coeur, 301)


A global issue that does not abide by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the sex trafficking business. Sex trafficking refers to the illegal trade and sexual exploitation of women and young girls. Unfortunately, with the increase of globalization, this illegal act has become a global business. In some situations, female sex slaves are traded across borders by bribing police and security. Exploiters can make anywhere from $10 000 to $40 000 per slave, so bribing government employees involved in these scandals is not difficult (Coeur, 302). Author of Sex Trafficking: Inside Business of Modern Slavery, Siddharth Kara, theorizes that one way sex trafficking can be abolished is creating an international slavery and trafficking inspection force. Uniting globally will ensure that the inspection force is not susceptible to bribes.

Conclusion

Canada is one of many nations’ that is lucky enough to have a high women’s HDI. Although women are not completely equal to men in aspects such as the workforce, regardless of gender, all Canadians share the same rights and freedoms. These norms are a result of high education rates, a secular government, and a ruling class that has positive attitudes towards women, this including media figures and nation leaders. Many women around the world still struggle with inequality and persecution simply because they are deemed less valuable than men. Internationally, the United Nations helps to promote equality through their work, as well as organizations like Because I Am a Girl strive to provide education for girls around the world. Hopefully with the work of these organizations, attitudes towards women can continue to grow towards the positive and in the near future the world can see gender quality.