18.11.2016

Awareness matters on the road towards gender equality

Two issues down the road and we have our first guest contribution with considerations on why we need conscious learning and awareness to contest gender inequality.

Photo: Sidra Saeed by FES / Abdullah Dayo

Human evolution takes place on both biological and societal levels. The former sees changes in genetic makeup, while the latter involves changes in individuals’ relations with each other and the world around them. Human relations in many parts of the world are still struggling with power structures. In the world of gender relations today this power politics is called patriarchy, where men hold power and women are largely excluded from it and discriminated on the basis of their gender and gender associated roles.

Evident manifestations of gender inequality can be traced in everyday life and at different levels, from popular narratives like women’s destiny to become homemakers for future husbands, to gender wage gap, and up to family, penal and citizenship laws. Being aware of discriminations is the cornerstone to acting consciously at all levels. Communal and family life require both men and women to care for children and families. They must ensure resources through work, and also high-quality social relations and the raising of future generations. Neither women nor men can accomplish any of this alone, and both have the right – and obligation - to participate in both child-rearing and other work. In the context of social democracy, this principle is enshrined in the concept of justice, or social justice, which guarantees equal freedom and life choices regardless of gender.

In a welfare state, this equality rules out any discrimination based on political, cultural or economic opinions or practices. The risks arising from unequal power relations, which include gender-based violence, have led many to search for complex answers to find a gender-equal path in existing social systems. However, not all individuals feel the motivation to seek such change.

The principles of social democracy offer solutions to gender inequality through needs-based justice, performance-based justice and equality of opportunities – at least in theory. But such policy-level initiatives are not enough to effect change. Women also need to raise their voices and reclaim their spaces in public spheres. Such initiatives need to come from the grass-root level of society, not just from agency-funded programs. Any narrative, no matter how strong, requires such involvement to propagate through any community.

Women are obviously the primary victims of oppression by the patriarchal system, but their awareness of this is not always evident. If an oppressed woman does not have the frame of reference to recognize or identify her condition, she will take it as something natural and normal. This oblivion has to be broken.

Therefore, identification based on conscious learning and awareness is key to opening the door to a change of thinking. Fomenting connections with others in the same condition can increase solidarity, which can in turn fuel a stronger, more effective resistance to certain types of oppression.

The evolution of society’s collective thought process is a complex challenge, and can take generations to manifest results. However, the process has been accelerated by new technology and media – a factor that should be carefully considered by agents seeking to effect change and raise awareness quickly.

Other systemized drivers of awareness include progressive political parties and other groups, as well as the education system, which can address the narrative of equality in a more scientific and philosophical way. Political parties are able to adopt a twofold approach, introducing fair gender relations both at the power-political level, and in their outreach and policy activities. In the education institutions, a comprehensive gender-sensitive education system at all levels can help shape minds to challenge established patterns of gender-based stereotypes.

Sidra Saeed is programme officer at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Pakistan office. She is responsible for projects on constitutional reforms as well as local governance in Pakistan and on political feminism. She can be followed on Twitter @Sidrasaeeds.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

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