Since the beginning of the 20th century, women have protested consistently to gain equal gender rights. While some may argue that women have garnished even more rights than men, many women and feminist groups might not particularly agree. Feminist groups still believe women are heavily discriminated in today’s world. They often cite the case of women in undeveloped and developing nations. Even women in developed countries tend to believe that they face gender discrimination at their workplace, through sexual harassment and unequal payment. These statements make it seem that the society is, by nature, against women’s rights. However, are all of these statements true? Does the society still discriminate against women?
To the dismay of feminist and women groups, some recent studies say women right activists overstate the issue of gender prejudice, at least at the workplace. For example, McRobbie (2008) theorizes that his issue with feminist movements and gender discrimination studies, stem from their failure to consider what women, en masse, think is equal treatment. Instead, these movements only take into account definitions by feminist movements. Consequently, McRobbie (2008) concludes that many women tend to be happy with gender discrimination because it is more socially conforming.
Nevertheless, the aforementioned studies do not mean that gender discrimination is a misnomer or a myth. Indeed, there are studies that also point to the contrary because researchers like Miller (2009) say women face discrimination, and this discrimination is real. Despite these contrasting perspectives, this paper demonstrates that gender discrimination is not as prevalent as thought. Through a thorough literature review examining education opportunities, political empowerment, and gender wage differentials, this paper demonstrates that the issue of gender discrimination is overrated.
For a long time, gender discrimination occurred through unequal access to education. Indeed, feminists often claimed women had a low access to higher education (compared to their male counterparts) (Miller, 2009). International organizations have also advanced this idea by consistently showing wide gender disparities in primary and secondary education. For example, United Nations (U.N) recently reported that about two in every three countries (globally) have significant gender disparities in primary and secondary education (Global Fund for Women, 2012). The same report shows that gender disparities in education are profound in countries like Benin, India, and Iraq. While such countries still report high levels of gender disparities in education, the world fails to acknowledge the tremendous educational progress women have made over the decades.
For example, globally, the rate of girls enrolled in school has tremendously increased (since 1999). The rate of gender disparity in education has consequently fallen, almost to the same level (across all genders). Indeed, the U.N reports that the current gender disparity in education is only 55% for girls (Global Fund for Women, 2012). This means that 45% of boys are also experiencing gender discrimination today. To arrive at these figures, the U.N greatly relied on statistics from developing and undeveloped countries. In most developed countries, all genders have equal access to education. In fact, in the U.S, the rate of female enrollment in college exceeds that of males. Indeed, current statistics show that 58% of all college enrollments in America are from female students (Global Fund for Women, 2012).
In Australia, women’s access to education is among the highest in the world. In fact, Lucas (2012) shows that the enrollment of Australian female students top the list of 128 countries. Consequently, Australia has among the best-educated female populations in the world. From such statistics, there is a clear demonstration of a growing female empowerment around the world. Indeed, women are becoming more empowered than men are. Therefore, the assumption that there is a very wide gender disparity gap in education is misleading.
Traditionally, feminists used the unwillingness of the society to allow women to vote as a key argument for the advancement of women’s rights. Indeed, around the world, the society’s unwillingness to accept female participation in political processes set women at a disadvantaged position (compared to their male counterparts) (McRobbie, 2008). This way, men controlled most political processes, thereby amassing a lot of power (at the expense of women). Even though some societies still have certain barriers to female political participation, around the world, women have greatly made tremendous strides in political empowerment (Prügl, 2012).
Albeit most women today consider their right to vote as a common right, many women who lived in the 19th century did not enjoy this right. In fact, most developed countries did not allow women to vote until the 20th century. For example, Switzerland only allowed women to vote (in Federal elections) in 1971. In addition, in some Swedish local jurisdictions, women started to vote on local issues in 1991 (Prügl, 2012). In America, the government allowed women to vote in 1921, after passing the 19th amendment (Smith, 2009, p. 77).
Since the society already warmed to female participation in politics, most democracies have seen an emergence of female participation in political processes (both at the local and regional levels). Now, many countries around the world have a female president. Germany, Liberia, India, Argentina, Bangladesh, Iceland, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, Slovakia, Brazil, Kosovo, Thailand, Denmark, Switzerland, Jamaica, Mauritius, Serbia, and Malawi are only a few countries headed by women (Ford, 2010).
From the above list, women head different countries in different continents. The notion of women empowerment existing only in the developed world is therefore untrue because even in the most undeveloped regions, female presidents head countries. The increasing numbers of female presidents do not however underscore the full magnitude of female participation in political processes. Indeed, women hold more positions of power in regional and Intergovernmental bodies. It is therefore correct to say women have made tremendous strides in political participation because most societies have eased the pathway for female empowerment (by introducing supportive legislations that promote female political empowerment). Since women hold the most powerful offices in many countries, it is therefore correct to assume gender discrimination is overstated.
Gender Wage Differentials
Proponents of female empowerment have used gender wage differentials as a key argument to explain gender discrimination against women. Indeed, recent statistics have supported their argument because many researchers have identified a persistent difference in the wages of both genders. For example, Eurostat affirms that there is (at least) a 17% difference in earnings between men and women (OECD, 2008). This difference has persistently shown men earning higher than women earn (even though they may have similar educational backgrounds). Furthermore, credible international organizations like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have supported such findings because it shows a 17% wage differential between men and women (OECD, 2008).
However, there has been little discussion regarding what truly causes these wage differentials. Feminists have often advanced the belief that gender discrimination largely explains these wage differentials. However, as Babcock (2008) contends, some of the factors responsible for the wage differentials are not associated with discrimination. For example, Babcock (2008) claims innate behavioral differences between men and women are partly to blame for the different earning levels between both genders. Indeed, Babcock (2008) claims women are eight times less likely to ask for a pay hike. Therefore, men always have a higher probability of receiving a pay rise. Furthermore, Babcock (2008) said, compared to men, women were more likely to interrupt their work because of maternity leaves, or other maternal responsibilities.
Therefore, employers find it more convenient to employ men and pay them higher wages. Lavy (2012) explains that this preference is a natural part of economics because employers are motivated to maximize profit, and get the most returns from their limited resources. Men are therefore naturally more reliable than women are. To this extent, Babcock (2008) claims there is little evidence showing that gender discrimination is solely to blame for the wage differentials between men and women. However, this author does not completely rule out the possibility of discriminatory tendencies in influencing wage differentials. Indeed, even OECD (2008) says discrimination accounts for 30% of all wage differentials in OECD countries.
Nonetheless, if people evaluated these statistics properly, it would mean 70% of the factors responsible for wage differentials stem from non-discriminatory factors. Instead, feminism has advanced discrimination as the main factor responsible for wage differentials in the workplace. However, as observed from the above studies, there are other factors responsible for the wage differentials between men and women. Comprehensively, the argument that discrimination is largely responsible for the wage differential between both genders (in the workplace) is largely flawed.
Historically, women have faced serious discrimination in many aspects of their social, political, and economic environments. This paper acknowledges the historical discrimination against women in political, educational, and workplace environments. Indeed, the society denied women the right to vote, the right to participate in political processes, and the opportunity to gain access to higher education. Even though there may be differences in women empowerment among developed and developing countries, this paper largely shows that the current quest to depict women as victims of gender discrimination is largely exaggerated.
This paper shows evidence of women holding the most powerful offices in different countries around the world (not only in developed countries). Moreover, today, women enjoy numerous legislative changes that ensure maximum female participation in political processes. Moreover, recent legislations have also ensured women have equal educational opportunities as men. The high enrollment rate of female students in most institutions of higher learning testifies the success of such laws. This paper therefore shows that some of the differences between male and female empowerment levels stem from biological differences between the two genders. Such is the case in explaining wage differentials between both genders.
From these evidences, this paper shows the exaggeration of the true scope of gender discrimination. Feminists have also failed to highlight the numerous gains made by women in advancing their gender roles. Today, the world is more tolerant of women. In some sections of the society, women have an easier time succeeding than men (like in the nursing profession). It is therefore fair to portray the true picture characterizing the gender debate, instead of embracing gender bias to advance a sexist agenda. To this extent, this paper suggests women discrimination is exaggerated.
Babcock, L. (2008). Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ford, L. (2010). Women and Politics: The Pursuit of Equality. London: Cengage Learning.
Global Fund for Women. (2012). Increasing Access to Education. Web.
Lavy, V. (2012). Gender Differences in Market Competitiveness in a Real Workplace: Evidence from Performance‐based Pay Tournaments among Teachers. The Economic Journal, 9, 1-10.
Lucas, C. (2012). Australia’s women most empowered in world. Web.
McRobbie, A. (2008). The aftermath of feminism: Gender, culture and social change. New York: Sage Publications Limited.
Miller, P. W. (2009). Gender discrimination in training: An Australian perspective. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 32(4), 539-564.
OECD. (2008). OECD Employment Outlook. New York: OECD.
Prügl, E. (2012). If Lehman Brothers Had Been Lehman Sisters: Gender and Myth in the Aftermath of the Financial Crisis. International Political Sociology, 6(1), 21-35.
Smith, R. (2009). Extraordinary Women: Grades 5-8. New York: Teacher Created Resources.