Equality of Sexes refers to a condition of parity between men and women (Grimke, 46-51). However, given the widespread tendency to ascribe different roles and status to each in various settings across societies, what should constitute gender equality has provoked fierce debate. Based on the premise that females and males are inherently different in their reproductive, psychophysiological, and consequently social functions, the question remains whether men and women can ever be truly “equal.” Answers depend on the degree to which one thinks women's and men's capacities differ, what should be equalized, and by what means.
The Roots of Gender Inequality
The roots of gender inequality are hotly contested (not least within feminist thought itself) (Chesney-Lind, 5-29). Irrespective of any consensus that gender equality should be the overall sociopolitical objective, causal interpretations of why it is such a perennial problem are located along a broad spectrum. These range from essentialist arguments (including biological reductionism and evolutionary psychology) whereby women's societal experience (Browne and Williams, 78-98), with and in relation to men, is a reflection of innate biological or physiological and psychological sex differences, through to more cultural accounts of gender inequality that claim that men and women are largely herded into different or unequally valued roles because of constructed social norms, and legal and institutional obstacles.
Gender in Context
The manifestation of gender inequality is multidimensional, and illustrations of it vary extensively depending on context. In industrialized democracies with highly developed legal systems, there is a contemporary preoccupation with women's employment experience (Grimke, 46-51), in particular the perpetual issue of pay and status gaps between men and women in labor-market hierarchies (vertical occupational segregation) and the problems of balancing the demands of paid work and domestic life. In developing countries, the onus has been on educational opportunity, independent financial means for subsistence (particularly relative to motherhood), and health.
Amartya Sen delineates seven forms of gender inequality (de Beauvoir, 57-64):
Mortality inequality a disproportionate female death rate, particularly in North Africa and Asia compared with other less gender-biased societies.
Natality inequality—the consequences of parents' preference for male children facilitated by fetal sex selection technology, particularly in East Asia, China, and South Korea.
Basic facility inequality—the underrepresentation of females in state-coordinated services such as schooling, prevalent in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Special opportunity inequality—even where both sexes have access to basic facilities, in many environments substantive opportunities to acquire specialized knowledge and skills such as higher education and professional training are more likely to be open to men. This is a tendency found even in environments framed by extensive gender equality initiatives, such as in the United States.
Professional inequality—gender inequality in employment is a universal phenomenon and relates to the persistent pay inequities between men and women and to the fact that women are more likely to be clustered in low-status occupations with diminished career opportunities, irrespective of the quality of equality legislation. Even after approximately thirty years of progressive gender equality policies across European Union (EU) member states for example, women are still heavily underrepresented in political posts and ...