Seven Types of Gender Inequality By Prof. Amartya Sen

About the Author: A versatile genius, Prof Amartya Sen is a well-known economist who was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. He belongs to Kolkata in India. Prof. Sen is a staunch rationalist who has made a keen study of poverty and famines, and other issues related to the society. The present essay is an extract from Prof. Sen’s inauguration lecture for the new Radcliff Institute at Harvard University delivered on 24th of April, 2001.

Main Points

Queen Victoria, it was who described the demand for women’s rights as a ‘mad wicked folly’. She being a powerful empress certainly did not need the protection that women’s rights might offer. However, the writer points out that within each community, nationality and class, woman is facing the burden of hardships more as compared to men. Gender inequality exists in most parts of the world including the advanced countries. Gender inequality takes different forms such as mortality inequality, natality inequality, basic facility inequality, special opportunity inequality, professional inequality, ownership inequality and household inequality. The writer expresses his views about each of the above-stated forms of gender inequality.

(1) Mortality inequality

In some regions of the world, gender bias in health care and nutrition leads to a high mortality rate of women as compared to men. This mortality inequality has been observed particularly in North Africa and Asia. It results in a preponderance of men in the total population.

(2) Natality inequality

Many male-dominated societies have a preference for boys over girls. The parents want the newborn to be a boy rather than a girl. Modern techniques to determine the gender of the foetus have made sex-selective abortion common in East Asia, in China and South Korea in particular, but also in Singapore and Taiwan and it is becoming statistically significant in India and South Asia as well.

(3) Basic facility inequality

In many parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the availability of basic facilities is far less for girls as compared to boys. There are much fewer opportunities of schooling and encouragement to cultivate natural talents for girls. They do not get to have fair participation in rewarding social functions of the community.

(4) Special opportunity inequality

The writer submits that in some of the richest countries of Europe and North America, there is relatively little difference in basic facilities including schooling but in higher education and professional training, this gender bias is very much there. Such gender bias is based on the idea that men and women have separate areas of activity and responsibilities. This thesis has been put forward in various forms over the centuries and has enjoyed much implicit as well as explicit following. In ‘Sermons to Young Women’ written by Revd. J. Fordyce, the writer has warned young women that war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy and all the abstruse sciences are the province only of men, not women. There may not be such clear-cut demarcation of male and female provinces today but extensive gender asymmetry in many areas of education, training and professional work is still present even in Europe and North America.

(5) Professional inequality

There is inequality between men and women in the fields of employment and promotion. Even in an advanced country like Japan where gender inequality in basic facilities and higher education is not common, promotions to higher levels of occupation are not so easy for women. The writer illustrates this point by citing an example from the English TV serial ‘Yes Minister’. In this serial, the minister asks his permanent secretary to give the number of women occupying senior positions in the British Civil Service. The secretary replies that it would be very difficult to give an exact number. When the minister still insists, he gives the approximate number as none.

(6) Ownership inequality

Ownership inequality forces many women to be away from certain basic assets like homes and land. This reduces the voice of women. It also makes it harder for women to enter and flourish in economic and social activities. This form of inequality exists in most parts of the world with local variations.

(7) Household inequality

Gender inequality is common within the family or the household in the form of unequal sharing of responsibilities, the burden of housework and child care. This is the case even where there are no overt signs of anti-female bias such as non-preference or in education. The woman is assigned more work at home even if one is an employed woman. The man works outside the home which is sometimes called ‘division of labour’. Women may do it only if they could combine it with various inescapable and unequally shared household duties. This inequality includes unequal rations. Women are supplied fewer rations as compared to men. The writer is surprised to find out that even WHO has classified household work as a sedentary activity which requires the very little deployment of energy and that implies less calorie requirement than men. This highlights the gender bias prevalent at very high levels. This type of “division” which Prof. Sen calls “accumulation” of labour can also have far-reaching effects on the knowledge and understanding of work in professional circles.

Answers to questions

Q.1. Why didn’t Queen Victoria feel the need of any protection that women’s rights might offer? Does that end the need of protection to women the world over?

Ans. Queen Victoria did not feel the need for any protection that women’s rights might offer because she possessed great powers being the empress of her country. There was no gender difference in the powers of a king or a queen. She never faced any difficulties despite being a woman. She had never been a victim of this evil. Being the queen she enjoyed every type of protection. But that does not end the need for protection to women the world over. Common women of the whole world are victims of gender inequality. There is unequal sharing of the burden of adversities between women and men to the disadvantage of women. They indeed require that protection.

Q.2. Explain in your own words why mortality rates are higher among women. What are its consequences?

Ans. Mortality rates are higher among women because of lack of proper health care and nutrition in many societies all over the world. This is due to the prevalent gender inequality. The higher mortality rate among women is the reason behind the number of men being higher in the total population. In societies where there is little or no gender bias in health care and nutrition, the number of women is higher.

Q.3. What does the writer mean by “natality inequality”? Is “high-tech sexism” a significant phenomenon only in India?

Ans. By “natality inequality” the writer means parents wanting the newborn to be a boy rather than a girl. There was a time when this could be no more than a wish. Now, however, high tech sexism, that adopting modern techniques to have a sex-selective abortion has become common. It is a significant phenomenon not only in India but in South Asia as well. It is particularly prevalent in East Asia, China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Q.4. What impact does the anti-female bias have on the availability of basic facilities to girls? How does this bias affect young women in higher education and professional training?

Ans. Anti-female bias may not be reflected in demographic characteristics but there are other ways in which it is present. Girls have far fewer opportunities of schooling as compared to boys in many Asian, African and Latin American countries. Girls are not provided enough encouragement to cultivate their natural talents. They do not get fair participation in rewarding social functions of the community.

There may not be much difference in basic facilities but young women may have far fewer opportunities for higher education. Gender bias in higher education and professional training exists even in some of the richest countries of Europe and North America.

Q.5. Explain the ‘separate “Provinces” for men and women’ theory.

Ans. ‘Separate provinces for men and women’ theory is based on the apparently harmless idea that the areas of activity or responsibility for men and women are just different. This thesis has been put forward in various forms over the centuries. Revd. J. Fordyce, as long back as 1766, wrote in his ‘Sermons to Young Women” that war, commerce, politics, exercises of strength and dexterity, abstract philosophy and all the abstruse sciences were provinces of men. Fordyce described those women as masculine who asked for a part in these activities. This theory has had much implicit as well as explicit following.

Q.6. What problems do women have to face in getting employment and promotions

Ans. In some countries like Japan, women may not face discrimination in matters of demography or basic facilities, and, to a great extent, even in higher education. Yet, they may not have access to higher levels of employment and occupation. They face greater handicap than men. Prof. Sen gives the example of the English television series “Yes, Minister,” in support of his contention. In an episode of the series, the Minister asks his permanent secretary how many women are in really senior positions in the British civil service. The secretary says that it is very difficult to give an exact number. When the Minister insists on knowing the approximate number of women in senior positions, the secretary finally replies, “Approximately, none.”

Q.7. Explain the far-reaching effects of unequal ownership of property for women.

Ans. Unequal ownership of property for women can have far-reaching effects on them. The sharing of basic assets such as homes and land may not be based on equality. The absence of claims to property not only reduces the voice of women but also makes it harder for women to enter and flourish in commercial, economic and even some social activities.

Q.8. Do men share an equal burden of housework and child care within the family or the household?

Ans. Men do not share an equal burden of housework and child care within the family or the household. In many societies, it is taken for granted that men will naturally work outside the home. Women may work outside only after discharging various inescapable and unequally shared household duties and child care. This is so even where there are no visible signs of anti-female bias in survival or in preference or education, or even in the promotion to higher executive positions. This is sometimes called “division of labour” although women would be justified in seeing it as “accumulation of labour.”

Q.9. How does the so-called “division of labour” influence the recognition of women in the outside world?

Ans. The so-called ‘division of labour’ influences the recognition of women in the outside world. Within the family, it means unequal rations. Outside, they do not enjoy equal opportunities in employment and promotions. Their knowledge and understanding of different types of work in professional circles is treated as inferior. Even the World Health Organization Handbook of Human Nutrition Requirement describes household work as “sedentary activity,” requiring the very little deployment of energy.

Q.10. Does gender inequality exist only in the backward or developing countries? What light does the WHO Handbook of Human Nutrition Requirement prepared by a high-level Expert Committee throw on the problem?

Ans. Gender inequality exists not only in the backward or developing countries but also in some of the advanced and developed countries of Europe and North America. In these countries, there is extensive gender asymmetry in many areas of education, training and professional work. Women face greater handicap than men not only in employment but also in promotion in work and occupation. Progress to elevated levels of employment and occupation is more problematic for women than men. For example, there are hardly any women in really senior positions in the British civil service. Even the Handbook of Human Nutrition Requirement of the World Health Organization prepared by a high-level Expert Committee in presenting calorie requirements for different categories of people chooses to classify household work as sedentary activity. That implies that the household work which is done by the women can be done sitting down which requires the very little deployment of energy. It favours fewer calories for women. What is it if not blatant gender bias?

Seven Types of Gender Inequality By Prof. Amartya Sen Main Points Question Answers

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