I don’t know how to depict an image of a society with extreme gender inequities. Perhaps, imagine half your body not having the capabilities, opportunities, and resources that the other half enjoys. Horrible, isn’t it?
Although there is a strong body of literature to show the advantages of gender equity to the whole of a society, yet a mere observation is enough to convince a reasonable soul that societies with strong gender equity are more prosperous, healthier, and happier. Someone, I don’t remember who, has correctly said if you wish to measure a society’s progress, look at the condition of their women.
In the country I was born, indications of gender inequities can be witnessed at all levels. Family, the most important social structure in Afghanistan, is strictly patriarchal. Women in their own families are often treated as secondary to men and subjected to persistent degrading behaviors. A study by a right organization found that physical control of women and the alleged protection of their moral integrity had greater primacy than women’s education. Let’s not be misguided by the dichotomy of gender and the dominance of male, as there are more than two genders, and often, adult female members of the family pass on the patriarchal norms and behaviors to the younger women and girls.
Religious leaders, acting as the gatekeepers of the religion and mixing religion with sociocultural practices, are at best sympathetic to the condition of women. Blaming security, public sphere harassment, and the demeanor of women themselves are used as pretexts to restrict women. Some extremists won’t hesitate to advocate unashamedly for the veiling of women and restricting their role as merely one of reproduction.
The public sphere is vividly male-dominated. The mere existence of a few women on the streets shakes the masculine environment so hard that verbal and physical harassments on the streets are a normal behavior of not only teenage boys but also of old grandpas who appear to be of not use for any physical venture.
The limited work environments made available to women in the past 15 years are an extension of the societal and public spheres. Working women are seen with suspicious, sexual eyes not only within their neighborhood and communities but also among their extended family members.
Gender inequities at all these levels of society interact like a web creating a gender-biased spider structure that leaves no room for intervention.
The question, however, is where to start. How to intervene in such a complicated setting in a way to keep the hope of some success alive?
One framework with a potential to yield some success in the long-run is a life-course approach. This approach has a number of main characteristics.
- As is obvious from its name, a life-course approach covers a series of interventions over a stretch of a lifetime starting from early childhood to old age.
- The series of interventions under a life-course framework are connected, takes into account a series of cohorts to strengthen one another, unlike cross-sectional programs that focus on a few synthetic cohorts.
- Interventions are trans-disciplinary across life domains such as education, work, family, government, and the broader social structures.
To illustrate, gender equity interventions should include programs that aim parent’s perception of the sex of the babies, early childhood education, primary and secondary schooling, working conditions, and living conditions for seniors in a series of programmatic plans. Isolated episodic interventions ignorant of the web of the spider may even worsen the conditions with backlashes from all roots of the problem.
I just remembered a puzzle. A son and a father have their vehicle crashed in a collision. The father passes away on the spot. The son is taken to the hospital where a surgeon claims to be the parent of the child and cannot operate on him. If the father is passed away, then who is the surgeon? Of course, the mother. Yet, most people either think twice or make all kinds of theory that how the mother might have slept with someone else.
I sometimes wonder what would it be like to live in a gender-blind society, where surgeons, managers, and pilots were not assumed to be males, and flight attendants, waiters, nurses, and cleaners were not assumed to be females.