Gender Inequality issue in Asia through the Vision of Social Exclusion
Gender inequality is a state of disparity between individuals arising from their gender. Gender inequality is thought to be a result of biological differences between the sexes as well as the social construction of gender roles. Distinction between males and female members of the society is the root of inequality. Such distinction can be a result of social construction and biological factors.
In general, some of the differences observed between male and female members of the society are a result of biological and anatomical factors. The biological differences between males and females manifest in the form of hormonal differences, brain structure and even chromosomes (Bendl, 2008). The relative physical strength between the two sexes also differs with males averaging higher strength levels than females. However, most manifestations of gender inequality are a result of the social construction of males and females (Bendl, 2008). This paper applies the social exclusion framework in critically analyzing the state of gender inequality in Asia.
Social exclusion is a term often used to characterize disadvantages emanating from social factors such as access to education. Social exclusion has also been used in reference to processes that results in the systematic blocking of rights, resources and opportunities from individuals and even entire communities. Without the resources that are critical to social integration and are available to other individuals and communities, the sidelined individuals or communities cannot improve their welfare.
Another dimension of viewing social exclusion is as an outcome of multiple deprivations that limit the extent to which individuals can participate in political, economic and social activities within the society (Jackson, 1999). Social exclusion has also been defined as a multidimensional process that result in continued social rupture, detachment of groups or individuals from social and institutional groups thereby preventing their involvement in normal activities in the society.
In contemporary literature, social exclusion is often associated with the process of marginalization of communities, in analyzing the differences in access to services between rural and urban area and a host of other social factors such as the difference between the upper and the lower class in the society.
Generally, social exclusion is a process that results in the alienation or disenfranchisement of certain individual or groups within the society (Marshall and Butzbach, 2003). Such processes may be directly or indirectly be connected to social classes, educational status, networking and the standards of living. Through these connections, access to opportunities for further personal and social development may be enhanced or undermined. Groups of people that are perceived by a society to lack in certain aspects for instance the youth, elderly, minority, disabled, certain sexual orientations and gender identities may also be excluded through various processes (Barker, 2005).
Anyone perceived to be different, weaker or less important as per the norms developed and propagated by a community may be subject to forms of social exclusion (Jolly, 2011). In addition, some communities may decide to remove themselves from the larger community thereby depriving themselves of certain opportunities. Such unforced self-inflicted form of social exclusion is driven by the beliefs and norms held by the gating community (the community excluding itself from the larger society).
A major weakness of social exclusion framework is the existence of multiple perspectives and therefore definitions of the term social exclusion. Though the term social exclusion is increasingly being used in references to certain social issues, the phenomena being referred to are not novelties rather are issues that different societies have lived with for ages (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). Despite the increased usage of the term social exclusion in policy debates from the 1980s, little has been done in terms of developing indicators that can be used to measure this phenomena and determine the factors that influence its manifestation (Zhuang, 2011).
Lack of a unified conceptualization of social exclusion is a major issue in its application to social issues and research. There have however been efforts to help create an overall view of social exclusion from multiple perspectives involving factors such as risk factors and poverty.
Social exclusion has been defined because of a combination of risk factors such as unemployment, low income, high crime, poor housing, family breakdown and poor access to healthcare services. From this perspective, social exclusion is an undefined consequence of a number of risk factors. In most studies, the factors that influence the risk of social exclusion are clearly defined including access to social amenities, education and gainful employment (Gillam, Yates and Badrinath, 2007).
The effect of social exclusion on social responsibilities such as provision of equal opportunities is another dimension adopted in the use of social exclusion in contemporary literature. Excluded societies and individuals have limited access to opportunities such as labor market, participatory decision-making, rights, healthcare and education.
In the framing of risk of national level action plans to address social exclusion, this phenomena has been defined in terms of social (risk) indicators (factors). The risk factors that are assumed to negatively affect social inclusion are unskilled labor, old age, drug abuse, living in problem accumulation areas, gender inequality, school dropout, poor health, immigration, divorce and alcoholism (Gillam, Yates and Badrinath, 2007). There is agreement on the number of this Laeken indicators with low income and lack of labor participation considered as the major risks to social exclusion.
This notion is supported by studies asserting that fulfillment of social objectives can be attained through growth in employment and economic capabilities. Based on this argument, primacy should be awarded job creation. However, the relationship between social exclusion features and low income and unemployment differs across social groups and nations. Social security systems, cultural setting and family arrangements are highlighted as some of the factors that are influential on this relationship. By definition, low income and absence of paid work does not necessarily result in exclusion and therefore people or groups may be socially excluded irrespective of their income and employment status.
Research into the meaning and definition of social exclusion was mainly propagated by studies into poverty. The increased research into social exclusion and its manifestation in the society has resulted in shift of goals from reduction of poverty levels to reducing social exclusion. Whereas some researchers hold the view that there is a limited difference between poverty and social exclusion, others are of the view that the two concepts are very different.
This paper will apply some of the risk factors that have been identified to propagate social exclusion in understanding the manifestation of gender inequality in Eastern societies.
Education is a tool used by the societies to reproduce and promote future growth of the society. The input into the education system that include books, schools, books and ideas on the structure of the society are influential on the idea regeneration and the norms an individual prescribe to when they grow up (Baruah, 2009). The outputs of the education system are not only graduates ripe for the job market and educated citizens but also individuals with clear perspectives on the perceived appropriate gender roles. The education system is influential on social reproduction via the decision on what is included in the syllabi and who is taught. Education from this perspective should be valued for not only its being a means to an end and as an instrument for attaining other social goals such as gender equality.
Discussions, policies and even studies on gender seldom fail to mention education as a means of building basic capabilities and empowerment. Parental education as an example is vital in breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty thereby improving the health and welfare of children. There is increase in studies that assert investment in girls’ education can result in increased returns for the girls as well as households and communities.
Girls and mothers education can enable the transformation of the social expectations from accepting children being out of schools to expecting every child to complete schooling. Cross-country studies reveal that mother education is a consistent and strong indicator of their children schooling especially in the case of daughters (Klasen and Schüler, 2011).
In addition, education has a negative effect on fertility, HIV/AIDS risk, violence against women with the strongest effect recorded in people at or above the secondary levels of education (Permanyer, 2010). The goal of basic education should thus be to attain more than primary level to be of greater benefit with respect to improving human welfare.
Parity in educational participation in the school setting should not be mistaken for ensuring both girls and boys access proper education (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). There are other sources of disparities in the quality of education that boys and girls access. In some cases, the quality of education and expenditure on education may vary with a child’s sex. There are reported cases of parents sending their boy children to better schools than girls. Such biased decisions result in increased empowerment of boys to access gainful employment and participate in decision-making.
An examination of statistics on school in Asian nations shows that there is gender parity in most Asian nations except Nepal, Pakistan, Cambodia, Solomon Islands, Laos and India (UNESCAP, 2005). However, the situation is different for secondary and tertiary levels of education. In most Asian nations, there is a general bias for boys when sending children to secondary schools and colleges (UNESCAP, 2005). In addition, children from poor families in Asia are less likely to start schooling, face greater risks of engaging in child labor and chores that prevent them from attending schools and are more likely to dropout (Alon, 2009). Similar challenges are faced by children from rural areas in Asia.
Addressing the factors behind the high dropout rate and repeating of grades that characterize children from poor backgrounds and rural areas is critical in attaining universal completion of primary and secondary education. Large gender gaps are evinced in tertiary education in most developed nations. Most Asian nations have more boys than girls attending tertiary education. This trend is however not universal since in some countries such as Mongolia there are more girls in tertiary institutions than boys (Denton and Boos, 2007). Within the past twenty years, a significant increase in students that enroll into tertiary institutions has been realized with girls’ enrollment rates increasing at rates higher than boys’ do.
A critical examination of the factors behind the gender disparities in some Asian nations reveals that culture is the most influential factor. In Afghanistan as an example, many girls are taken out of school as soon as they hit puberty due to cultural beliefs on the correctness of sending girls schools (Neff, Cooper and Woodruff, 2007). The overriding belief is that girls are not supposed to be professionals rather they should be home keepers. Other cultural factors include perceived and real threats faced by girls when attending classes and going to schools and reluctance by parents to send girls and boys to the same schools after their third grade. Cultural beliefs are practices are thus a major factor in the social exclusion of women in most Asian societies.
Even in nations that have enviable women literacy statistics like Saudi Arabia there are still institutional factors that create gender inequalities. Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia had only a limited number of courses that they could enroll to in tertiary level education (De Young, 2012). Lucrative courses such as law and engineering were left for males whereas women could take on courses in teaching and nursing.
This has resulted in significant underemployment of women in the Saudi society that in turn limits their ability to actively improve their stature in the society. From this, it is evident that the role of education in propagating gender inequality in Asian nation spawns from the cultural and institutional beliefs and structures in place. The institutional structures in place are a direct effect of the cultural beliefs and norms on the role of women in the society.
Access to healthcare services is an important aspect in the development of the society. Without adequate access to healthcare services, a group is likely to face multiple challenges that may hamper their overall development. Country level analysis of health condition in Asia shows major variations across the four most used health indicators: child and maternal mortality rates, birth attended by skilled health workers and life expectancy at birth (Korpi, 2010). Increased investment in reproductive healthcare services has led to reduction in the maternal and child mortality rates.
In interpreting differences between the life expectancies of women and men it is imperative to consider that women have higher resistance to certain diseases. In nations characterized by low mortality, women tend to live longer than men do. This implies that if the life expectance of women in a country exceeds that of men such observations are not necessarily due to gender discrimination or unequal access to healthcare services. Gender analysis of child mortality for death under five years is important in determining the existence of preferential treatment. Another observed trend is the close correlation between mortality of children under the age of five years with economic well-being (Tesch-Römer, Motel-Klingebiel and Tomasik, 2008).
This is largely because economic wellbeing influences nutrition and access to water, sanitation and quality healthcare services. Studies reveal that there is preferential feeding of male children that increases the risk of malnutrition in girls (UNESCAP, 2005). These observations are predominant in poor households in South and Southwest Asia. Unnaturally, high mortality rates for girls are reported in nations such as China, Korea and India. In China, that has the highest rates of girl child mortality, close to 33% more girls than die before their fifth birthday than boys (UNESCAP, 2005).
A critical examination of China’s abnormally high rates of girl child death shows that cultural norms and existing regulations (one childbirth policy) play important roles. In China, just like most countries the male child is culturally preferred to the female child. In efforts to control population growth, China introduced the one child rule. This rule is blamed for heightening the disdain for female infants. Reports show that female children are likely to be aborted, abandoned and even killed (infanticide) than male children (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). Such trends have also been reported in India that is faced with a population explosion despite lacking a cap on the number of children that a family should have. The poor treatment of female children characterized by efforts targeting their elimination in China is because many parents prefer a boy child and can only have one child. Failure by parents to offer female children the support they require for instance due to preference for male children is thus driven by their personal preference for male children. This is a socially constructed perception that has been transmitted across generations.
Job Market and Opportunities
Access to opportunities for personal advancement is a major feature of the social exclusion framework. Inequities in the society are often expressed in access to the join market and opportunities for personal and social development. In Asia, the informal sector features lack of security, irregularity and low pay (Hutchens, 2010). As a result, the extent to which a group is employed in the informal sector compared to the formal sector is often used as an indicator of delineation. In Southeast Asia, women make up a significant proportion of the workforce in informal industries such as garment workshops, craft industries and shoe factories (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). Much of work in these industries is done by home-based workers and through subcontracting.
In addition, most of these works is informal and done at subsistence level. On the other hand, the formal sector characterized by greater job security and better pays that the informal sector in Asia is dominated by men. In addition, women in formal sector find it hard since in most cases they have to balance between restrictive social norms and family expectations. Women in places like Saudi Arabia cannot interact with male strangers in the absence of their relatives (UNESCAP, 2005). Such customary regulations limit the movement and interaction of women as professionals and therefore the professional posts that they can occupy.
The challenges faced by women in the formative years are also responsible for their low competitiveness in the male dominated formal job market. Women are generally given little encouragement and support to attain higher levels of education. Most parents prefer to send their male children to colleges and universities since it is believed that the male children carry the family name and are more likely to succeed (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). In countries like Afghanistan, female children attending schools are more likely to be victims of violence than boys of their age.
Cultural norms in most Asian nations require women to be trained in household chores and motherhood. It is common for female children to take care of their siblings, do household chores and prepare meals in the presence of their mothers. Such practices limit the time that female students allocate to studying and academics thereby reducing their chances of succeeding. Lack of motivation and positive role models from the larger society also impedes the levels of academic and professional success that women can attain.
Due to generations of repression against women, female students lack positive role models within their immediate societies to emulate in areas of academic and professional development (Mehran, 2009). In other instances, women are limited in the courses and therefore professional paths they can partake. This has been the case for women in Saudi Arabia. Cultural expectations and requirements on marriage also affect female students. In the absence of parental concern for female students’ education, they can easily be forced into marriages thereby ending their academic and professional dreams (Brandl, Mayrhofer and Reichel, 2008). Thus, the low engagement of women in the formal sector in China is a result of various lifetime factors that combine to reduce their competitiveness in the job market.
Rights and Social Engagement
Women rights including their representation in national parliament have significant influence on their ability to highlight and address the issues they face. Women representation in the national parliaments is often used as an indicator of their empowerment in the political arena. Despite increased awareness on the need for better representation of women in national parliament, their representation in countries such as China and Sri Lanka has remained unchanged since the 1990s (UNESCAP, 2005). Studies reveal that women representation in nations such as Indonesia, Armenia and Bangladesh has fallen when compared to the 1990s (UNESCAP, 2005). Efforts to improve the civil and political rights of women are hampered by this low representation (Klasen and Lamanna, 2009). The extent of this problem is further exacerbated by the state of women rights in Asia.
In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive and can only be driven by closely related males. Until 2015, women in Saudi Arabia will not be allowed to vote (Zhuang, 2011). Furthermore, in most Asian nations husbands can divorce their spouses easily whereas women seeking divorce face insurmountable legal and financial challenges. For instance in Lebanon, a medical certificate documenting abuse without the testimony of an eyewitness cannot be used as a basis for filing for divorce (Zhuang, 2011). In Bahrain, family law is not codified which give judges the power to deny women the custody of their children for arbitrary reasons.
The right to free movement is limited in nations like Bahrain where husbands can file complaints at airports to forbid their wives from leaving the country. In nations like Jordan and Iraq, married women require their husband written permission to travel abroad (Zhuang, 2011). Such gross curtailment of women rights limits their ability to engage in fruitful interaction with persons abroad and new acquaintances.
In addition, such rules limit the success that women can attain to the limit allowed by their husband or male relatives. Women are in some cases forced to stay in violent marriages due to the difficulties faced in seeking divorce. This may limit their opportunity for personal development and growth. In most Asian nations, only men can pass citizenship to their children. This in essence implies that marriage to a non-national and single parenthood may result in loss of citizenship for children. The legal systems in such nations have been designed to ensure that women are completely reliant on men for their welfare and that of their children.
Despite improvements in the state of gender parity within the last two decades, women in Asian nations still lag behind their male counterparts. The application of the social exclusion framework reveals that the gender inequality is a result of cultural and institutional factors that hamper the opportunities that women have for personal development. The social practices and even the legal systems place women in positions where they have to be dependent on men.
In addition, women have limited access to tools of empowerment such as representation in national assemblies, interaction with other people, driving, and access to higher education and access to formal employment. The existing norms and perception of the man being superior to the woman is partly responsible for the existence of restrictive legislations and institutional practices that place women in positions where there are disadvantaged compared to men in their societies.