The dimensions of gender inequality: Considering education, politics, economics and climate change
by Jade Jeffrey
It’s incredibly easy to observe the previous obstacles women faced across the globe in their struggle for equal regard and consideration, whilst simultaneously brushing aside the gender inequalities that still persist today under a masquerade of ‘women’s liberation’ and lack of discussion of gender barriers. The truth is, inequality does not decline over time. It fluidly adjusts to prevailing economic and political interests, particularly when those interests fail to recognise the importance of women’s liberation. We will consider Education, Politics, Economics and Climate change with reference to the effects each of these has on women and girls across the globe.
While gender parity for access to education has improved, barriers around gender disparities and discrimination remain in place for many. As it can be seen in reports by UNICEF Girls are significantly excluded from education systems throughout their lives, particularly in Africa with the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: 2 of 35. In South and West Asia, 80% of the girls out of school are unlikely to ever start school, compared to just 16% of boys. These are significant figures to consider and have an incredible impact on quality of life: educated girls are likely to break the cycle of poverty, are less likely to marry early/against their will and are more likely to defer childbearing, all of which are phenomena that impact women directly.
In places like the UK, access to education for girls isn’t an issue. However, inequalities still persist within the education system that disadvantage girls. It is widely known that girls are discouraged from STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and careers in these fields are widely male-dominated. This phenomenon is rooted in gendered expectations and biases that we’ve accepted as the ‘norm’ in society, that heavily impact the educational and career prospects of girls. While girls do in fact exceed at all levels of education, out-performing boys on every level, you’d expect to see a similar pattern emergence within the workplace. However, this is not the case – women also experience barriers to equality within the work-sphere.
‘The Glass Ceiling’ is a concept to define the ‘invisible’ (not discussed) barriers that women face which prevent them from reaching the top levels of their career. This is particularly the case for male-dominated fields such as those discussed above – STEM subjects – as women are undervalued in these areas. Despite girls exceeding in all levels of education, of the 3 ½ million employees aged 22-retirement age paid less than £7 an hour, 2/3 were women in 2013. Women disproportionately occupy the lowest paid jobs and occupy a majority of 0 hour contracts.
Despite the 1970 Equal Pay Act legislation, this type of inequality alongside many others still exists for women. It’s as important now as ever to engage more women in Politics to raise awareness and start discussions on how women are affected directly by inequality. But of course, there are barriers for women in the Political domain too as ‘Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995’  While there is improvement, it is simply not enough. Women’s representation in Politics is crucial worldwide because the experiences of women deserve to be discussed and not erased.
The lack of access to education combined with the limited job prospects contribute to the impact of sustainability on women. Hegemonic Femininity (gender expectations) prevents girls’ access to STEM fields. As men dominate Political fields, the effects of climate change on women are invisibilised as topics of little concern. As Eco-Feminists discuss, those most affected by climate change are the poor: a phenomenon dominated by women. Rural women in developing countries are among the most disadvantaged; therefore have very little resources to manage the impacts of climate change causing them to likely suffer from worsening conditions (MacGregor, 2009).
Access to education across the globe is widely responsible for the quality of life women are subjected to. With no access to education, poverty is inevitable. Even with full access to education, women face exclusion from fields despite the immediate requirement for women’s representation, such as Politics and Science. While there may be improvements in these areas, our ever-changing planet must begin accommodating women and girls everywhere.
MacGregor, S. (2009). A Stranger Silence Still: The Need for Feminist Social Research on Climate Change. The Sociological Review, 57(2_suppl), pp.124-140.