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Theories Relating To Gender Inequality

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5434 words Published: 10th May 2017

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There have been a number of theories put forward by various Institutions, Organizations, Authors, Scholars, Researchers, and Development practitioners, somehow to explain the problem why the issue of gender varies from region to region and why implementing gender equality, and female empowerment is lower than expected in SSA. Amongst these theories are the Inequality and the Modernization theory used in this project to explain the wide gender problems existing in SSA. Borrowing from the words of John Martenussen, most of these theories have been propounded by Western and North American authors and have been termed growth and development theories. (Martenussen, 1997; p.51) As far as this project is concern, I am going to use the parts of the theories that are relevant to the project.

The Inequality Theory:

The origin of gender inequality between men and women has been one of the most intellectual debates after the rise of modern feminism. Great thinkers in the history of ideas such as Aristotle and Thomas Quinas suggested speculative interpretation of gender differences. Continuously, nineteenth century evolutionary theorist such as Bachofen and Karl Marx consider various possible evolutionary sequences in organization kinship and gender relations. Some early efforts aimed at justifying existing institutions and others to question them sound like contemporary standard. The argument behind the origin of feminist analyses is the ideological implication of female subordination over the centuries. Also, there have been a high superior prevalence of male status across time, space and social circumstances that are beyond denial especially in SSA. Therefore the pervasiveness of male dominance is the absolute aim of analyzing gender differences. The question that arises is that “how can the apparent universal subordination of female be reconciled with equality in SSA with it strong traditional background? (Robert Marx Johnson 2005 p; 30).

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Assumptions of the Inequality Theory:

Firstly, Inequality theory explains the biological difference between men and women which is inescapable, amongst race, class, culture and tradition irrespective of being developed or underdeveloped. According to Linsey 2007, sex is the biological difference between men and women while gender is the social construction of sexes considering race, politics, social, economic, culture and traditional background. This cultures and traditions vary from place to place and from culture to culture. These cultures that are learned change with time within and between cultures. (Linsey 2007, P; 97)

Following this sex distinction between male and female, some advanced societies (Western and North American societies) have tried to narrow down the gender gap by empowering females, by redefining laws and ignoring others to enhance development. That notwithstanding, the distinction still persists and would always be there because no matter all the feminist analyses on sex and gender, humans would never revert nature on this perspective. Research have proven that no amount of theorist thinking can subtle the simple fact of biological distinction, therefore inequality would persistently exist no matter what. The question that ponders my mind is, why Sub-Saharan Africa is still lacking behind to comprehend culture and tradition to reduce the wide gender gap, thereby empowering females to enhance development?.

Secondly, content and expression of this biological difference is exaggerated in the situation in SSA. Tracing back from history until date, most of the hardest and most commanding jobs are carried out by men therefore inequality is bound to exist between sexes. The fact that men are a stronger sex to resist extreme hash conditions makes them dominant irrespective of sex division. Complex cultural societies are build up by institution that keeps men at a dominant position. This make the female sex constantly relegated at the background. The norms and values that govern these complex societies (SSA) procure men at the forefront. By respecting this norms and values women would be hardly seen in the public spheres. (Sushama Sahay, in king and Hill Anne. p; 89)

Thirdly, Inequality theory try to make some kind of biological differences that are sufficient and necessary to persistently cause inequality between sexes and puts men at a commanding and dominant position. There are three imputed biological differences that have received much attention by the inequality view, such as reproduction by females, physical capacity and predisposition toward violence. “Anthropologists largely agree that women have hardly occupied position of higher status or political power than men in any society anywhere, anytime” (Buthler 2006) Some feminist theorist argue that, reproduction everywhere is done by females that subordinates their position to men, others say that men are physically dominant in their actions and activities and set rules that are of their own advantage. Some theorist argue that men are very aggressive than women, that put them at a dominant position thereby creating inequality between the both sexes. (Buthler 2006 P; 78)

Lastly, apart from huge gender inequality and female empowerment sluggishness in SSA, inequality can also be traced amongst races and class. There have been and there are still traces of inequality amongst the white race and black race as well as amongst the upper and lower class group. There are two different kinds of historical inequality, example that can illustrate this point. First of all, I will want to look back at the history of colonialism and neocolonialism in SSA by the west that alone speak volumes of inequality and domination over a continent and makes a particular race dominant over the other. The history of racial inequality amongst the blacks and whites in the United States of America also illustrate an example of inequality amongst races.

On the other hand, there have been inequalities within races and cultures. The upper and noble classes in SSA have been dominant over the lower and powerless group. This means that a superior culture is imposed and forced on to the weaker group that makes them not equal. Just like the history of European nobility over the commoners in Europe. Yet the nobility have remained a powerful and privileged class in most European nations. From biological and racial distinction on the inequality theory, inequality is a fact amongst genders, cultures, class and race, although times have changed and things must change, this pushes us to criticize the inequality theory with changing times.

Critique of the Inequality Theory:

There have been a lot of theorists to critique speculative accounts on gender differences and female empowerment in SSA which creates inequality, but very little progress have been made to prove one theory over the other in their speculative analyses on gender issues. To a large degree, inequality theories have not gained grounds because societies have distinctively evolved and disproved the speculative ideas of inequality theorist. In SSA today, traditional institutional arrangement have distinctively changed in respect of both genders not too much subordinating women like in the past. Looking at a typical traditional African society, where farming is the only source of income, the man do the clearing of the farm while the woman do the planting and if harvest is good the subsistent crops are sold to maintain the family and educate their kids, both live in complementary way without gender distinction. Although traditional institution still exist and persist today in SSA, but most if not all operate in the interest of both genders.

Scholars argue that theories sometimes formulate persuasive speculative accounts which might fit what we already perceive or know. Therefore we must depend on the biological evidence provided by the inequality theory based on the reconstruction of inferences in well known societies to argue the inequality theory. Critics of Inequality theory also argue that, professional speculations of postmodern feminist by generalizing theories and with the political confusion by giving equal weight to every woman irrespective of race, class, sex orientation, culture and historical background makes origin of inequality theory to lost it attraction.

The biological distinction of sex and gender roles as ascribed by the origin of the inequality theory is almost becoming baseless in SSA societies today. My argument is that inequality theory relies on female reproduction, the strength of men and the predisposition of men in violence situation as a prerequisite of being unequal. This was true to an extent tracing the origin of the theory, but today societies have evolved with changing times, no society in the history of mankind is static. Reproduction have just become a female experience and also a sex difference which has little impact on gender roles today. In the other hand, today in SSA men are only dominant in specific jobs as that they are specialized in, not that specific jobs are ascribed for men although the both sexes co-exist in a traditional way, but there is rational distribution of resources and labor so that girls and women can be empowered in this communities and families.

The problems that arise sometimes are how to comprehend this inconsistent inequality that continues to persist with changing times. Theoretical efforts must be accepted to a certain degree and also the theory can only predict the future and to a larger extent crudely reconstruct the origin of inequality. There is evident that the system of inequality like any other social institution is becoming self sustainable today in most SSA societies. “Individuals are born sexed but not gendered; they have to be taught to be masculine or feminine. One is not born; but rather becomes a woman……, it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature……, which is described as feminine” (Simone de Beauvoir 1952 p; 267)

The idea of inequality between men and women is created in the gender process following the way cultural institutions are arranged. Therefore inequality in itself does not exist between sexes but created in the act or reaction in each society. Butler 1990, argues that “gender as a process creates the social difference that defines “man” and “woman” in social interaction through their live, individuals learn what is expected, see what is expected, act and react in expected ways, thus simultaneously construct and maintain the gender order in each society” (Butler 1990 p; 145) In a typical African society, though still primitive and traditional the inequality do not actually exist but it is the gender roles that differ from family to family and from community to community. Take for example within the Muslim religion or culture in SSA; women are actually distinctive in their socially constructed roles ascribed by the religious laws. This does not mean that they do not live in a complementally as opposed by the inequality differences basing on sex division. I therefore argue that the issue of gender is a matter of understanding within families and communities, who should do what at a given time irrespective of the sex backed by norms and laws of that community. West and Zimmermann, holds that “in humans there is no essential femaleness or maleness, femininity or masculinity, womanhood or manhood, but once gender is ascribed, the social order constructs and holds individuals to strongly gender norms and expectations”. (West and Zimmaman 1989, P; 146)

The origin of the inequality theory have been attacked by it critics seriously in recent times. Recent studies also indicate that inequality would eventually lose it content as time evolves. The debate is centered on race and class subordination of inequality that existed in the past, but is currently loosing it value. It is clearly evident that racial inequality is gradually disappearing between and within races and class. I will like to illustrate this point on the colonial history of SSA. Africa have longed been colonized by Europeans to maintain a superior race and keep the African race subordinated under their control just like gender and sex. But because inequality is gradually loosing it originality in history, racial inequality have gradually faded away with changing times. Although some traces of racial inequality persistently exist between races. (Gramsci 1971, P; 165)

Another example that has made inequality lose it originality have been between whites and black Americans as well as European nobility. Whites and blacks have faced a long history of racial segregation in the United States, but because of time factor and new institutional arrangement the racial differences have almost disappeared. In the other hand, European nobility class use to be a more armed, politically and economically powerful class to the commoners in Europe but with the coming of decentralization of leadership and democracy this superior class have gradually disappeared thereby melting away the idea of inequality and subordination of commoners since everybody have an equal opportunity.

Well as much as SSA is concern there have been inequality in class division irrespective of the gender differences. Inequality have been gradually disapproved since the old traditional institutions are disappearing and new wants sees everybody the same. In SSA, apart from gender inequality, there have been upper and lower class inequality as well as people from the royal fondoms, are always seen differently with high esteem. The upper class have been people who generally enjoy high social amenities in the big cities of SSA, they have little or no gender differences between their families since almost everybody have a good education as compared to the rural poor who cannot even provide for a daily meal. They are not much educated so definitely they believe in traditional laws that puts the men at the forefront. But with changing times and the fight for global poverty reduction, development in these local areas in SSA is gradually improving making gender inequality to extensively disappear. On the other hand, Fondomites in SSA have maintain an extensively unequal powers in every aspect in SSA, this is because most traditional laws do respect and give special consideration to everyone from the fondom. But with the coming of democracy and the respect for human right and dignity, this traditional superiority is extensively disappearing there by making the class values to loss it weight. Today whether from the fondom or not, everybody is the same because of democracy. Though there have been a mixture of traditional laws to democratic values to combat the aspect of inequality amongst fondomites and common citizen. (Foucault 1972, P; 223)

Importance of the Inequality Theory to the project:

To begin with, inequality theory is essential in this project because it explains the origin, history and persistent pre-domination and domination of males in almost all aspects of life in SSA. Through this theory, I understand that socialization, tradition and biology are interwoven to explain the persistent male domination in most SSA societies. To better understand the importance of the theory to this project, I will like to examine each role played by each of these concepts to understand the role of inequality theory to the project.

“Men and women yesterday and today think and act differently and achieve differently in the varying regions in SSA” (Banque and Waren 1990, P; 90)

Connecting inequality theory to socialization, it helps me to distinguish between the upper and lower class socialization in SSA. To understand the importance of socialization in this project, it has to be treated differently with divergent identities and expectations. Socialization has helped me to understand why there is little or no gender inequality and more female empowerment in the urban than rural families in SSA. I have used socialization to compare inequality in urban and rural areas, which further makes me to understand class division in the two areas. It is certain that gender equality and female empowerment is higher in urban than rural milieus, because in the urban areas, generally, individuals and families are exposed to high social amenities and high standard of living. Social interaction is generally more modern than in the local interior in SSA. The upper wealthy class is found in urban areas while the lower poor and primitive class is found in the local areas. Therefore, as a result of this social division, inequality theory through socialization has helped me to distinguish and understand this phenomenon in details and further explains why there is persistent inequality in class and socialization in SSA.

Connecting inequality theory through tradition, it has helped me to understand why there is still a wide gender gap and low female empowerment in typical traditional SSA societies today. “People honor traditional established ideas and teach them to their children. But what is the source of the gender traditions by which women are made everywhere subordinate”. (Drage 2003, P; 23) From the origin and history of inequality theory, men have established ideas and institutions that have always kept them dominant letting females at a subordinated position. The theory is therefore important in this project because it lets me understand why some primitive ideas are still led down from generation to generation in sub-Saharan Africa. Take for example, in most local communities in SSA, male inheritance have been a long established traditional belief and have been passed down to generations for centuries. These practices have become stronger so much so that even a male unborn child is celebrated before delivery. Women are regarded as properties and sold out for marriages, since bride price is been paid on them. Females have also been considered as products because they are forced into early marriages to reduce poverty since they are been bought by paying a bride price to their parents.

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Tradition is held at high esteem and has been a led down idea and still exists today in most of the local communities in SSA. By believing that only a male child can inherit property, has placed male sex dominant over females. This established idea have retarded development because resources are not rationally distributed by both sexes thereby making the female sex subordinated. As a result of this established believes, inequality persistently exists in this primitive areas that are reluctant to accept new changes because of illiteracy and poverty. Inequality theory is therefore important in this project because it has deepened my understanding of the continuous male domination because of these established ideas that have been passed down to generations. Inequality theory is also relevant because it explains these beliefs in such ideas and goes a long way to increase gender inequality and reduce female empowerment in SSA.

Although there have been some changes in this traditional beliefs, but these changes mostly affects exposed families that is families that have acquired good education and have been exposed to more valuable cultures. Inheritance in these situations goes with responsibility and how you can manage the resources irrespective of being a male or female, though most often it ends up with problems from males since it has always been like that in most of the societies in SSA. Giving authority or property to a female is just like depriving a male from his traditional right. But with continuous realization on how these have been affecting the societal development, I personally think it is going to disappear with changing time. Thanks to the inequality theory that I am able to explain this primitive belief in most of SSA families and societies.

Connecting inequality theory through biology, it is relevant in this project because it has made me understand male domination in biological distinction of both sexes. This is because women and men are physically different in ways that make men to feel dominant. Through biological distinction in inequality, I came to understand why there is inequality in labor division. This is so because the theory persistently insist on the physical strength of men to occupy certain jobs. That is why there has been persistent gender discrimination in organizations and job opportunities because men think that some jobs can be physically carried out by them. For instance in SSA, it is hard to hear that a woman is a military general, bus driver, engineer, carpenter, technicians and or family head. Biological explanation also emphasize on the predisposition of men in extreme dangerous situation so to speak. In SSA men have always been involved in warfare and critical traditional decisions that involves sacrifices are carried out by men. Therefore, as a result of this, inequality is bound to exist and that is why I have employed it in my project to understand this in greater details.

However, with the advent of feminist theorist, and changing time, biological arguments for inequality in gender is gradually fading away. Technological improvement have made most jobs to be operated by machines and intellectual based not physical fitness. Therefore, both males and females can be trained to manipulate these machines to have a gender balance in job markets. However, since traditional African societies are still very backward and have not yet attained some level of technology, most jobs are still based on physical strength to acquire them. That is why biological explanation of the origin of inequality in gender is still very visible in SSA. Inequality theory is therefore useful to this project to understand the biological explanation of persistent inequality in physical strength, predisposition of men in dangerous situations and the reproduction of females that have made them subjugated and subordinated position since the beginning of time immemorial.

The modernization Theory:

According to (Deutsch 1961; Rostow 1960; Ruttan 1959), “modernization theory evolved from two ideas about social change developed in the nineteenth century: the conception of traditional vs. modern societies, that viewed development as societal evolution in progressive stages of growth” (Deutch 1961, Rostow 1960, Ruttan 1959) Following a modernization tradition, problems that have held back the development and empowerment of females in SSA have been irrational allocation of resources. Modernization theorist believe that for traditional African societies to become developed, there should be a rational distribution of resources for both sexes and the elimination of traditional, institutional and organizational roadblocks that have made Sub-Saharan African societies underdeveloped. Therefore, the society must pass through transformational stages to become modern.

General Assumptions of the theory:

Following Rostows modernization assumption, there have been five circular stages a society must pass through to become modern such as traditional society, precondition for take-off, take-off, the drive toward maturity and the age of high mass consumption (Rostow 1963, p; 127)

The stage of traditional society is characterized by primitive technology, pre-Newtonian science and spiritual behaviors in the material world. There is traditional gender inequality and no idea of female empowerment since the society is too primitive and recognizes male superiority. The traditional economy depends soly on primitive methods of farming and limited productivity. There is limited mobility in the traditional society and most agricultural lands are owned by men limiting the female powerless and have absolutely no say in land ownership. That is why development is still imbalance today in SSA because resources are irrationally distributed and there is no female inheritance of property. Since it is a linear pattern, for a society to move to a pre-takeoff stage it has to do away with some ideas in the traditional stage so that there should be a regular growth. (Peet and Hartwick 1999, P; 81)

The pre-take off society stage is characterized by development of modern technology and it application to agriculture and industry. Gender inequality is very high and there is little or no female empowerment because most machines were believed to be operated only by men. The idea of modernity was seen to develop sectors like educations, banking, commence, manufacturing and investment. This means that there was still very high gender discrimination in education and labor in SSA. Traditional African women could not own accounts according to traditional institutions and cannot be exposed to the public spheres. This was injected in a society that was still is primitive. (Ibid)

The take-off stage as assumed by the modernization view as the stage for technological expansion, socio-political structures of society including gender rules in the distribution of labor in most urban areas in SSA. There is a little economic growth and a period to begin industrialization. In this stage, the discourse on gender and empowerment to modernize and enhance development increases in the urban and still very dormant in the rural sectors of SSA. (Ibid)

The drive toward maturity stage is characterized by the spreading of technological expansion on economic activities and also there is sufficient entrepreneurship to practically fabricate heavy machines and equipment resulting from heavy industry. In this stage, the discourse on gender and participation have somehow gained grounds in most advanced societies and some prominent African cities. Women get more and more involved, the fight for economic growth and political dialogues and participation increases. (Ibid)

The stage of mass consumption is characterized by the production of durable consumer goods and services. The rate of production of goods and services surpasses the need of consumption and employment is very high at the urban milieu in SSA. At this level there is little gender gap and female empowerment is high in most urban centers. This means that most families are exposed to western education and enjoy high standard of social amenities in the big cities. There is capability to invest in social welfare and social security on both genders, therefore cultural values comprehend modernity. (Ibid)

Research have proven that most traditional African societies are at the take-off stage and at this level of development gender inequality is still very high at the rural sector and the society is very reluctant to any social and developmental changes. This means that the society is still very traditional, primitive and reluctant to social and development changes due to strong traditional and cultural beliefs. Also the theory explains why development has not made any significant progress in SSA especially in the rural communities where there is still a very wide gap between gender and female empowerment in SSA.

Modernization theory can be seen as the legacy of the ideas of progress developed in Europe in the eighteen century. This means that progress and evolution was viewed as an irreversible, natural and systematic path toward modernity. The idea of traditional vs. modern society propped up in the different stages of growth and development in each society. This evolutionary progress of society was seen as a transformational stage from the simple to the complex. Therefore SSA being in the third stage according to the modernization vision, female empowerment and gender equality is very low, since the society is somehow very primitive and

pre-occupied by male domination. Traditional beliefs which support female subordination is very high at this stage of development. (Latham 2000, p; 37)

According to Nick Cullather, the idea of natural pattern of progress and development, as assumed by the modernization theory is a set of ideas and discourse used as a strategy by US to try to differentiate the US from former colonizers in their actions toward third world countries. (SSA). It was in the interest of the US as they also think that it was in the interest of the third world countries (SSA) to elevate third world countries to engage in the transformational steps toward modernity, this means that both sexes were to be involved in the stages of development thereby reducing the gender gap and empowering women in the process of development. The American idea could help assist third world countries avoid “wasted steps” in transition. This was seen as the Americanization and westernization of third world countries which was not more or less than the policy of assimilation by the French. (Black girls could eat and dress like French girls in French colonies to be assimilated and modern) (Nick Cullather, 1997; 94)

The modernization theory advocates two fundamental concepts universalism and linear process. Both concept had and have huge impact on gender and female empowerment in SSA. This means that girls and women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the same cultural and identical background to move from a traditional stage to a modern stage in universal and linear order of development. (Redfield quoted in Cullarther) Supported by the same vision, all societies in SSA were seen as taking the same pattern toward modernity through recognizable stages, without considering other historical background, origin and geographical conditions. In the same light, following a modernization vision, all cultures were seen in a trajectory way. Therefore the theory never considered cultural institution, tradition, and customs and viewed as obstacles to female empowerment and gender equality. (Cullarther). By classifying the society in a one pattern way of development, the theory was therefore criticized by other prominent development theories such as the dependency theory, power theory and the rise of feminist thinking in SSA.

Critique of the theory:

“Modernization theory has received criticism in recent years from political scientists and political economists since it neglected cultural, historic, and socio-structural factors in it analysis” (Chirot,1986; Black, 1991; Wallerstein, 1980) The modernization theory has witnessed a lot of critiques from varying development theories to scholars, researchers, institutions and other development practitioners. Most prominent development critique of the modernization theory hold that cultural values would still continue despite the shift from a traditional to a modern society. Therefore the argument is that despite the modern values of the modernization theory to transform traditional African societies to become modern by reducing the wide gender gap and encouraging female empowerment, African values still persist despite the values of modernity to enhance development in SSA. “There is evidence that the broad cultural heritage of a society leaves imprints on values that endure despite the forces of modernization in other words cultural change depends on a society´s cultural heritage.” (Inglehart 2000c)

Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of diverse cultural backgrounds, origin and history of migration. Though jointly colonized by the West, the fact that the society is culturally divided in origin and history, the values of modernization cannot hold at the same pace in the African societies respectively. This means that linear and universalism of the modernization theory could not work effectively in SSA and considering the fact that societies give different respects to their cultural heritage as considered by the modernization theory as an obstacle for development. Take for example the Islam religion, practices and beliefs is very strong in the Muslim society in SSA, therefore the issue of gender and empowerment of Muslim women can be a serious disorganization of religious rights since the later is very stiff in it traditional religious claims. The modernization theory had never taken traditional religious beliefs into consideration as ascertain by many of it critics. 

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