One of the most important topics on the international platform today is gender equality.

Gender equality can be defined as giving equal rights and opportunities to both men and women, across all sectors of society. This includes equal opportunity to participate in socio-economic, political and other decision-making activities, whilst ensuring that the needs and aspirations of both sexes are equally respected.

 

The concept of social justice is, thanks to the internet, is less clearly defined. Many argue that social justice is a chimaera, manufactured by hand-wringing progressives seeking to inhibit free expression for fear of being offended. At its core, however, social justice is an invaluably important aspect of social discourse: its purpose is to create equal access to civil liberties, opportunities, and human rights for all. This means ensuring that each individual has the necessary means to achieve his or her goals, with particular attention to marginalised members in society. It also encompasses the need for all people to respect the rights of others, in much the same way they would wish for their own rights to be respected.

From these definitions, it is clear that the two concepts are inextricably intertwined; equality cannot be attained without justice, because the very notion of equality is ingrained within justice. With this understanding, it is apparent that as the movement for gender equality is concerned, more emphasis must be put into attaining social justice for women.

Generally, men have dominated and subjugated women in all spaces: economically, judicially, legally, politically, and even domestically. This has largely stemmed from patriarchal gendered roles that place men as leaders in society. This patriarchy is not only a social issue but also deeply embedded in in global religious institutions.

However, women have been pushing for many decades - even centuries - to have a say and gain their rightful status as an indispensable resource within any democratic franchise. Today, we understand that women can do much more than stay at home, and are increasingly recognizing that women who do stay at home are critically undervalued for the domestic labor that they contribute to the household. We understand that women can be educated, work, and contribute immensely to the political, social, and economic development of society.

While we aspire to achieve equality amongst all people in society, we must first acknowledge the characteristic differences that both prevent, and enable, this attainment. Because the lives of men and women are filtered through a gendered lens, their needs, behavior, and capabilities also differ. Whether this is an organic, internal difference or an embodiment of the social paradigm in which they operate is worthy of question, but ultimately does not change how one perceives their innate identity as a gendered individual in a gendered world.

It is extremely important to take so many of these congruent and competing factors into consideration when discussing gender issues. What may be fair to one individual may not be fair to another. If we rule on a straight line, and give everyone the very same things, the purpose for equality and equity may not be achieved. In this manner, we strive for Gender Equity, a process of allocating resources, programs, and decision making fairly to both males and females without any discrimination on the basis of sex…and addressing any imbalances in the benefits available to males and females. 

To give an example, we can reflect on a traditional workplace structure: whilst everyone might be expected to report to work at 8 a.m. and depart by 6 p.m., a lack of consideration for extenuating circumstances may create an inequitable work environment, even as it promotes a universal expectation of equal engagement amongst employees. This may be seen as equality, but what if a female employee is the sole caregiver of a child, and needs to take her child to and from school within business hours? Must she still follow the same rule as employees who may not have children, or have a co-parenting arrangement in which these parental duties can be diffused? By being held to such black and white rules, rather than perhaps being offered an arrangement in which scheduling of work hours can allow for flexibility around school hours, then a so-called ‘equal’ system is innately discriminatory against the mother, and therefore unequal. To create a framework that accommodates the diversity of responsibilities for women in the workplace is to ensure social justice in that space.

But what happens when the justice system is gender biased; when women are not given the same opportunities as men, or find that their complaints are dismissed as irrelevant? In circumstances such as this, it is clear that the justice system has failed, and equality that encompasses equity is not reflected. Therefore, It is of paramount importance that laws are passed that actively protect women from all forms of violation, subjugation, and gender discrimination. Through opportunity and education, women can be informed about their rights and responsibilities, and can become active participants - rather than passive recipients - of equality. This, in turn, can empower women to fully engage in all strata of society, and provide them the tools to seek justice in the face of inequality.

Whilst it would be ideal for women to not need to seek equality, we still have a long way to go in ameliorating the patriarchal framework that make such activism necessary. The first step is to ensure that social justice for gendered difference is reflected in our policies, judiciaries, and bureaucracies so that women need not demand change, but can simply operate in the world without navigating complex gendered hurdles in their everyday. 

 

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