Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gendered Inequity in Society and the Academy: Policy Initiatives, Economic Realities and Legal Constraints

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Gendered Inequity in Society and the Academy: Policy Initiatives, Economic Realities and Legal Constraints

Article excerpt


There has been a growing interest in gender inequality in society. In the academy, a microcosm of society, scholars in the social and behavioral sciences have contributed to a cross-section of research pertinent to the topic. They have largely reiterated the existence of gendered inequities in society illustrated as variations in income and other resources between men and women. They have failed to address, to any significant extent, the insidious nature of gender inequality at the intersection of race, class and culture, prevalent not only in society but in most disciplines within the academy. This study seeks to identify some of the gendered inequalities overlooked in society at the working and middle class levels and across cultures by exposing some of the strategies that have succeeded in exacerbating gender inequity.

Women are disadvantaged in economic, legal and social arenas. While gender inequity has been observed in Europe and the United States on economic or class levels, there has been little focus on the realities of cross-cultural gender inequality and what influences contribute to such variations. In developing countries, gender inequality is more concentrated in race and class intersections because of traditional social stratifications and conservative political cultures. Indeed, in most developing (more so than developed) countries, family behavior allows for differences in the treatment of males and females. The question of equity does not arise. Because gender is socially constructed, gender inequity often is down-played and considered a natural social response to traditional hierarchical roles as a necessary part of community relations, whether in the workforce or in the home. In many parts of the world, women ensure that boys and men are better educated, nourished and cared for than girls and women. The welfare of men has been considered more important than that of women in places where men are seen to be the caretakers of the family. Given such cultural context, gender inequity has not been high on the research agenda of the academy.

In recent decades, female scholars (especially in Asia and the Caribbean) have researched and publicized gender constructed behaviors as unjust and more attention has been paid to the question of equity across sexes. With the development of a vibrant global women's movement and shared research, literate women are being educated about their right to equal opportunity in society as well as in the academy and other work spaces.

In the USA, at the aggregate level of analysis, gender inequality is understood in relation to family tradition as well as government policy (e.g. welfare policy), economic justice issues (cost of living, wage differentiation, employment access), and laws put in place to correct gender injustice (e.g. cohabitation rights, financial and property share). Often, the law/policy proves to be less of a corrective influence and more of a contributing element to gender inequalities evident in some societies. US reports show that two decades ago, gendered inequalities were as glaring as they are today. Full-time working women earned roughly 71% of what full-time working men earned and as much as three-fifths of poor households were maintained by a single female parent (Okin 1989). One cannot escape the impact of economic, political and legal influences on the continuity or erosion of gender inequity. Nor can one ignore the effects of such an impact in the academy.

Although the discipline of political science, with its study of democratic theory, has contributed much to a theoretical consideration of equality, it has not embraced the broad question of gender equality with any level of thoroughness. Some political theorists (e.g. Mill 1970, 1991) have drawn attention to gender inequality through a focus on women and work and women in the institution of marriage. Other theorists, specifically addressing the question of justice, fail to engage the subject of gender and justice. …

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