DESPITE many advances in the relations between men and women
throughout the world, too often old, deep ruts are disguised
beneath new paths.
Developments in higher education for women offer a good example.
New paths are evident. Over the past 20 years, the rate of access
to universities for women has skyrocketed. In France, they gained
equality of access to university in 1971. In many other countries,
women are attending university in increasing numbers.
Three trends become clear from this general shift: The richer a
country is, the more students it has; the more students there are,
the greater the proportion of females will be; and the gap between
opportunities open to men and to women nearly always serves as a
yardstick of a country's development. In the poorest countries,
universities always have more men than women.
In developed countries as a whole, the gap between the sexes in
university populations is becoming increasingly imperceptible. And
in almost all countries, the growth of education for girls has
accelerated over recent years.
World statistics on university education generally do not
reflect cultural differences among societies in the treatment of
women. For example, Muslim countries - where women's political and
social rights are sometimes circumscribed - are not particularly
sexist in university access for women compared with non-Muslim
countries with similar levels of wealth. On the other hand,
northern Europe, despite its wealth and reputation for cultural
modernity, gives clear precedence to men in higher education. Latin
and Mediterranean countries are more balanced, with a slight
tendency to give more weight to women.
The cultural differences in the division of roles between the
two sexes would not appear to play a preponderant role in women's
access to university.
Universities are far from being the same everywhere, of course.
The relative importance given to the various branches - the arts,
law, economics, natural sciences, medicine, engineering,
architecture - can vary significantly from one country to the next.
For example, the pragmatic higher education systems that favor
courses such as engineering and business studies differ from those
that concentrate on more theoretical teaching like science,
literature, and law.
The distinction is also reflected between moderately developed
or relatively new countries like the Philippines, Argentina,
Colombia, Chile, and some Eastern European countries, and nations
with an older university tradition. Yet another difference is to be
seen between poor countries - where basic education for development
has been made an absolute priority - and the highly developed
countries, which now have both techno-com- mercial teaching and the
structures of the liberal university.
Within the more-or-less developed world, a cultural division is
represented by, on the one hand, those countries, particularly in
northern Europe, that encourage the liberal professions (law,
health, architecture) and, on the other hand, those that give
priority to the training of salaried management personnel. Examples
of the latter are Italy, Spain, and Argentina. It is possible to
see the one as fostering an individualistic, artisanal
intelligentsia, while the other concentrates on engineers,
managers, and technicians for bureaucratic organizations.
None of these cultural and economic variations concern the
respective career choices of men and women: Countries showing a
marked preference for one or the other type of training do so for
both sexes. But no country reverses sexually dictated career
models: Everywhere engineering tends to be a career marked out for
men; whereas everywhere literary studies are more heavily
undertaken by women. …