Perceiving Gender Equality, by Ala Oueslati, Tunisia

Humans have always adjusted to the needs of their communities and societies throughout history. These adjustments shaped the way we live and changed our perception of life. In modern history, everyone played a role in making adjustments and coping with the rapidly-changing circumstances of our world, because isolation was no longer an option. The interaction between humans and the exchange that these interactions created are to a very large extent inevitable. In fact, scientists and sociologists believe this is the very essence of our nature; interactions!

Interacting with others however, wasn’t as easy as it sounds like. There have been many atrocities since the appearance of the first civilizations on earth, caused by the very interaction we are talking about. One might wonder why interacting with another person would result in an atrocity? Well, the answer to that question is very simple: difference. People have always tolerated difference to a certain extent. Yet, when this difference is extended, it becomes a threat. Today, for example, it is no longer surprising that difference is the root of endless conflicts around the world, from cold wars to unethical economic rivalry, from the big bloody conflicts to the very small fights one can experience in their household.

The difference between women and men is perhaps the oldest cause of conflict. And by difference, it is usually referred to the perceptual and abstract difference that has always existed between both genders through time. Simply because the biological differences are of course undeniable and too obvious, it makes them not worthy of debating. If you tell a man that he cannot give birth or that he is generally physically stronger than women his age, it is most likely that he would agree with this statement and not engage in further discussion. If you tell a man that he and his wife should be sharing the house duties equally or that he and his female co-worker have the same intellectual capacities to do the job and excel in it, then he would probably be more open for a debate. He would most likely try to give counterarguments as an attempt to deny the statement or even just make some changes to it.

Could someone say that the historical oppression and discrimination women have gone through is a consequence of mere biological differences? To a very large extent, this sounds like the survival of the fittest, a forest in which men dominate women just because they have a stronger structure and more physical capacities. This of course is not true, because we do not live in forests- at least not anymore- and because humans just happen to be of two sexes, with the same cognitive abilities and the same worth and value. The problem is, the majority of men in history have neglected this fact and opted for a more discriminatory approach. An approach that put women in less important categories while men occupied the high roles of authority and decision-making. And because this happened repeatedly, the unnatural inequality between men and women became normalized, accepted by families, accepted by societies, and even taught to new generations. Most men obviously felt privileged and enjoyed the authoritarian position they occupied, which resulted in no or very little objection.

All these historical details play a major role in shaping today’s inequality. Undoubtedly, we did achieve progress and improvements, particularly in the last few decades, because we keep learning from the past and we constantly adjust to the new needs and necessities of our societies. What was a law just a hundred years ago, might today be an unforgivable crime. This change happened because of the development of our kind and to the continuous learning process that defines our humanity. Why don’t men all over the world learn these simple facts about the nature of our difference so that women are no longer a marginalized category? Because the other differences that accompanied the difference of our genders are just too many. It is nearly impossible to bring all the people together and have them live in line with just one principle, the principle of equality.

This goes back to our differences, but this time on a bigger global scale. History is our primary source of information, which we then transform into laws. Every single civilization, society and country has done the very same thing, digging into history and learning from it to define today’s rules and laws. For this reason, calling for gender equality in some societies today might still sound like a taboo or even a sin. The same applies when a woman occupies a position of leadership in her community, succeeds in doing business or God forbid, runs for presidency. If anything goes wrong, it is more than likely that she would be blamed for the very fact that she is a female, because she is guilty by inheritance. She would be called names a man would never have to hear. She would be underestimated even if she works her hardest while still caring for her household and family. She would be the subject of more rumours, more gossip and receive much less praise and credit.

All this might sound like the analysis of one pessimistic idea. This of course is not the only truth. The truth is also that there have been many positive changes in our world, to which men have contributed and sometimes even taken the lead. Men have advocated for gender equality and women teamed up with men to protest gender-based discrimination and violence. There are 15 female heads of state today, which despite the fact that it’s a very small number, is something that would almost never happen a hundred years ago. What all this means is that change happens, and when it is a positive change, everyone should play a role regardless of their differences. Both men and women should recognize the discrimination women are often subject to, and most importantly, act upon it. Gender equality brings peace and prosperity to every member of society, and that is why it should be of interest to everyone.

Today we live in a world that is no longer threatened by some societal conflicts or sexual taboos. We live a world that is being shaped on a daily basis by phenomena such as poverty, hunger, climate change, pollution and animal extinction, among others. Unless we come together as one people, and share the same values of equality and tolerance and unless we govern our nations with equality and justice, all that we will be is a dark time in history that the future generations will learn about and blame.

Are we going to let gender inequality define our nature? Are we going to pass this unbalanced and regressive reality to our next generations and expect them to build a better future? Are we going to let history rule us and decide for us how we live – who suffers and who dominates? The only truth is, we must make a lot of changes if we want the future to be better and more promising. These changes must start now.

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