Gender Issues in Education

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Gender Issues : Key Concepts

Gender Perspective

The gender perspective looks at the impact of gender on people's opportunities, social roles and interactions. Successful implementation of the policy, programme and project goals of international and national organizations is directly affected by the impact of gender and, in turn, influences the process of social development. Gender is an integral component of every aspect of the economic, social, daily and private lives of individuals and societies, and of the different roles ascribed by society to men and women.

Social scientists and development experts use two separate terms to designate biologically determined differences between men and women, which are called "sex differences", and those constructed socially, which are called "gender differences". Both define the differences between men and women, but they have very different connotations.

Sex refers to the permanent and immutable biological characteristics common to individuals in all societies and cultures, while gender defines traits forged throughout the history of social relations. Gender, although it originates in objective biological divergencies, goes far beyond the physiological and biological specifics of the two sexes in terms of the roles each is expected to play. Gender differences are social constructs, inculcated on the basis of a specific society's particular perceptions of the physical differences and the assumed tastes, tendencies and capabilities of men and women. Gender differences, unlike the immutable characteristics of sex, are universally conceded in historical and comparative social analyses to be variants that are transformed over time and from one culture to the next, as societies change and evolve.

Gender relations are accordingly defined as the specific mechanisms whereby different cultures determine the functions and responsibilities of each sex. They also determine access to material resources, such as land, credit and training, and more ephemeral resources, such as power. The implications for everyday life are many, and include the division of labour, the responsibilities of family members inside and outside the home, education and opportunities for professional advancement and a voice in policy-making.

A common question posed by laymen and students of social sciences raises the distinction between the term “sex” and the term “gender”. Many people use the two words incorrectly, as interchangeable, when they signify two very different things.


Gender is the wide set of characteristics that are seen to distinguish between male and female. It can extend from sex to social role or gender identity. As a word, "gender" has more than one valid definition. In ordinary speech, it is used interchangeably with "sex" to denote the condition of being male or female. In the social sciences, however, it refers specifically to socially constructed and institutionalized differences such as gender roles. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, uses "gender" to refer to "the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women". Some cultures have distinct gender-related social roles that can be considered distinct from male and female, such as the hijra of India and Pakistan.

Gender – Determined by Social, Cultural Affiliation, Learned Behaviours

Gender is determined by social interaction, exchange, and absorption of peer, familial, and larger cultural values that determine gender identity and affiliation.

Gender can be considered fluid in the sense that one can challenge their own gender identity, in some instances holding it completely opposed to their sex.

For example, a woman who considers herself to be a male, possessing the same sexual desires as a male, and is contemplating undergoing surgery in order to become male is an example of sex and gender being separate as well as disparate.

Gender roles and identities are also culturally proscribed; these roles are commonly a crucial argument in the feminist theory aspect of sociology or philosophy. Boys play with toy soldiers, while girls play with Barbie dolls – this commonly held viewpoint or assumption is offensive to many feminist theorists who advocate a stripping of stereotype and gender bias.


Sex – Determined by Physical Anatomy, Biological Description

Sex is determined biologically and refers to an individuals physical anatomy – genitalia, facial hair, body structure and composition. Sex refers to the biological characteristics that separate male from female.

Sex is not culturally influenced in a direct way (although certain cultures believe in certain practices or influences impact the sex of a child during pregnancy) and is normally considered to be completely biological in nature, uninfluenced by cultures, norms, values, or mores.

Difference between Gender and Sex

Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term "gender", and how it differs from the closely related term "sex".

Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

"Male" and "female" are sex categories, while "masculine" and "feminine" are gender categories.

Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

Some examples of sex characteristics :

  • Women menstruate while men do not.
  • Men have testicles while women do not.
  • Women have developed breasts that are usually capable of lactating, while men have not.
  • Men generally have more massive bones than women.

Some examples of gender characteristics :

  • In the United States (and most other countries), women earn significantly less money than men for similar work.
  • In Viet Nam, many more men than women smoke, as female smoking has not traditionally been considered appropriate.
  • In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not.
  • In most of the world, women do more housework than men.

So while your sex as male or female is a biological fact that is the same in any culture, what that sex means in terms of your gender role as a 'man' or a 'woman' in society can be quite different cross culturally. These 'gender roles' have an impact on the health of the individual.

In sociological terms 'gender role' refers to the characteristics and behaviours that different cultures attribute to the sexes. What it means to be a 'real man' in any culture requires male sex plus what our various cultures define as masculine characteristics and behaviours, likewise a 'real woman' needs female sex and feminine characteristics. To summarise:

'man' = male sex+ masculine social role

(a 'real man', 'masculine' or 'manly')

'woman' = female sex + feminine social role

(a 'real woman', 'feminine' or 'womanly')



Patriarchy is a social system in which the father or eldest male is head of the household, having authority over women and children. Patriarchy also refers to a system of government by males, and to the dominance of men in social or cultural systems. It may also include title being traced through the male line.

Defining patriarchy explains the reasons for the treatment of women through the ages and what it means to their future and success in life. Patriarchy not only explains how our society functions but how it controls women.

Patriarchy is best defined as control by men. The opposite is matriarchy which means women are in charge and the head of families. Obviously, the culture of the United States and most other countries is patriarchal. Men have the power and control the women. If you don't believe that consider the basics of how our society functions.

Women constantly must fight for their rights and sometimes they struggle just to survive without the power and domination of men threatening them. Whether an individual woman wants to conquer patriarchy will come from her desire to be independent and defined outside the context of men.

Look to most world leaders to see how powerful patriarchy is. Women are certainly as capable as men to be President of the United States, yet they are not and probably won't be any time soon. Men have been in that role for so long that our country probably does not believe it is possible.

Consider who is typically at the head of a company or leaders in local governments. While certainly more women are fulfilling these roles, it is a constant struggle for the ones who are able to achieve that success with men having much more power just by their biological nature. Men have not had to fight for their place in society like women have. It has been an expectation that they will become leaders because that is what patriarchy is about.

Much of patriarchy also has its roots in Christianity. Religions which believe the Bible or other religious text often follow it faithfully by its every word which puts the men in charge. The Bible which most Christians live by states boldly that women should be submissive to men. With that in mind and those beliefs instilled in cultures, women don't stand a chance at gaining strength in their gender and its potential in our world.

Patriarchy is also found in family traditions like women taking the name of their husbands and children always carrying the father's last name. More women are choosing to keep their maiden names or hyphenate with their married name so they can retain their own identity. With reference of Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so, the man assumes the dominant role again and women lose.

In the majority of homes, the man is the figure who financially supports a family while the woman stays home and cares for the children. While there certainly is no harm in this arrangement for most families, it should not necessarily be a given and one women are expected to live by.

Women may never truly win over patriarchy but they must continue to stand their ground whenever possible to change the tide in our society. It takes only small steps to start with and the more women who are bold in their world and don't back down to men and their power, the better chance that women and men can be equals in life.


Masculinity is manly character. It specifically describes men and boys, that is personal and human, unlike male which can also be used to describe animals, or masculine which can also be used to describe noun classes. When masculine is used to describe men, it can have degrees of comparison—more masculine, most masculine. The opposite can be expressed by terms such as unmanly, epicene or effeminate. A typical near-synonym of masculinity is virility (from Latin vir, man); and the usual complement is femininity.


Gender Bias

A question of X or Y

A child's destiny can be determined by as simple a circumstance as whether his or her father contributed an X or Y chromosome. Pink or blue clothes. Guns or dolls. The provider and the homemaker. Female infanticide. The patriarchal system. The purdah system. The premium on virginity. Dashing bachelors and aging spinsters. What are they all about? They all revolve around the issue of gender bias. The fact is that people are treated differently depending on their gender.

Gender bias is so deeply ingrained in the system that the discrimination begins from the time a couple plans a baby. Today, science has advanced so far that it is possible to separate male and female sperm so as to predetermine the sex of a child. In some parts of the world the birth of a baby boy warrants a celebration whereas a baby girl may not be extended the same warm welcome. Despite the fact that India has crossed the billion mark in population, there will still be families with five daughters and the mother trying desperately to give birth to a son.

Reinforcing gender bias

If a boy cries, he is asked if he is a sissy. If a girl plays cricket, she is labeled a tomboy. Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, psychologist, recounts her experience. She says, "I know parents who were very upset because their five-year-old son brought a doll home. The child was just playing with a toy that happened to be a doll. They thought that the boy had a gender problem. The parents actually came for counseling, worried that the boy was showing such feminine interests." In this way, parents ingrain the idea into the minds of their children that behaviour can be gender-appropriate.

Girls will encounter gender bias at almost every stage in their lives. Radha Shankar's father expects her to be home by eight in the evening, while no such restrictions are placed on her brother. Mr. Shankar says,"It's not that I don't trust Radha or that I think she will do anything wrong if I let her out of the house after eight, but the fact is that people will talk if a girl is in the habit of going out for late nights. I don't want anyone to say such things about my daughter. With my son it's different because boys will be boys."

Dr. Mehrotra talked about the plight of educated women who are so frustrated because despite their qualifications, they are ultimately expected to fall into the traditional mould of wife, mother and homemaker. Take the case of Nalini Mansukhani. Her parents sent her to the best schools and she has done her MBA from a prestigious business school, but she is under intense pressure from them to get married. She says,"It doesn't seem to matter to my parents that I'm doing so well in my job and that I have certain career aspirations. Marriage just does not figure in my plan right now. And I just know that they will see no harm in my being expected to give up my career if my prospective husband makes that a condition."

Gender bias and men

According to Dr. Mehrotra, " Femininity is restricted to girls." People tend to have a more indulgent outlook on girls acting like tomboys. However, the opposite is not true for boys. There is a stigma attached to a boy being effeminate. That is the reason why society has a tendency to doubt the masculinity of men who design clothes for women, or male make-up artists, or men who follow any profession that breaks away from the straight and narrow. Somehow, men who don't hold nine to five jobs with a salary cheque that puts food on the table are not deemed manly enough.

While most people believe that gender bias favours men, men have their own cross to bear. Even in these so-called liberated times, men are expected to go out and earn their bread and butter. The option of staying at home and looking after the children while the wife goes out to work is not open to them. They have this option only if they have the strength to withstand the gossip, the ridicule and the general disapproval.

Sujoy Matthew punctured his parent's balloon of expectation when he decided that he was not cut out to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer or an MBA. "I just don't know what I want to do with my life. I'm just trying out different things. I make enough money to cover my expenses so I'm happy. My parents have given up on me. They are embarrassed to tell people that I don't have a job and have even lied on occasion saying that I'm working or doing some course."

Anup Singh moved into his wife's house after marriage. He says, "I haven't heard the end of it even from my friends. It's actually so simple. At this stage, neither my parents nor I can afford to buy a flat. My wife has a house, so I moved in. Women have been moving into their husband's houses for centuries and it's never been an issue. People have to be practical."

Mrs. Khanna is looking for a groom for her daughter. She says,"I want my daughter to marry a man who can give her a secure future. I don't want her to ever worry about money or have to skimp and save." It would never occur to her that her daughter should be able to fend for herself.

Women should be educated so that they can learn skills to support themselves. The choice to work or not to work thereafter should be entirely their own. There are innumerable stories of widows and divorcees who have found that they are clueless about their finances and how to manage them without their husbands. It is not that women are incapable. It is just that they have given up the choice to participate.

Change begins at home

Awareness about gender bias has slowly spread over time. But it will take a long time for this awareness to seep into the grassroots and translate into social change. The world has moved forward. Today, we have women astronauts, women prime ministers, even women wrestlers, but there are still millions of women who face these double standards at every juncture of their lives. Feminists have been shouting themselves hoarse, demanding equality for women. Some people believe that women and men can never be equal, just different. Yes, but different does not necessarily mean inferior or lesser in any way. Women must be provided equal opportunity and this is not a task to be left to the government or any organization or authority.

Social change begins at home. Parents have to learn to adopt an androgynous attitude towards bringing up their children. They shouldn't panic if their son prefers to play with dolls or their daughters decide they don't want to marry till they are thirty. Parents need to give both sons and daughters the chance to live their lives free from the fetters ofgender bias.

Gender Stereotyping

Woman Empowerment