|Visionary Conversations: Is gender inequality still a problem?|
|Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2012 2:49 PM|
|Is gender inequality still a problem? In a word: yes.|
The latest Visionary Conversations, held on the evening of April 11 and entitled, “Gender Equality: Fact or Fiction?” centred on that question. The answers were detailed and demonstrated various facets of the issue. As Digvir Jayas, VP (research and international), emphasized in his modest summary, the responses “showed many gaps still remaining in gender equality.” Going on to list them, as panelists had done through the course of the evening, was quite a task.
Fact or fiction? Gender equality is a fiction, concluded Jayas, based on the presentations. “But hopefully moving further in the direction of fact,” he added.
U of M experts discussed what has changed for women, who has benefitted from feminism and where we are going as a society.
Panelists for the evening were: Kelley Beaverford, interior design, Faculty of Architecture; Sherry Farrell Racette, Native studies, women and gender studies; Debra Parkes, Faculty of Law; and Karen Busby, Faculty of Law.
A founding member of the local chapter of Architects Without Borders (AWB), Beaverford related her experiences with AWB in Turkey, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Ghana, places to which she has led service learning trips for U of M architecture students. In each case, she said, the students “become temporary citizens of [another] community,” and are exposed to gender and other kinds of equality issues from a global perspective and work to address a locally-identified need.
Women’s empowerment, said Beaverford, is essential to the United Nation’s (UN) eight Millennium Development Goals, the majority of which are linked to the plight of women. However, gender equality, as related to other kinds of equality, she warned, is still “very much a work in progress.”
Sherry Farrell Racette noted in her presentation that inequity is structural and has a history: a colonial history, to be exact. The Indigenous artist, interdisciplinary scholar and professor of Native studies in the area of Indigenous art and knowledge systems, outlined some of that history to illustrate her point. Indian agents, for example, she said, worked on reserves to enforce the Indian Act, which until its amendment in 1951, made Indigenous ceremonial acts illegal and traditional gender roles impossible.
In addition to inequities suffered by Aboriginal women, the men also suffer the historical effects of oppression, since colonization tactics “are to emasculate men and take possession of women’s bodies,” she said.
“Our dark side is splashed all over the media, but our dark side is connected to your dark side,” she pointed out, adding that Manitoba has the highest number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in the world. “It’s happening here. It’s part of our reality at the university,” she said.
Citing Cindy Blackstock’s “I Am a Witness” campaign — in which children across Canada have come together to ask, “Why?” it is that Indigenous children do not enjoy the same rights, such as access to clean water — Farrell Racette said that this kind of support for dismantling colonial effects “is the spirit of reconciliation.”
Debra Parkes of the Faculty of Law employed her own research to show that for women in prison — and for Aboriginal women, in particular — gender equality is a fiction. Research shows that women do harder time for the same crimes, she said, and they do that time further away from their own homes and in multi-level prisons.
“What does gender equality mean in these conditions?” she asked. “Men’s prisons are not models to be aspired to.
“Given the costs — of $300,000 per year to incarcerate each woman —the societal returns on the investment [in prisons] are limited or negative,” she said.
Rather than continue the “failed experiment” of prisons and punishment and our wide-scale but perhaps misplaced reliance on them, she suggested, we should take the opportunity to pilot new, more progressive programs.
Final panellist Karen Busby, who is also academic director of the Centre for Human Rights Research Initiative at the U of M, presented an overview of urgent issues affecting women, including physical and sexual violence, work and wages and reproductive freedom.
“In spite of the past twenty years of women’s lives transformed by the feminist movement,” she said, “women still suffer a lack of equality.”
Violence, said Busby, is a gendered issue. “It is usually perpetrated on women, and is often intimate, domestic or sexual in nature.”
Busby also cited disturbing statistics on sexual and human trafficking. It is estimated that of the 2 to 4 million humans illegally brought over international borders for purposes of sexual or other slavery, at least 73 per cent are forced into prostitution or other sexual servitude. Such activity is notoriously difficult to prosecute, said Busby, but “men need to be held responsible for their participation, which drives this economy.”
Other statistics demonstrate that further gains are to be made in the fields of wage parity and work issues and reproductive rights. Have the educational advantages for females translated into better wages for women? No, said Busby, explaining that continuing at the current rate of gap-closing for wage parity means parity would take another 170 years to be achieved.
Attendant problems are unpaid work hours and obstacles for ambitious women who want to advance their professional rank. Busby gave the U of M as an example, in particular the relative low percentage of female academics under 40 who have achieved tenure (as compared to male colleagues of the same ranking) in the past ten years at the university.
The evening concluded with questions from the audience, including one for President David Barnard about academic staff. Barnard noted that there are policies in place for dealing with applicants equitably, but, given the statistics, “it is something we will be paying attention to as we move forward.”
Visionary Conversations is a speaker series at the U of M hosted by David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor. Some of the university’s leading minds share their insight on issues affecting our world and how the decisions we make today will shape our future.
Watch this and other Visionary Conversations at the link below.
|For more information, contact:|
Mariianne Mays Wiebe
Editor, The Bulletin
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