A man and his son are driving in a car one day, when they get into a fatal accident. The man is killed instantly. The boy is knocked unconscious, but he is still alive. He is rushed to hospital, and will need immediate surgery. The doctor enters the emergency room, looks at the boy, and says... "I can't operate on this boy, he is my son." How is this possible?
The answer is simple: the doctor is the boy's mother. This riddle has been told for a long time, to illustrate how common gender stereotypes are in our society. So many people fail to get past the stereotype of thinking that "doctor" implies "man".
Gender equality has been, and continues to be a passionately fought for principle, though also one that is often overlooked. Women continue to be unrepresented in the top jobs, on boards and decision-making councils, in politics, and yet overrepresented in sweatshops, and as receivers of poor wages and working conditions.
Furthermore, it was only in the last ten years that the systematic rape of women in wartime was deemed a war crime. All these factors considered, it is no surprise that gender equality continues in the 21st-century to be a pressing issue in modern society.
Women have historically had fewer opportunities at having the 'top jobs', and (even in Australia!) only earn on average about two thirds of what males earn. Women in politics have always had it tough, being closely scrutinised - far more so than men in politics!
Double standards exist in the excessive attention directed on female MP's physical appearances. Many female politicians receive excess backlash from the media criticising their dress sense, or making snide remarks regarding their size, weight and personal appearance. Joan Kirner - former premier of Victoria - was ridiculed for her size and the types of dresses she wore, whereas for Kim Beazley, who has a similar large build, this has never been an issue.
The press have been described as a 'monolithic block of anti-women propaganda,' and many believe that the current media coverage of women is the same, if not worse than that seen in the 1970s (when women began to enter Aussie parliaments in greater numbers). Reason for this could be attributed to the lack of research and awareness in regards to feminism and the media, resulting in a hostile and impenetrable environment for women in politics today.
Looking wider, girls and women in China have always been seen as inferior to males, with the economic benefit of sons resulting in wide-scale female mistreatment and infanticide. A recent Four Corners episode on the current gender equality issues within China conveyed the essence of Chinese anti-female sentiment with a statement from an old Chinese man, who beckoned at a girl and a boy playing a few metres away and said, 'these are my grandchildren. He is a big happiness, she is a small happiness.'
Motivation for such a statement can be understood when we look at the pertinent issues within China (similarly occurring in India), such as the inequality in the provision of food and health care for females, as well as rising landlessness and poverty, escalating dowry, high sex difference in wages and low level education opportunities for females. Females are seen as a far bigger expense, with the family expected to provide a dowry for their marriage. Males on the other hand, are a benefit in that they can earn more, bring a large dowry to the family, and thus help support their parents through old-age.
These reasons contribute to the high level of female infanticide that still occurs in China today (though to a lesser extent than what it used to). In China alone, over 30 million young females are still deemed 'missing', with many kidnapped and sold for profit as slaves. This has lead to a shortage of women, with the ratio of women to men in China today about 130 men to each 100 women. Yet, the 'shortage' of women hasn't led to their increased value, but rather to greater restrictions and control placed over them.
While a lot has changed in China since 1949 where Chinese women gained their historic freedom, many attitudes of Chinese men remain embedded in the past. Wang Liu, a Chinese cab driver was documented saying while he was glad women are making strides in China, he's happy that his wife is not among the achievers. "I drive every day," he said. "Who would clean up, do the laundry and shopping if my wife decided she wanted to pursue a career or more education?" He said, "with my wife at home, my mind's at ease".
Women have also been restricted and under-valued in Afghanistan, particularly under the Taliban Regime. The Taliban, meaning 'religious students,' gained power in Kabul in September 1996. Deeply hostile towards Western ideals and symbols of modernity, and in an effort to re-instigate control, the Taliban employed harsh punishments - such as the amputation of limbs as penalty for theft, sought to eradicate all elements of modernity (seizing and destroying all drugs, alcohol, cameras and television sets). Admittedly, this may be seen as being quite paradoxical, as whilst trying to destroy all these symbols of modernism, meanwhile, they were using elements of modernity - i.e. tanks and bombs -to try and advance their holy war.
But one of the harshest policies implemented was that against women. Policies of the Taliban included closing schools for girls, as they cited education as unimportant and unnecessary for females, and also the enforcement of the strict wearing of the burqa for women, conducting public beatings for women who bared even a glimpse of skin accidentally.
With no outlets for educating, many women attempted to self-educate in secret - at great personal risk. Despite this however, deteriorating literacy rates ultimately lead to a gradual downward spiral within society - particularly in the health sector.
The lack of education entitlements to women (not just in Afghanistan but worldwide) also has devastating affects on the health of women and children. Taliban rule - for example - has created a dire shortage of female doctors, making women's access to health care even more difficult, as well as escalating the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In summary, all of the aforementioned examples contribute towards the current pertinence of the issue of gender equality. The social, political and economical rights of women are still overlooked worldwide, and the combating of this problem needs to begin with the active promotion of female education through schooling, as means to begin addressing societal problems following from mass illiteracy.
Adequate schooling needs to be followed by ample economic opportunities and comprehensive development programs for women - implemented in a gender-sensitive manner, to counter current trends of disproportion - such as in the political field.
Meanwhile, men should be educated to value and support independent women, and the content of education worldwide (and for both sexes) should promote social equality in every way. As this is such a huge-scale change to try and integrate into society, it requires large-scale tactics, such as the instigation of social disapproval cast upon families known to restrict or deny their daughters of education or inheritance, demand or pay exorbitant dowries, or abort female foetuses. Social disapproval will have a far greater affect that any legal or political campaign.
Until women unquestionably possess equal rights in all areas of society, gender equality is going to continue to be a pivotal issue in our modern world.