Will Social Gender Norms Help Address Gender Inequality?

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The 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women marked a significant milestone in the gender equality movement. Expanding  the focus  beyond “women and girls” to a broader perspective.  This shift  is reflected in  the report titled “Gender, Power, and Progress: How Social Norms Are Changing,” published in December 2020.

Understanding Social Norms and Social Gender Norms

The report is based on  two fundamental concepts: social norms and social gender norms. Social norms include  the rules, biases, values, behavioural expectations that shape  attitudes and behaviors in society. These informal rules are widely recognized, accepted, and followed.

Social gender norms, specifically are  societal expectations regarding behavior and conduct based on gender. These norms have  a specific influence on society, shaping  attitudes and behaviors within specific  social contexts.

Impacts of Social Gender Norms

Historically, social gender norms have influenced perceptions and behaviors. For example,  traditional gender roles, where men are expected to be breadwinners and women are confined to domestic responsibilities, have persisted for a long time.  Even today, remnants of these norms are evident.

A recent example is the  proposal titled “Proposal to Prevent the Feminization of Male Adolescents” raised by a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The Ministry of Education responded by emphasizing the need to enhance the quality and capabilities of physical education teachers, focusing  on cultivating students’ “masculinity.” This incident highlighted  societal expectations for gender behaviors in specific contexts.

Crucial Areas for Achieving Gender Equality

The report identifies four crucial areas that require sustained positive changes in gender norms to achieve gender equality:

  1. Education: Education is  foundational for individual change and has  the potential to drive transformations in social norms across all domains.
  2. Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Empowering women with the ability to make reproductive choices aligning with their preferences enhances their autonomy and  stimulates progress in other areas, such as employment.
  3. Paid and Unpaid Work: Fair opportunities in paid and unpaid work contribute to women’s autonomy, challenging power dynamics and control norms within families and communities. Economic empowerment enables women to assert their rights and challenge other societal norms.
  4. Women’s Political Participation: Meaningful political representation and the ability to express opinions are vital for women. However, substantial progress is still required in this area to ensure women can advocate for, achieve, and maintain their rights.

The report acknowledges the challenges of promoting social change for gender equality, as patriarchal gender norms continue to impede progress. Nonetheless, the impact of social gender norms is gradually shifting in a positive direction, despite occasional setbacks.