Cultures and Gender Inequality
Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. [1: According to Samovar and Porter (1994)]
‘Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, and on the other as conditioning elements of further action.’ [2: Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. Harvard University Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology Papers.]
Gender inequality amongst various cultures
Gender Inequality exists amongst all cultures. “ At present, gender discrimination is so frequently defended by reference to culture, religion and tradition that it seems safe to conclude that no social group has suffered greater violation of human rights in the name of culture than women. [3: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Gender Equality : Heritage and Creativity, “ Foreword by Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights ”, UNESCO, Paris, 2014]
Parents tend to treat their kids differently based on their Gender. Whether it is based on the toys they play with or the stories they are told. Even those who believe in Gender Equality tend to do so due to the societal norms. For example giving a girl a doll or a cooking set is considered as normal. What is to be noted as what it symbolises. This has a direct impact on the child’s personality.
Cultural Stereotypes can be considered as one of the biggest reasons for gender inequality and disparity. Women are viewed to be born with nurturing instincts and are thus find more apt for jobs that such skills such as nurses, airhostess, teachers et cetera. On the other hand males are considered to be the breadwinners and for jobs that require decision making ability as they are considered as more logical and less emotional. They are considered stronger too and thus preferred for jobs that require physical strength.
Culture is important to an individual and shall be protected but at what cost. Cultures that promote things like breast ironing, child marriage, domestic violence and other horrific crimes against women shall not be regarded as cultures.
Culture and Menstruation
In spite of being a natural and physiological process it is still shadowed by myths, secrecy and seen as a taboo. Lack of awareness regarding menstrual hygiene often makes adolescent girls a lot more vulnerable to RTIs. Menstrual bleeding is viewed differently from women to women, family to family and culture to culture.
Girls in resource-poor countries around the world tend to use old cloths, tissue paper, cotton or wool pieces, or some combination of these items to manage their menstrual bleeding. Girls often miss school for at least a day due to lack of adequate bathroom facilities. According to a study only 54% of girls reported attending school while menstruating. Furthermore, knowledge about menstruation and menstrual hygiene tends to be higher in girls from urban areas compared with rural girls and in older as compared with younger adolescent girls. Similarly, in Amhara province, Ethiopia, more than half of girls in secondary and preparatory schools reported being absent during menstruation, and those who did not use sanitary pads were more than 5 times as likely to be absent. Even those who attend school tend to be distracted and unable to focus as they are constantly afraid of getting a stain as that is considered to be something they shall be embarrassed about. [4: Kumar R. KAP of high school girls regarding menstruation in rural area. Health Popul Perspect Issues. 1988;11:96–100.] [5: Menstruation and menstrual hygiene amongst adolescent school girls in Kano, Northwestern Nigeria. Lawan UM, Yusuf NW, Musa AB Afr J Reprod Health. 2010 Sep; 14(3):201-7.] [6: Age of menarche and knowledge about menstrual hygiene management among adolescent school girls in Amhara province, Ethiopia: implication to health care workers & school teachers.Gultie T, Hailu D, Workineh Y PLoS One. 2014; 9(9):e108644.] [7: Menstrual hygiene management and school absenteeism among female adolescent students in Northeast Ethiopia. Tegegne TK, Sisay MM BMC Public Health. 2014 Oct 29; 14():1118.]
In rural areas a number of women are not even aware of the availability of sanitary napkins and often use things like leaves, tree bark, sand and dirty old clothes. These alternatives are uncomfortable, often leak and might lead to infections.
Different cultures view menstruation in different ways. The basis of many conduct norms and communication about menstruation in western industrial societies is the belief that menstruation should remain hidden. By contrast, in many hunter-gatherer societies, particularly in Africa, menstrual observances are viewed in a positive light, without any connotation of uncleanness. [8: Laws, S. (1990). Issues of Blood: The Politics of Menstruation. London: Macmillan.] [9: Turnbull, C. M. 1960. The Elima: a premarital festival among the Bambuti Pygmies. Zaïre 14: 175-92.]
Different Religions and their view on Menstruation
Judaism prohibits sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman until she immerses herself in a ritual bath which is intended only for married women. Orthodox Judaism forbids men and women to even touch or pass each other things during this period. In the Torah, considers menstruation as ritually unclean. Touching a menstruating female or an object she sat on makes the other person ritually unclean. Observation of these rules depends on the degree of orthodoxy.
Most Christians denominations do not follow any specific rules during or regarding menstruation.
During menstrual periods, women are excused from performing prayers. Sets of rules are advised for women to follow while during menstruation. They should not fast and left over fasts of Ramadan are to be completed during other days.
In Buddhism (Theravada or Hinayana) menstruation is viewed as ‘a natural physical excretion that women have to go through on a monthly basis, nothing more or less’. However, in certain branches of Japanese Buddhism, menstruating women are banned from attending temples.
In Hinduism, menstruating women are traditionally advised rules to follow. During menstruation, women are advised not to “enter temple, work in kitchen, wear flowers, have sex, touch other males or females, or come in contact with any creative energies to ensure free flow of Apana.” Menstruation is seen as a period of purification, and women are often separated from place of worship or any object pertaining to it, for the length of their period. This forms the basis of most of the cultural practices and restrictions around menstruation in Hinduism.
In 1991, the Kerala High Court restricted entry of women above the age of 10 and below the age of 50 from Sabarimala Shrine as they were of the menstruating age. On 28 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India lifted the ban on the entry of women. It said that discrimination against women on any grounds, even religious, is unconstitutional.
The Sikh gurus teach that one cannot be pure by washing his body but purity of mind is the real pureness. They are not called pure, who sit down after merely washing their bodies.Guru Nānak, the founder of Sikhism, condemned the practice of treating women as impure while menstruating. In Sikhism, the menstrual cycle is not considered a pollutant. Certainly, it can have a physical and physiological effect on the woman. Nonetheless, this is not considered a hindrance to her wanting to pray or accomplish her religious duties fully. The Guru makes it very clear that the menstrual cycle is a God-given process. The blood of a woman is required for the creation of any human being. The requirement of the mother’s blood is fundamental for life. Thus, the menstrual cycle is certainly an essential and God-given biological process. Those who are impure from within are the truly impure ones.
Meditating on God’s name is of importance in Sikhism. Whether a person’s clothes are blood stained or not (including clothes stained from menstrual blood) is not of spiritual importance. Thus, there are no restrictions placed on a woman during her menstruation. She is free to visit a gurdwara, take part in prayers and do Seva.
So it can be concluded that menstruation is seen differently in different cultures. What is requited is to remove these discrepancies and treat it as a biological function.
The core of a culture is formed by values. They are broad tendencies for preferences of certain state of affairs to others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they often cannot be discussed, nor they can be directly observed by others. Values can only be inferred from the way people act under different circumstances.
Values are individual beliefs that motivate people to act one way or another. They serve as a guide for human behavior. Generally, people are predisposed to adopt the values that they are raised with. People also tend to believe that those values are “right” because they are the values of their particular culture.
Gender stereotyping is defined as an overgeneralization of characteristics, differences and attributes of a certain group based on their gender. Those who do not act as expected by these norms are looked down upon. Every day, transgender and gender non-conforming people bear the brunt of social and economic marginalization due to discrimination based on their gender identity or expression. Advocates face this reality regularly working with transgender people who have lost housing, been fired from jobs, experienced mistreatment and violence, or been unable to access the health care they need.
Sixty-three percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming people experience serious acts of discrimination – events that have a major impact on a persons’ quality of life.
The society expects a woman to look after the house and family and the man to be the breadwinner. These expectations forces people to abide by these set of standards and not have a viewpoint.
Not standing by the social values often makes one seem like a rebel and is talked about, looked down upon and discarded by the society. These values are instilled since birth. We follow certain things without even realising as these are embedded in our minds.
Child care is a stereotypically feminine activity, and marks a less traditional family role for fathers. This may be especially the case when fathers spend time with daughters. Fathers also react more negatively to crying, fearfulness, or signs of feebleness in sons than in daughters. These data suggest that, although fathers’ involvement with children, generally, reflects a more egalitarian gender role orientation, high level of paternal involvement selectively with sons may reinforce a more traditional gender ideology.