Gender Equality Is a Myth

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International NGO Journal Vol. 2 (1), pp. 001-005, January 2007 Available online at http:// www.academicjournals.org/INGOJ © 2007 Academic Journals

Article

Dispelling the misconceptions and myths about gender
Dumisani Nyalunga
Corresponding author’s E-mail: dumisanin@ddpdurban.org.za
Accepted 04 January 4, 2007

Prelude This paper seeks to clarify the meaning of the terms that are associated with gender, and equally so to unpack the concept of gender itself and elucidate the fact that gender is not tantamount to women and that it does not exclusively cater for women issues and concerns but that of men as well. It is therefore the principal objective of this essay to demystify the ill informed perceptions and misconceptions that seem to equate gender to sex, and to further illustrate that the differences that continue to exist between men and women are only socially, and culturally fabricated. "The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie --deliberate, contrived and dishonest --- but the myth --persistent, persuasive and unrealistic." (John F. Kennedy) The usage of gender The general usage of the term gender is relatively new. It increasingly became a buzz word in the late 1960s and 1970s, and became fashionable in professional disciplines such as the social sciences. The ‘term came to serve a useful purpose in distinguishing those aspects of life that were more easily attributed or understood to be 1 of social rather than biological origin’ . Robert .A. LeVine reiterates that studies of women and gender have proliferated in the Anthropological literature since 1970, providing new opportunities to consider old problems in the light of more adequate data and to find more sophisticated ways of conceptualizing gender differences as social, 2 cultural and psychological phenomena . To work effectively on gender issues it is imperative that we clarify and understand the related concepts of gender, sex and equality. Gender is a concept which is widely used but often misunderstood. For the last several 1

decades the term gender has come into common usage particularly as a synonym for sex. Whilst the term is generally useful in our day to day conversations, a clear cut distinction between the two words, sex and gender, has not been definitely established. The term gender and sex are used interchangeably. The discrepant use of the terms can lead to confusion, lack of understanding and misconception. Maintenance of a clear conceptual distinction between the two words sex and gender and associated concepts is particularly helpful for the holistic understanding of issues pertaining to gender. Concepts and definitions What is gender? Gender is a social construct. It refers to the relationship between men and women, girls and boys. According to Carolyn Hannan (2000), gender relates ‘to the attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female, and the socio-cultural relationships between women and men, and girls and boys’. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and learned through socialization processes. They are passed from one generation to another. They are however, contextspecific and changeable. They are not static but dynamic. ‘In most societies there are differences and disparities (inequalities) between women and men in activities undertaken, access to and control over resources and decision-making (power) opportunities. Gender is an 3 integral part of the broader socio-cultural context’ . What is gender equality? It means equality between women and men. The Constitution of South Africa is premised on the basic values and tenets of equality. “South Africa’s definition of and goals Carolyn Hannan (2000). She is a Principal Officer, Gender Mainstreaming: Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women. 3

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Unger & Crawford, 1992 Robert A. LeVine, PhD: Gender Difference: Interpreting Anthropological Data

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