Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gender Equality: America, Africa, China

In America, the fight for gender equality has become a subtle fight where probably most Americans feel that the big war is over and now we are just trying to fine tune it. I never feel like a second class citizen just because I am female, and I rarely feel that I am treated differently than males. America's history for the fight for gender equality has created a day where females take it for granted that we are equal to men.

In Guinea and Burkina Faso, there has not been the fight for gender equality. Instead the conditions are being prepared for a future war. Women and men are not equal. Men have power, status, education and the leisure to relax and play. Women are second class citizens who do most of the work with little recognition, have babies, and struggle every minute of their lives to please the men, to keep their children alive, and to keep themselves from drowning in the poverty of West Africa.

As the visiting foreigner, I felt like a third gender. I was female but I had power, status, education, and the leisure to relax and play. I was not seen as a second class female citizen, but as a gender closer to males and was treated as such. Being on the top of the hierarchy, I didn't ever really personally feel that I was being treated differently just because I was female. As a daughter of the American fight for equality, I of course noticed the gender inequalities.

If I had been married, it would have been a different story, and I would have personally felt the gender inequality. I would have been ignored while my husband was acknowledged. Messages would have been passed to me by way of the male of the household even if it had nothing to do with him. He would have been asked to fight my fights, to solve my problems, to be the leader of the pair as I just sit quietly and look pretty.

In China where I see road and construction crews with a noticeable female worker presence, I wonder what is the status of gender equality in China? Did the increase of female employment during the Mao era create gender equality? One of Chairman Mao's sayings was "Women hold up half the sky."

Okay so I hold up half the sky; therefore, treat me as an equal. It is here in China where I have personally felt the inequality of being female. At a wedding of a personal friend who we have known for over a year, neither I nor my sitemate were asked to give a speech. Instead, the newly arrived American male foreigner who worked at the bride's father's school was asked to say some words. He had only arrived three days ago and had never even met the bride.

Another time that I felt the effects of gender inequality was at a restaurant. There were three of us, one American male, and two American females where one of them, me looks Chinese. The waiter come up to our table and started giving us a speech. No, let me rephrase that, the waiter instead of talking to the table and talking to everyone, turned and faced directly towards our American male and proceeded to explain something to him in Chinese. Maybe the waiter incorrectly assumed that our male companion had amazing Chinese language skills. Maybe the waiter didn't notice the Chinese American girl who is always assumed to speak Chinese. Or maybe gender inequality is still strongly alive in China.

One could assume that in China there is a push towards equality. Girls are educated as boys are. Women work and there is a claim of equal pay. There is an idea that women can do work that men do. But the true answer I believe is in the day to day interactions between males and females. Males are acknowledged and females are ignored. Males still have the higher status and females have very little.

Every country has its problems with gender inequality and I can only hope that we continue the fight, continue educating, continue thinking and acknowledging the problems. Change does happen. Sometimes it takes living in another country to realize just how lucky I am to be female living in America and how thankful I should be towards those women and men who fought in the war for gender equality.

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