Benefits of women and gender studies

Women and Gender Studies encourages women to redefine themselves as political actors in the world and focuses on the power of agency within each individual. Feminism is practice and theory. As a course, Women and Gender Studies allows for its students to discuss usually inaccessible debates regarding feminist theory. It critically reflects on the roles individuals have in creating change and the process to which change occurs. It focuses on the vital relationship between context, power, and agency to examine how this relationship aims for social change in communities, and ultimately, around the world. Intersection of theory, practice, and experience assesses women’s organizing and deconstructs the development of change. Practicum students, Amreek Kaur and Youmna Hadded, are examples of WGS students who used their individual insights obtained from the course to act politically and slowly reconstruct the identity of women. Theory taught in Women and Gender Studies enabled them to make changes in their communities by volunteering in organizations which focused on eliminating sex discrimination in the workplace, and patriarchal dominance in everyday relationships. Although more women presently work outside the home than in the past, they do so under different circumstances. The concern of equal pay for work of comparable value has become a matter of public policy. Although wage discrimination is not new, the attention put on it is. Amreek Kaur chose the Pay Equity Commission as her placement with purpose to investigate the limitations of the Pay Equity Act and examine how enforceable it really is; as well as to assess how an act specifically geared towards advancing women was regarded in the bureaucratic structure from a feminist perspective. The Pay Equity Commission is committed to achieving equal pay for all employees, particularly women, by offering them support and assisting organizations in need. The pay equity commission works as a commission under the Ministry of Labor and is an independent agency which enforces the Pay Equity Act; equal pay for work of equal value. Pay Equity Office (PEO) review officers investigate, reconcile and resolve complaints to ensure protection of human rights, and are also involved in Pay Equity Hearing Tribunals. Amreek used theory taught in Women and Gender Studies as her force behind raising awareness of sex discrimination in the workplace. She was, as Linda Briskin called it, a ‘ political actor’ not only in her placement, but also outside of it. Using material taught in WGS, Amreek utilized her placement at the Pay Equity Commission as an opportunity to introduce changes to organizations and people she associated with. Despite the Pay Equity Commission’s efforts to ensure equal pay amongst male and female workers, statistics continue to show otherwise. Noleen Heyzer, director of UNIFEM, stated that “ it is not acceptable for women to work two–thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn only one-tenth of the world’s income and own less than one-tenth of the world’s property. Fundamental changes must be made”. Women are still typically paid less than men and are ‘ segregated’ and ‘ concentrated’ in the workplace. They are employed in different occupations from men and are over-represented in a limited number of occupations (Atlas, 64). Women work in a narrow range of job categories —half of all women in service, administrative support, and assistant professions being the main three – which are traditionally referred to as ‘ pink collar jobs’. These ‘ pink-collar jobs’ are secondary labour market jobs which are often low in status and pay, and have limited benefits for advancement. Teaching, aged care, nursing, childcare, cleaning, clerical work, and food preparation and service are some examples. Amreek hoped to transform the low status of ‘ pink collar jobs’ and aimed to make them equal to jobs men perform; as both male and female jobs must be paid the same for jobs to be of comparable value. Dominant ideologies followed in the world encourage individuals to believe that what exists is natural and thus, have no alternatives. However, through conversations in Women and Gender Studies which examined such issues, Amreek identified that there was nothing natural about male dominance and actions could in fact be made to change the way society is presently structured. Amreek noticed various forms of sex discrimination in the workplace while doing her placement at the Pay Equity Commission as the Commission interacts with various companies and organizations. One of such was the reality of the ‘ glass ceiling effect’ in the workforce; an invisible barrier which limits the level to which a woman or another member of a demographic minority can progress within the hierarchy of an organization. Although pay equity can be enforced within an organization, hierarchy of inequality remains. Feminists often describe working women to be “ caught between the sticky floor and the glass ceiling” (Atlas, 66). It is reported that in the five-hundred Canadian corporations which exist, women only hold twelve percent of corporate officer positions, and a minimal of three-percent of the highest positions; furthermore, only ten of the five-hundred corporations were directed by women (Atlas, 66). Amreek Kaur worked to change predominate patriarchal power and make women and men more equal in hierarchal positions; ultimately earning the same wages for same value or work, and also having opportunities to excel in the workplace. While speaking to many women Amreek Kaur felt that the underrepresentation of women in the workforce was partly because women were unaware of policies such as pay equity which ensure equal pay for women. Many women did not realize the difference between equal pay and pay equity and thus, showed no major concern in the significant wage gap which exists in Canada and throughout the world. However, by informing women of this difference, the issue of wide wage gaps is being addressed and more and more women are beginning to rise out against such discrimination in the workplace. Also, with ideas such as the ‘ glass-ceiling effect’ and other statistics of gender job discrimination, Amreek had a broader horizon in which she could educate women with and induce change. Without Amreek’s previous knowledge of this concept, teaching other women would be impossible as she would have perhaps not recognized other forms of female discrimination in the workplace, but instead merely focused on the principles of pay equity. Overall, Amreek Kaur found the Pay Equity Commission to be “ inherently feminist within the constructs of a patriarchal structure”. The Commission allows women to have greater economic independence as despite the fact that women have historically had different jobs than men; they should not be paid less. However, Amreek hopes to address the issue of race in the wage gap to the Commission as discrimination amongst race is still very prevalent, as well as to continue to change the hierarchal positions which exist today and make them more equal for women. Another major concern in Canada is domestic violence. The home is the most threatening environment for millions of women around the world. It is often depicted to be a ‘ cradle of violence’ for many women as they are literally confined to a relationship, family, or household defined by patriarchal authority (Atlas, 26). Charlotte Bunch stated that “ significant numbers of the world’s population are routinely subject to torture, starvation, terrorism, humiliation, mutilation and even murders simply because they are female. Crimes such as these against any other group would be recognized as a civil and political emergency. ” Though it may appear that this is only truth for places elsewhere, statistics show otherwise; twenty to thirty percent of women living on campus have experiences physical or sexual force during a dating relationship. This percentage is even higher when verbal threats and emotional abuse are considered (Canadian Campus Survey). This common fear shared amongst women around Canada and the world, as well as these alarmingly high statistics were the fuel as to why Youmna Hadded chose her placement at HCC (UTM Health & Counseling Center). Youmna Hadded had three main objectives going into her placement; to examine the characteristics of healthy & unhealthy intimate relationships, to recognize how unhealthy relationships can affect how individuals feel about themselves, and to discover the remedies for a healthy relationship and how to bring them into future relationships. Through promotion, facilitation and circulation, Youmna helped draw awareness to the support HCC can provide to female UTM students and how women in unhealthy or abusive relationships can receive guidance and help in a small group of women who share similar experiences. The theory Youmna learned in Women and Gender Studies helped prepare her with background knowledge on the effects of physical/sexual abuse, and opened her to mind to investigate why millions of women are still being abused by men, and some even believing it is acceptable. Seventy-seven percent of women in Uganda, and fifty-two percent of women in Turkmenistan perceive physical abuse from a husband against his wife to be acceptable for reasons such as arguing with him, neglecting children, burning food, refusing sex, and going out without telling him (Atlas, 27). This mind-set among so many women is because they live in male predominant societies where men are in power and have control over women. Women believe they need to be ‘ kept in their place’ and thus, being beaten for displeasing their spouses is okay. In campuses across Canada, seventeen to forty-five percent of women have been physically assaulted by their partner in the past twelve months, and thirty percent have endured slapping and throwing things from their partners. For a country where women and men and perceived to be equal, these statistics seem to show otherwise. Youmna Hadded examined the power relationships in women attending the HCC support group and determined that these women were regular women. They didn’t have unusual tendencies or irregular behavior but rather they were with the wrong people; men who still believe they are in control of women. Most of these women felt helpless and unable to stand up to themselves, but as they gained support in the HCC group, they learned about agency and how they had power to stand up to themselves and leave their unhealthy relationships. Youmna Hadded was able to change the lives of many women while working at HCC hopes to continue to use what she has learned in Women and Gender Studies and act to make changes in the world rather than just merely learning about it. Thus, as Amreek Kaur and Youmna separated themselves as ‘ knowledge producers from knowledge consumers’ (Professor Simalchik’s Pedagological Model). These students recognized that feminism was not just theory but also practice; that theory was required in order to make a change in the world as it provides insight to issues which need to be addressed and methods at which they can be resolved. Margaret Mead instructed to “ never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” (Atlas, 102). Women and Gender Studies provides an environment where students can discuss women’s issues, discover solutions for these issues, and use their theory to be the change in the world individuals want to see. “ One last snowflake could break a branch; you never know when you are that snowflake” (Professor Simalchik). Works Cited Briskin, L. (2002). Privileging Agecny and Organizing: A New Approach for Women’s Studies. Women’s Studies in Focus , 26. 2, 78-87. Grewal, I., & Kaplan, C. (2006). An introduction to women’s studies: gender in a transnational world (2nd ed.). Boston: Mcgraw-Hill Higher Education. Seager, J. (2003). The Penguin atlas of women in the world: completely revised and updated (3rd ed.). New York, N. Y. : Penguin . Theory and Practice: An Overview on the Importance of Women and Gender Studies Maria Aguiar 998433805 Thursday March 3, 2011 TA: Yukyung