Gender equality or gender equity [Archives:2007/1089/Community]

September 27 2007

By: Waleed Mahdi
Yemen Times issue No. 1083 had a controversial article by Maged Thabet entitled “Gender Equality, is it a game dear women?” This article has been severely criticized in issues No. 1085 and 1087 by Noha Molhi and Lamis Shuga'a. As a student interested in gender studies and women rights in Yemen, though my education is being pursued in the United States, I have been following these debates, which pushed me to jump into the middle, and offer a quick analysis to “clarify” Maged's perspective from an academic point of view.

First of all, we have to distinguish between two terms in gender studies: gender equality and gender equity. The former is simply defined as the quality of being equal in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability while the latter is seen as the quality of being fair.

However, the latter-Gender equity- implies a call for women's rights to be fairly treated in the society as men. They have the right to learn, work, elect, and compete. It is, in other words, a way to grant women their robbed rights.

Gender equality calls for an identical equality with men in all aspects of life. It goes beyond the call for rights to the call for achieving the same status with men. Women in the United States, though still struggling in many respects to gain this status, have reached a high level.

Each of these models does not necessarily fit into all societies. While the “Equality” model has succeeded in the Western world, it has certainly failed and would certainly fail in Yemen. The reason is simple: Yemen's culture – like that of many other Arab and Muslim countries as opposed to the Western culture- is family-oriented. For example, while fighting for a woman's right to marry the man she likes or loves (Equity Model) can be an achievable goal, fighting for a woman's right to marry four men (Equality Model) will certainly fail.

In his article, Maged does not advocate against the (Equity Model) and, in no way, denies women's rights of “equal education,” “work,” or “choosing husbands” as Noha misinterprets it. He clearly criticizes some Yemeni women's call for following the (Equality Model) and tries, in a sarcastic way, to show that such a model is not applicable in our society.

To prove his point, he resorts to women's “double standard” attitudes towards men. A very good example of this would be drawn from the responses of Noha and Lamis: while Noha refers to dowry, a sum payable by the bridegroom, as an Islamic rule worth of respect, Lamis rejects another Islamic rule that does not allow women to lead prayers.

All in all, I hope I could clearly define the 'terms' so we can lead constructive arguments in the future and have not offended anyone.

Waleed Mahdi, MA candidate in the University of New Mexico, USA.

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