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The term ‘gender’ in the discussion on equal opportunities for everyone

When equality between women and men is discussed in Germany, the term ‘gender’ is often heard. What exactly does it mean? And is the topic of equal opportunities really so crucial for development and justice in the world?

Gender – for years now this English word has been becoming increasingly familiar in Germany, too. It has been adopted to signify the social and psychological sex of a human being, as opposed to the biological sex. In politics and in the social sciences the term ‘gender’ is frequently also found as a keyword in discussions on equality between women and men.

Equal opportunities: women’s rights are always human rights

Even in the 21st century, equality between men and women is nowhere near to becoming a worldwide reality. It is true that positive changes have taken place, especially in the industrialised countries, but the facts published by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in its brochure ‘Gender equality in development policy’ in 2011 are still sobering: ‘Around the world, women do 66 per cent of the work and produce 50 per cent of the food. Yet in total they own only one per cent of all global assets and they earn only ten per cent of all income.’  However, even Germany still has a long way to go to achieve equality. The dossier entitled ‘Frauen in Deutschland’ (‘Women in Germany’) from the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) provides interesting background information about the social and economic situation of German women.

‘Gender mainstreaming’ – equality at all levels

This is another English term used in discussions on equal rights. The German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ) explains it like this: Gender mainstreaming  means giving regular consideration to the different life situations and interests of women and men in all social projects right from the outset …. Today this strategy is recognised at all political levels. Gender equality is anchored in EU legislation, in national guidelines and even in the German Basic Law. Businesses and authorities have equality officers whose most important task is to ensure equality of opportunities between men and women and between disabled and non-disabled employees.

Criticism of gender policy

Of course, criticism is voiced in the field of gender policy. For example, there is criticism that equality between women and men is a more Western ideal that only partially does justice to the traditional ideas of gender roles in some parts of the world. In Germany some critics worry that the discussion could disadvantage boys and men, or else have the opposite effect and bring about cementation of gender stereotypes. The discussion is lively and sometimes very heated, but that is not surprising with such a fundamentally important topic. On the website of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) you can find a rebuttal of the criticisms of gender policy in the article ‘Gender Mainstreaming: überflüssig oder kontraproduktiv? ’ (‘Gender mainstreaming: superfluous or counterproductive?’).

The topic of gender on the Alumniportal Deutschland

Gender is one of the Focus Topics on the Alumniportal Deutschland in 2013. There are articles, discussions in the Community, a photo competition and a review of the webinar on ‘We want it all – opportunities, career, family’. For members of the Alumniportal Deutschland this is a good opportunity to join in the discussion of this important and current topic.

And even if gender mainstreaming has been declared a fundamental political principle in many countries, is it really mainstream, that is, is it generally applied in society? In the Community group Gender: Karriere und Familie (Career and Family) we would like to discuss with you whether equality between women and men is a topic in your home country, and whether your society has changed in this respect and is still changing. What is the equal opportunities situation worldwide? Join in the discussion and share your views with other alumni.


Author: Elena Krüskemper

August 2013

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Elena Krüskemper
28 August 2013

Dear mferree, thank you very much for your comment. It would be very interesting to hear more about the definition of gender from a gender scholar such as yourself. Would you share your expertise with the other Germany alumni in the community group "Gender: Familie und Karriere" (see the link in the article)? We would be very interested in learning about your definition of the term gender.

27 August 2013

As a gender scholar, I object to your definition of gender as being "psychological and social sex of an individual"! For decades now, this definition has been discarded to focus on gender as an individual, interactional and institutional that creates male and female as socially meaningful categories and uses these categories to produce and sustain inequalities. If your definition were correct, gender mainstreaming would necessarily fall into the trap (described in the article) of affirming and reproducing the misleading and stereotypical gender binary.

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