Gender studies and gender issues: interdisciplinary, international and the subject of growing interest
Gender studies is a well-established subject in many universities around the world. Why are women interested in gender issues? We put this question to women from a number of different countries.
All gender studies students will most likely be familiar with Simone de Beauvoir, who said in 1949 that 'one is not born a woman, but becomes one.' Despite considerable progress in many countries, gender equality between men and women remains a socio-political task for all nations of the world.
What is gender studies?
Gender studies is easier to explain than define. It explores the meaning of gender within academia and society. It analyses and questions the gender ratio in different areas. It explores the way gender roles have changed and continue to change over time. Gender studies developed out of women's studies, which focused on 'women as the oppressed sex', an issue that made its way to Europe from U.S. universities around the end of the twentieth century. The Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin was one of the first universities in Germany to offer a degree in gender studies.
Gender issues and women's rights in Georgia
Let's begin with a case study from Georgia. 'The lowest average monthly wage paid to male employees is 81 percent higher than that paid to women,' writes Marika Kvantrishvili from the Georgian capital Tbilisi in an exposé ahead of the publication of her 'Handbuch der Frauenrechte’ (Guide to women's rights). She intends to use this book to explain and comment on individual items of Georgian legislation pertaining to women's rights.
Marika Kvantrishvili heads up the human resources department of a company and attaches great 'importance to legislation being readily understandable to its target group, that is, to Georgian citizens.' In addressing this classic gender issue, she intends to help all Georgian citizens to learn about their rights and exercise them more effectively.
Gender studies as an interdisciplinary human science
Gender studies is an interdisciplinary subject, principally combining knowledge from cultural studies and the social sciences. Dr Dewi Candraningrum is a prime example of this interdisciplinary approach. A lecturer in Muslim women's literature at Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta (UMS) in Indonesia, she is also engaged in gender studies, specialising in 'Mainstreaming Gender using Post-colonial Muslim Women Writers in Indonesian Islamic Universities'.
Gender issues in other countries. Case study: Romania
'I first encountered the issue of gender during my social entrepreneurship lectures and seminars. The focus is on equal opportunities and on the anti-discrimination measures being taken in the private sector and at governmental level in Romania and throughout Europe,' explained Dr. Simona Agoston, a Romanian lecturer at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies who also coordinates a range of projects, primarily in the field of education.
She specialises in gender studies in a country where the issue of gender equality in a post-communist society has only begun to gain traction in public discourse over the last few years. 'Romanian society is traditionalist in structure, with fairly clear lines drawn between male and female roles in society and the family,' said Agoston. When it comes to the emancipation of women, Romania still lags far behind other western countries.
Gender issues in Kazakhstan and Moldova
It is a situation familiar to other countries as well: Kazakh women of child-bearing age appear to have fewer opportunities of finding a job than men. When they have children, their employer has to provide sick pay, maternity pay and a birth allowance. 'Consequently, employers tend to favour men,' said Svetlana Gvak, Financial Director at Knauf Gips Kaptschagaj, describing the situation in Kazakhstan.
In Kazakhstan, the topics of gender and gender equality receive 'formal recognition, but women still encounter a glass ceiling. They often hold lower- and middle-management positions within business and the civil service, but they are not represented in higher-level positions,' explained Gvak during the interview.
By contrast, the Republic of Moldova, where Rodica Pruteanu set up the NGO PRO Moldova Social, has 'well-established gender-equality legislation, but laws are poorly implemented after they have been passed. The Republic of Moldova is still a patriarchal power system that favours men. The traditional opinion is that a woman's place is in the kitchen,' said Pruteanu. She works through her NGO to help needy individuals and thereby promote education in the country.
Transferable skills: gender studies prepares students for many different professions
The case studies above show how gender studies opens up a range of different professions and areas of work. The complete interviews (in German only) are available in the Community group 'Gender: Career and family'. The interdisciplinary nature of the subject enables graduates to enter various professions laterally. The gender-related knowledge and skills acquired by students make them ideally suited for work in areas such as HR planning and gender equality policy in organisations and companies. Gender studies graduates can also apply their knowledge to education work, the media, public relations and research.
Do you have a gender studies background? Do you work in a profession that deals with equality for men and women? What has been your experience of gender equality among men and women? Join other alumni in the 'Gender: Career and family' Community group to discuss the issues.