Gender inequality is a sensitive, yet significant issue. Gender inequality (i.e. discrimination) against women and girls affects their education opportunities, choice of career and even their economic advancement.
Gender discrimination is so embedded in many cultures that it has become normalized, people perceive it as being acceptable. Hence, trying to discuss gender inequality can result in extreme responses such as anger, or maybe denial. It is also common to receive responses of pure surprise from both genders, as if it is an issue that does not exist.
I will try here to my observations of gender discrimination that can be encountered in Oman, keeping in mind that this is not a study. Omani culture is diverse, and is not homogenous.
In my experience, gender discrimination usually starts from day one of a child’s life. Many Omanis still celebrate the birth of a boy more than they celebrate the birth of a girl. You see, a boy carries the tribe’s family name, and thus keeps it going while the girl will be married one day, and her children will take their father’s name.
Until recently (and still today, with many families) an educated woman was considered a person who deserves less respect than an educated man. I believe this was the case worldwide at some point and time, which is why many female intellectuals throughout history used male pen names to publish their work. This is exactly why we did not have many female contributors in science, politics, etc, as this was totally unacceptable in many cultures. Historically, girls were given fewer opportunities to advance in their studies, resulting in much higher illiteracy amongst girls and women. I still hear many men (and women alike) insisting that a woman’s place is the home and that this should be her only choice.
Many universities in this part of the world have colleges that accept men only. I personally graduated from school during a time when the college of engineering in one of Oman’s universities accepted only men. Luckily, this has since changed, and both men and women are accepted.
Moreover, there is obvious discrimination in salaries, allowances, and career development opportunities in many countries in my region. Luckily, this is not true in Oman now. Although, at the time I graduated from university, I had to attain higher grades for my scholarship, compared to the boys who applied at the time. Fortunately this has also changed now, and discrimination in the opportunities given to men and women is much less obvious. However, some discrimination is still institutionalized. For example, if an Omani woman marries a non-Omani man, then she cannot pass her Omani citizenship to her children. At the same time, an Omani man can pass his Omani citizenship to his kids, regardless of his wife’s nationality.
Career choices are also subject to gender discrimination, and men can also suffer from that. I can still remember the comments I heard about men who opted to study nursing. Nursing was seen as a career for women, and men working as nurses received continuous sarcasm.
Women were once only allowed to study education, as a teaching job effectively kept women segregated from men. Studying medicine, for example, was once frowned upon for women. This has changed dramatically, but female doctors are still not widely accepted. Discrimination is obvious even in recreation, as some hobbies are still only acceptable for men.
Discrimination is also common in our daily language. Until recently (and even today, with many families), a man saying the name of one of his female family members in front of other men is considered shameful. Moreover, disrespectful phrases like “don’t be such a woman” are still commonly heard. Furthermore, there are many societal codes forcing specific looks, hairstyles and clothing on women. Any woman refusing to comply with these societal expectations is usually seen as disrespectful. Meanwhile, men are allowed to dress as they please.
In Oman, the tribal system is highly regarded, which means you belong to a huge family and carry their name. If a girl does something unacceptable (say she married without her family’s consent or did something unacceptable in the society), then she brings disgrace the entire tribe. However, if a boy does the same, then he carries his “shame” alone. In other words, women carry the dignity of the whole tribe on their backs. This is more common in rural areas, and less in big cities.
In Oman, women are commonly held responsible for the misbehaviour of men. For example, if a man harasses a woman, the woman will likely be blamed for it. She will be accused of provoking the harassment by wearing something indecent, for instance. Else, she will be blamed for being attractive, walking in the wrong place, talking in the wrong way, etcetera. Of course, the man is excused for whatever he does and is never held responsible. Fortunately, Oman has a strong law now against such behaviour, therefore, this is no longer a common issue here. However, it is unfortunately a critical issue in many countries.
The pressure women suffer to appear, behave, talk, and act in a certain way is huge. As such, the cosmetic surgery businesses are profiting with the active programming of girls to believe that the way you look is more important than anything else. Moreover, marriage is an integral part of our culture, and a lot of men look for beauty above all else, thus putting extra pressure on women. Of course, household chores and raising children are considered a woman’s job only in most houses.
One of the most common ways of discriminating against women is treating them as objects. Many people in this part of the world are aware of the different literature that describes women as jewels, diamonds, or pearls in a shell. This may sound poetic and beautiful, but to many, it is just a way to describe women as fragile, delicate, objects to be owned.
Due to their reduced autonomy, women in Oman are less able to manage daily activities that many women in other countries take for granted. For example, I know many women cannot even go shopping by themselves, nor are they allowed to conduct simple bank transactions. This makes them more vulnerable, and prone to exploitation.
While gender inequality is officially reduced at organizational and political levels, it still continues within the society. It is more difficult to eliminate the discrimination in areas where the law cannot interfere that much. At this point, only raising awareness can help.
These are just few of the points about this critical issue. My aim is not to degrade one part for the sake of the other, because I believe each human being deserves equal opportunity. Moreover, gender discrimination has caused more than enough damage. These days, many households are being run by women. In many cases, women are the sole breadwinners for their families. Women are the ones who raise the kids, help them with their homework, and put food on the table. Reducing women’s opportunities to proper education, careers and treatment affects the whole society. Empowering women in every way possible brings positive change in the economic situation of any country. Many women are not even aware of their rights. They have been raised to believe that they are less than men, and thus deserve less. The vicious cycle continuous and we need to break it. Awareness is one way. I was luckier than my mother and I want my daughters to be happier than me. The fight continues!
Are you aware of any gender inequality where you live right now? What can be done to change it?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Ibtisam Alwardi of Oman. Photo courtesy of the author.
This August in our neighborhood playground, a child threatened my toddler son, saying “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.” For the past two months I’ve been praying for the victory of Hillary Clinton, so that I can tell my child “hate never wins”. The polls gave me some hope. But on the night of November 8, as the election results rolled in, I saw a very different America than the polls had predicted.
I put my child to bed that night right before the Canadian immigration website crashed. I stayed up late, thinking about how I would explain this to him. A few hours later, he woke up full of questions. He asked me if she had won. I told him no.
“But I want Hillary to be my president!”
“I know, baby.” I held him tight. He is too young to understand the candidates’ policies; all he knows is that if Donald Trump is in the white house, the bullies in the playground get a good line to yell at him.
Once again, I assured him, “We are American, this is our home, no one is going to kick us out of here, not even Trump.”
I’ve been repeating this to him for the past two months. Apparently it’s not enough. He asked me if we’re moving to Asia to be with his grandparents. I told him no.
“But I don’t like Trump!”
“But you do like America, don’t you?”
He thought about it carefully and then nodded.
“That’s right, baby. As long as it doesn’t change, we’re here to stay.”
“But I’m upset.”
“That’s okay, baby. I’m upset, too. We all get upset sometimes. But we’ll be fine,” I told him.
“If anybody ever tells you that Trump will kick you out of the country, just say, ‘No, I am American, this is my home, no one can kick me out of here.’”
He practiced the sentence a couple of times and seemed to be comforted.
There is so much more that I wanted to tell him. I wanted to tell him it’s not the end of the world. I wanted to tell him that human beings are resilient. I wanted to tell him that we can do better than running away. I just don’t know how to make a 3-year-old understand all of these things.
In spite of all the frustrations at this moment, I still believe in America. Sure, the election had modeled the exact opposite of the values I believe in and hope to instill in my children: the xenophobia that came directly out of Trump’s campaign has harmed my family. But I see that most of my fellow American don’t believe in the racism and sexism either. Clinton won the popular vote. Which means the majority of American believe that women should be paid the same as men, they care about climate change, they don’t want the implementation of aggressive surveillance programs that target certain ethnic groups.
This is the moment not to sit down with frustration, but to stand up and fight against discrimination, bigotry and hate. And there is so much we can do. We can volunteer. We can donate. There is Showing Up For Racial Justice that combats racism, Planned Parenthood that gives women the opportunities for proper healthcare, ACLU that upholds the individual rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Most of all, as parents, we can continue teaching our children the values we believe in: honesty, gender equality, love. The election changed none of that.
Just like President Obama said on election day, “The sun will rise in the morning.”
What was your reaction to the US Presidential election? Did you or will you talk to your kids about it?
This is an original post to World Mom Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.
A while ago, when my toddler son was playing in our neighborhood playground, another child said to him, “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.”
It happened during the afternoon of hot summer’s day. My three-year-old bumped into an older child—probably five or six years old—when going down a slide. As much as I was tempted to defend my own child, I had to admit that it was his fault. I thought that I needed to remind him to apologize.
As I was walking up I heard, “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.”
I froze in spite of the high temperature. It took me several seconds to realize that it was the other child who had spoken these words.
I wanted to ask, “I beg your pardon?”
I wanted to ask, “Why would you say that?”
I wanted to ask, “Do you believe that anyone should be kicked out of here?”
But before I could say anything, my son looked up at me and said, “Mama, I want to go home.”
So we left. I looked back a couple of times, trying to find the child’s parents. I didn’t, and I did not know what I would have done if I had found them.
My son was silent all the way home. Anyone who didn’t know him that well would have simply thought that he was tired. I drove, waiting for him to ask questions, but he didn’t.
So I broke the silence and said, “You know, you should say ‘sorry’ when bumping into other people.”
“And, you know, this is our home. No one is going to kick us out of here.”
It was too hard to continue the conversation, so I stopped there. We went back to silence, and I hated myself for not being able to come up with anything better to say.
When it comes to unfriendly comments about immigrants and minority groups, many Asian American people, including me, often have an illusion of “safety”. Trump has accused Hispanic American of bringing crimes;he has called Muslims terrorists. But hey, we are Asian Americans. We are quiet and shy, we do our math and science, we hurt nobody, we don’t even attract attention. Anyway, Trump said that he “had a very good relationship with China” right before having that crying baby ejected at one of his rallies!
But what happened in the playground in that afternoon taught me a lesson: when a hate movement and white nationalism becomes the mainstream, everyone can be a victim. Even a three-year-old boy can be threatened in his neighborhood playground.
My son was quiet for the whole evening. At the dinner table his dad noticed and asked, “Are you okay, buddy?”
“I want to go to bed now.”
He insisted that I sleep with him. I laid on his toddler bed with him. Just when I thought he was falling asleep, he asked, “Mama, who’s Drump?”
“Trump? He is a businessman. He is running for President.”
“Will he become the President?”
I got up and showed him the book “Hard Choices” with Hillary Clinton’s portrait on the cover. I was hired to translate the book into Mandarin Chinese when it published in 2014. “This grandma is also running for president, and one of them will become President.”
“Will she let us stay here?”
“Oh baby! We are American, and we’ll stay here as long as we want, no matter who becomes the President.”
I was telling the truth. Both my husband and I came to the States as international students. He earned his PhD in computer engineering from NC State University and I earned my Master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. We eventually naturalized through H1B working visas and EB2 green cards, which requires an advanced degree and exceptional ability. We’ve been calling America home and contributing to this country for more than a decade, and I honestly don’t think anyone can legally “kick” us out of here, not even Trump.
What worries me is that this kind of hate speech will hurt our family and our children, turning our country into a place that is no longer suitable for living in.
We’ve all heard Trump’s supporters shouting violent words and making crazy statements at the Presidential hopeful’s rallies, but it feels different when such words comes out of a young child’s mouth. I wonder if he really knew what he was talking about.
Either way, he certainly made it clear what Trump’s brand of hate is doing to this country. In spite of the frustration, I still hope for a hate free society to come. So vote wisely. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about being a decent human being.
Has your child been the target of discrimination at the hands of another child? How did you handle it?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng of the United States. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang.
A Chinese publisher is hiring me to write a biography for a well-known Chinese American doctor and politician. They wanted 300,000 words by the end of this year. I made it clear that it’s not possible. Considering the long-term contracts I already have, my family situation and my daily schedule, the earliest time I can finish the big book will be next May.
They offered me a $3,000 bonus if I could finish the writing the book on their timeline. Wow, $3,000!
I told them, “I’ll think about it.”
That night for some reason my little one was unusually fussy and insisted to sleep with his mommy. I squeezed myself into his toddler bed and accompanied him. After two bed time stories he fell asleep peacefully. I lay there, staring at the ceiling.
Once again I strongly felt how children can slow a mother down on her career progress. If it was three years ago, before we had a kid, producing 300,000 words within ten months would not be a problem for me at all. I am not boasting it, but hey, they didn’t call me “kuài shǒu” (the fast writer) for nothing!
But now, with a little child, if I want to finish 300,000 words in a year, either I’ll be drained or my child will be ignored.
Women certainly have a different work-life balance than men. Several years ago there was a white paper on the Position of Women in Science in Spain that concluded a man with children is four times more likely to become a full professor than a woman with children is.
The white paper emphasized that women who have children are discriminated against simply because they are mothers and not because their job performance is actually different.
Based on my own experience, I believe that is true. I was harassed by my supervisor for pumping at work. Still, there is a lot we can do to fight back when facing discrimination. We can advocate for equal working rights, we can urge our law makers to pass bills that end discrimination against working mothers, we can file law suits against our discriminating employers. I, for one example, took my previous company to court and was happy about the result.
But we cannot fight nature. The nature rule is that women have to spend more time on their children. Mothers have greater childcare responsibilities than fathers. It’s the mother, not the father, that carries the baby for months, is in labor for hours and breastfeeds for months, or even years. And while some may hope for a different division of labor some day, these work-life realities do contribute to the reason why women who are mothers are on slower career tracks than men.
In this case, if I can’t earn that $3,000 bonus, that’s simply because I need to spend time on my child, not at all because I am discriminated against.
I tossed and turned all night long. It’s not that I want the $3,000, but I really want to speed up my career progression, which has been slow ever since I had my child. But do I want to be drained? More than that, do I want to ignore my child for one whole year? Weighing these things in the balance, that $3,000 didn’t seem so important.
In the morning my little one opened his eyes and saw his mommy was still laying by his side. He giggled and touched my face. I made up my mind.
Working mothers probably will never have the perfect answer to work-life balance. It’s our paradox of choice. I just want to try to live more and regret less.
Have you struggled with juggling your career path and your role as a mother? How do you find a balance between work and home life?
This has been an exclusive post for World Moms Blog by To-wen Tseng. She can be found writing at her blog “I’d rather be breastfeeding” and on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credit to the author.
The month of April marks 45 years since The United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Loving v. Virginia. This isn’t a landmark case that we are all familiar with, such as Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education. However, for me, the Loving case is partially responsible for the birth of my children and my upcoming marriage. Their decision, which ruled in favor of the Lovings’ (an interracial couple) and declared the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law to be unconstitutional, opened the doors for people of different races to legally date, cohabitate and wed in the United States. (more…)