Gender norms are standards and expectations men and women are typically expected to conform to. These are behaviours and attitudes that are usually considered acceptable, desirable, and/or appropriate for a person based on their sex. Most of us have probably complied with these norms, whether we realized it or not. You may not automatically see the problems of gender norms, but in Asian countries, gender norms are what keep gender inequalities alive. These influence patriarchal values and misogynistic views, as well as the belief that certain sexes are superior in certain careers or futures.
In South Asia, preferences for a son start even before the children are born. So, girls must work much harder to survive and fill their potential, while lacking in support. Social norms in South Asia prioritize a son receiving higher education, so girls often lose out on continuing their education after primary or high school, if anything. Many girls in these countries still do not have fair access to education. According to the World Literacy Foundation, even before the pandemic, girls in South Asia were already two times more likely to experience huge challenges in education and development compared to boys. Educating girls in South Asia is often frowned upon because it’s not considered appropriate for them to learn at a higher level than their countries’ norm. Due to COVID-19, the closure of schools has interrupted children’s learning, therefore many girls have or will drop out of education. Decreases in global education funding due to the pandemic cause an increase in existing gender inequalities as well.
Girls are also systematically disadvantaged. Women are expected to stay at home and do housework such as cooking and cleaning, while their husbands work. For every 100 men in the South Asian workforce, there are only 30 women (World Bank). When women do participate in the labour market, they are more likely to be in informal, lower-paying jobs. Patriarchal societal norms weaken the participation of women in family and community decision-making, which reduces their ability to demand fulfilment of their rights to education and protection. Additionally, most women are expected to marry early. Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage at 52 percent, followed by India at 47 percent, and Nepal at 37 percent. Hence, this means higher rates of early pregnancy. Unfortunately, maternal and child care services are not readily accessible to women in these countries. Therefore, maternal deaths are very common.
We want to abolish these discriminative norms that cause women to receive a poor education, poor careers, inadequate decision-making power, and more. To do this, we must first recognize these standards, in addition to when and where they are happening. If you come into contact with any of these norms in your own life, do not comply with them. Stand up for yourself and for your rights. Some organizations are already doing their part. UNICEF strives to provide equal access to education and opportunities for all genders. They provide technical assistance, quality assurance, oversight and monitoring support to support institutions. They also established Accelerated Learning Programs in remote areas disrupted by insecurity and displacement, providing learning opportunities for 31,800 excluded children in Pakistan. The Malala Fund leads the fight for education and equality all around the world, particularly in these countries where girls are deprived. They strive to break barriers that hold women back. Check out their website here: https://malala.org/research. The fight is not over, and it should not stop if we want real change. Change the norms.
Edited by Tyler Vu & Michelle Nishidera