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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Nagesh Chopra
June 26, 2015
As societies evolved and innovations improved our lives, inadvertently, an unknown and opaque gap developed that has stayed with us. The gender gap in question was born primarily as a result of circumstances and the choices men and women made to identify their roles to live in harmony and grow accordingly. We have come a long way but the need of the hour forces us to explore and substantiate gender inequality as a prominent policy concern which needs solidarity and sweeping reforms.
A cultural approach to public policy emphasizes the impact of factors such as class, lifestyle, religion, ethnic identification and race on women’s understanding of the political significance of their gender, a perception frequently referred to as their “gender consciousness.” Women have realized that developing their identity and roles (socially and professionally) as part of the policy formulation process is crucial to gaining consensus in the world we live in.
Policy making is a complex process which hardly follows a particular trajectory. It is helpful to consider actions that influence policy analysis. According to Gelb and Palley, legislations favor incremental change rather than a radical change. Unfortunately for women, many of the policy changes advocating for enhancing their status are attacked by opponents and result in role change rather than gender equity.
Investigating gender analysis also leads us to the question: Is their inherent discrimination and prejudice? Scholars have reiterated that while discrimination depicts behavior, prejudice reflects attitudes. Therefore, prejudicial attitudes do not necessarily translate into discriminatory behavior. Gender analysis, therefore, must incorporate observation of differences in specific outcomes for men and women.
Michael Mintrom, in his book Contemporary Policy Analysis, recommends applying a three-step strategy involving analysis of aggregate statistics, process tracing and tests for discriminatory practice to conduct gender analysis.
Analysis of aggregate statistics highlights the representation of gender gaps and the rationale behind them.
Process tracing maps decision-making criteria in individuals and organizations and aims to pinpoint where discrimination, if any, is taking place and how it leaves women helpless. Focusing only on women can generate some useful insights. But, efforts should be made to study the situation of both men and women in context.
The last step to confirm favoritism is to test the subject/practice and get tangible evidence as proof. This involves perusing available information or employing incognito research tactics that reveal observed discrimination. The latter is warranted as humans are intelligent to alter their behavior when they become aware they are being examined, which can corrupt the study’s findings.
Research vindicates the glaring apathy in the United States. Even after the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, government actions have had limited effects. Women are still paid less than men for the same jobs even after accounting for education, training and job experience. Recent data from Catalyst show that only 10 percent of the top 500 companies have women holding top executive positions; 90 percent have no women corporate officers.
The path to glory is never attained without sacrifice. Policy gains achieved through laws can be minimized or subverted in the writing or revising of regulations that specify how a law will be implemented. Policy analysts need to be sensitive to the fact that interest groups and informal actors will always be armored to attack policy design and organizational practices. However, the judgment call still rests with the policy expert to acknowledge the broader societal context and achieve the balance in power dynamics. People can be subject to discrimination and not be fully aware of it. Others can perpetuate it and not realize they are doing so. Gender analysis needs to be treated as a way of raising awareness about problems rather than an exercise in allocating blame.
C.L. Ridgeway in her book Framed By Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World, makes a similar point:
“Although lagging cultural beliefs about gender do not make equality unattainable, they do suggest that attainment of equality is not assured and will not come without concerted efforts of people. Trends show that bit by bit, men are taking on more routine child care and other household duties. Family friendly workplace policies are also becoming more common.”
As social dislocations produced by periods of rapid progress toward gender equality lead to periods of stasis and partial retrenchment, we will need to be patient and keep pushing for an egalitarian framework.