Women in Comparative Societies

Introduction to Global Gender Studies

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you mad (Burn 2010: 3)


Why Global Gender Studies?











Women are more than half the world’s population




They have been mostly invisible, ignored by politicians, scholars, economists, development experts



They are also UNDER-REPRESENTED in


Positions of Economic Power

Among scholars


So their INTERESTS, EXPERIENCES, INSIGHTS are not reflected in policy, politics, etc.



Seeks to correct this imbalance

Make gender central to the analysis on international politics, development, theorizing


Gender and International Political Economy

Building on the work of Cynthia Enloe:  Gender Makes the World Go Round


i.e., gender is CENTRAL to the way the global economy, international politics is structured, organized


ASSUMPTIONS about men and women

Masculinity and femininity

Undergird the decision making


Not new, always has been this way


Themes of Global Women’s Studies

Theme 1:  Sees Gender Inequality as a Historical, Sociocultural Phenomenon


This doesn’t mean it isn’t real!

In fact, it is emphasizing how real and pervasive gender inequality is.


Seeks to explain WHY


Materialist explanations

Look at how the economic systems shapes gender relations/roles and the family system


Social constructivist/sociocultural explanations

See gender roles, norms, etc. as growing out of cultural beliefs and as, therefore, variable across time and space


**The Gender Regime approach incorporates both materialist and sociocultural explanations



Theme 2: Global Women’s Studies is About Activism and Empowerment

Women can and are advocating for their rights, acting as agents of their own lives


Definition of feminism:  a commitment to changing structures that keep women lower in status and power (Burn, 6, from Sen and Grown 1987)


Negative connations of feminism?



Theme 3:  Global Women’s Studies Takes a Multicultural, Intersectional, Contextualized Approach


Context is all (Margaret Atwood)


Need to understand cultures from the inside out

Give the benefit of the doubt, seek to understand origins of patterns of discrimination against women, ask how, why the evolved and are perpetuated


i.e., try to move beyond our own ethnocentrism

the tendency to judge other societies by our society’s yardstick; to impose our culturally determined beliefs on others;


Other danger: cultural relativism

Where everything becomes justifiable as “just a part of the culture”



Challenge of Global Gender Studies:  To create new standards of judging, assessing other cultures that are neither ethnocentric, Western-centric nor too culturally relative


Rights/Equality Framework

Not always the best approach

Why not??














Western/liberal biases



But still need to seek    **Gender justice


**Human dignity



Theme 4:  Women’s Rights as Human Rights (!?)

Grounded in UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948)


UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)


Beijing Platform for Action (1995)

Beijing +5,+10,+15


**the challenge of embracing international law, human rights standards and also maintaining commitment to decentralization, cultural diversity, bottom up organizing, listening to the concerns of women and girls in the developing world


Other Vocabulary

Patriarchy:  a system where power and authority is vested in men; which serves and perpetuates male interests and women’s subordination to men


Public sphere: the world of politics and formal work.  Men dominate here; women mostly absent from (in Western, industrialized, middle-class society)


Private sphere:  domestic or home life; sphere removed from public scrutiny or government “interference” or control; women often live here mostly or entirely or are assumed to do so


Gender roles:  the idea that men and women do different things in life; play different roles in society, family


Gender division of labor:  men and women performing different roles, types of work, e.g., women do reproductive labor, men productive labor


Occupational segregation:  the tendency for work to be done mostly or entirely by only one sex


Gender stereotypes:  beliefs that all men or all women are a certain way, behave, think, act a certain way


Gender norms: the fact that society expects (demands) one to conform to the “norms” of one’s gender


Gender socialization:  the idea that people are socialized to perform a set of roles associated with one gender