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Are gender roles really being broken down?

17 June 2009
Women often still perform gendered roles in the workplace. Photo by Chris Kirschhoff.

Women often still perform gendered roles in the workplace. Photo by Chris Kirschhoff.

Women’s resistance to traditional gendered roles performed within the family structure, has led to new roles of performance in relation to work, marriage and childcare.

Throughout history certain norms were created determining gender roles. Women were perceived as the primary caregiver and men dominated in the workplace. Within the home these norms were learnt and thus maintained. In past decades this has apparently started to change with more women entering the working world.

 This shift in women performing work outside the home is associated with the female claim to autonomy. But how free are women really, even in their new roles? This autonomy claimed in many instances is contradictory.

 Women perform work within a gendered environment which reproduces the inequalities apparent within the family’ and other social institutions. For example, look at the glass ceiling effect the fact that women rarely reach prominent positions in a company due to discrimination. Also, very few women have yet been employed in male dominated areas such as the construction industry.

Photo by Chris Kirschhoff.

Photo by Chris Kirschhoff.

 There is apparently a lot of attention paid to the unequal position of women in the workplace, but the policies and structures implemented by government to address inequality in reality furthers the persistence of gender inequality. According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, women are entitled to at least 4 months of Consecutive  Maternity Leave, while men get 3 days Family Responsibility Leave. Does this not imply that the woman should stay at home and start raising the children while the man can go back to work almost immediately?  

 Top-down policy measures will not work as the historical construction of appropriate gendered behaviour is deeply rooted within the social fabric of society. It is only from below that this issue can truly be addressed.

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Sectors: Gender.
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