Shift focus of gender equality to societal expectations

Gender equality cannot and should not be measured by the number of women in IT and engineering courses (More women should come on board; Jan 19).

I am not denying the fact that discrimination against women exists, and it is something we definitely have to work harder on.

However, using the proportion of women in a particular course or industry as a measure of equality is exceedingly myopic.

There is bound to be a gender discrepancy in many industries. While I am not insisting that women should only take on roles that society puts on them, psychological and sociological researchers have found that women have higher levels of empathy than men.

This may account for why education, social sciences and health sciences courses are often dominated by women.

Examples of jobs in these respective industries are teaching, counselling and nursing, which all require a certain capacity to empathise and build rapport.

Of course, this is not universal, but I think it is important to look at the bigger picture when trying to tackle the issue of gender equality.

Gender equality should go beyond how one gender is represented in a workforce and tackle societal expectations of women and men.

Hence, instead of being so persistent on equal representation in all the sectors, women should be encouraged to pursue what they enjoy, be it the social sciences or engineering, without arriving at the inaccurate assumption that equal representation in all the sectors constitutes gender equality.

Instead, what should be eradicated are societal expectations that are put upon women and man, such as it being considered emasculating for a man to be a stay-at-home father while the mother heads out to work and provides for the family.

Julian Anschel Lai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'Shift focus of gender equality to societal expectations'. Print Edition | Subscribe