Chapter 6: Gender, Sexuality, and Culture

Gender, Equality, and Justice

Gender justice is a concept that typically refers to approaches that advance women’s rights through legal change or other actions that promote the full participation of women in the economic, social, and political life of a nation or a community (Oxfam International, 2022b, para. 5; Goetz, 2007, p. 17). Gender justice seeks to extinguish longstanding patterns of violence, poverty, control, and discrimination experienced by women, gender-diverse people, and people who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+. The term “gender justice” is often used interchangeably with notions of gender equality, gender equity, women’s power, and women’s rights (Goetz, 2007, p. 17). Gender justice priorities are unique to a population’s location, identities, and proximities to decision makers and power. Gender justice is applicable to the lives of newcomers and to the settlement sector but may mean something different to various communities of people, based on their identities and experiences.

Historically, Western perspectives have set the prerogatives of gender justice globally, where international development discourse has been critiqued for its reproduction of a “saviour complex” in gender justice advocates. Post-colonial feminist theorist, Chandra Mohanty (1988), explains how Western scholarship has helped shape the misconception that women from the global south are a homogenous group of “Third World Women” who are unaware of their oppression and require charity from Western women, organizations, and other groups to rescue them. The stereotype is a woman who is, by Western standards, a victim of economic, religious, and family structures and is defined as religious, family-oriented, illiterate, and domestic (Mohanty, 1988, p. 65). This image, a sweeping generalization, contributes to the stigma facing immigrant women and to potential biases impacting settlement worker practices.

The danger of this disempowering stereotype is that it masks the diversity of experiences, identities, and socio-political situations of women, while at the same time painting a picture of victimhood that only serves to paralyze women (Tyagi, 2014, p. 49). Yet, women and people of diverse gender and 2SLGBTQQIA+ identities lead social change movements, scholarship, and other forms of resistance at the heart of gender justice, oftentimes helmed by the grassroots efforts of Indigenous peoples and so-called “Third World” communities.

For example, Little et al. (2020) document immigrant women’s activism from the 1960s to the 1980s in Ontario and British Columbia, revealing nuanced priorities for gender justice in comparison to mainstream Western feminist movements of the time. For example, immigrant women’s call for reproductive rights extended to advocacy for immigration policies that allowed for family reunification and parents’ liberties to raise their children alongside them in Canada. Immigrant women also developed their own settlement service organizations and practices, informed by their lived experiences and often working in partnership with men to address issues such as domestic violence. Some groups of immigrant women also led grassroots ESL education, even developing ESL “survival kits,” songs, radio soap operas, videos, and books for use in teaching, as well as political organizing tools (Little et al., 2020, p. 113). In the field of settlement work, the philosophy and action informing gender justice are contextualized by development discourse, feminist history, and Canadian systems, as well as newcomers’ priorities based on their socio-political realities and lived experiences.

Gender Equality and Gender Equity

In this chapter, we will employ the term gender equality as used by Women and Gender Equality Canada, the federal department that plays a leadership role in the implementation of Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). The concept of gender equality must be understood in relation to the concept of gender equity. This distinction is described by Sarkar (2022) of the digital intersectional feminist media organization, Feminism in India: “Although gender equality is the ultimate goal, it is only through gender equity that it can be achieved” (para. 1).

Review the definitions of gender equality and gender equity below, as defined by Women and Gender Equality Canada:

Gender equality refers to equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for women, men, and non-binary people. Equality refers to the state of being equal, while equity refers to the state of being just, impartial, or fair. However, equality of opportunity by itself does not guarantee equal outcomes for women, men, and non-binary people (Government of Canada, 2022, Glossary).

Gender equity refers to fairness, impartiality, and justice in the distribution of benefits and responsibilities between women, men, and non-binary people. Unlike gender equality, which simply provides for equality of opportunity, gender equity explicitly recognizes and actively promotes measures to address historical and social disadvantages. By “levelling the playing field,” gender equity creates circumstances through which gender equality can be achieved. Gender equity means providing all social actors with the means to take advantage of equality of opportunity (Government of Canada, 2022, Glossary).


Learning Activity 3: Equity vs. Equality

Images: Equity vs Equality by MPCA Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 [text removed]  

Find images on the internet that portray gender equality and gender equity. How do your images differ from each other?


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