Professional Fellow in NGO Development: Egypt, Emy Yanni

During my Professional Fellows Program in the United States, and specifically during the elections time, I heard several ladies arguing the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.  One of my colleagues at the fellowship was eager for Clinton’s success as she was striving to be represented by a woman. Other American women believed the reason behind those who were reluctant to elect Clinton was her gender. The different conversations and arguments I had showed me that gender equality issue is not limited to one part of the world, as I used to think. It does exist, almost, everywhere. Yet, it is manifested in different forms. 

In my country, Egypt and in other developing ones, discrimination can be manifested at the workplace and when using public transportation. However, it is definitely more common in small informal communities. It can lead to limited access to certain country resources or services such as education or health care.

Whether you are a male or female, you need to reflect on and evaluate your own thoughts and understanding of “Gender” and “Equality”. Have you ever questioned how gender inequality happens? To answer this question we may need to get to know a little bit about the terminologies. Many times we misinterpret between “sex” and “gender”. Sex is basically your biological status. It reflects and indicates your physiological and biological characteristics. Those characteristics that cannot change from one society to another or from time to another. While gender is what “your” community entails you to do, think, or behave. It attributes to characteristics that can change from one society to another or throughout time.

Understanding this fundamental difference allows us to understand how societies can discriminate between people according to their sex, and again, this is a universal issue. It also allows us to reflect on how we get influenced by gender when we face certain expectations for being a girl/boy, man/woman. Many times our ideas and perspectives about gender demand us to act in certain ways that can limit what we can do or who we can be. As I previously mentioned, in a society like the United States, there is a big aspiration for many women to see a president woman. While in my country, the aspiration is to see women able to make choices about their own lives.

The difference between male and female is not the problem. The problem is when we are required to value certain male characteristics over female characteristics. The purpose of gender awareness is not to ignore the difference but to realize the inequalities that are gender based.

Let’s think about this. Would you agree or disagree with this sentence? “Women’s emotions often get in the way of their work”. The way you react to this sentence simply reflects your perspective on women/men’s abilities. This is just one example of a question to set us into reflecting on how we value certain characteristics based on gender.

Having said this, come and try it yourself. Take 30 seconds and think about two things you like doing that are considered relevant to your gender. Now, take another 30 seconds and think about two things you dislike doing but you do because they are typically considered for your gender. One more time, think about two things you aspire to do but you can’t because of your gender.

How do you feel? Is it always fair to be taught what to do according to your gender? Is it fair to not be what you aspire to be just because your society wouldn’t expect you to act that way? This is what is called gender inequality. Contrary to common belief, gender inequality affects males as much as females. Many times society can box males in certain social constructed behaviors, such as restraining their feelings or encouraging them to act in certain negative ways just to conform to a socially formed “manhood image”.

At all different societies we can experience gender inequality when we are not entitled to the same rights. It definitely varies from one place to another. Yet, the same issue exists at a universal level. We enjoy gender equality when we can take advantage of the same rights and opportunities. When girls/women, boys/men are equally respected by the community.

Now, take a stand and think how you will practice gender equality in your own sphere.

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The Professional Fellows Program (PFP) links community leaders from the United States and four countries in North Africa. It is a two-way citizen exchange program designed as a capacity-building and professional development initiative that serves civil society development in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The program is for early- to mid-career professionals with strong leadership skills, who are committed to making a lasting positive impact through their work in the civil society (NGO) sector.

PFP is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and administered by Legacy International with assistance from  multiple in-country partners from the North African region.