Women and the social gap. How the social, cultural and economic position of women can affect the emerging or closing of the social gap.

Moderator: Magdalena Tabernacka

  • Circles and participants:

It is a trace carried out under the circle 5 and 8 activities.  But this project is open to everyone.  Participants from other circles can join the mailing list or discussion if they think they are competent in the field or would like to express their opinion.

  • Inspirtion

The assumption of the project is to describe, taking into account cultural, social and legal aspects, the current or future role of women in bridging the negative effects of the social divide. This project has many dimensions, but the common denominator is the cultural, legal and social position of women as a factor determining the growth of society in a democratic environment.

The problem of discrimination against women hindering the development of societies in permanently democratic countries is not a pressing social problem. However, under certain cultural and legal conditions, it may happen that the law or a tradition or religion sanctioned will cause actual discrimination of specific social groups – for example women, where their sexual orientation is not an important factor here because they are subject to discrimination they can regardless.

It is important to track down such factors of potential discrimination and to see how they are socially compensated or how they are responded by law or institutional action. In some cultures, discriminatory factors may be the result of the law or groups holding power in this society. It is important that blocking the use of the potential of a specific group of people in society is harmful to the whole society. In this Trace, we want to show this by illustrating the phenomenon of the situation of women whose socio-cultural position translates directly into the activities of the family, local community and the entire society or federation.

Scandinavian countries, thanks to the culturally established standard of functioning of public authorities and the standard of universal social assessments as to the role of women, could be treated as a reference model. Nevertheless, it is important to carry out individual analyses for all shades of local subtleties when it comes to cultural conditions and other important factors, e.g. economic.

The starting point for the research are 3 texts (about 1000 words). These studies contain theses and short analyses of the situation in Japan, Arab countries and Poland. It would be expected that other people would post their texts on this problem in other parts of the world.

  • What topics are we going to deal with specifically?

Active participants will include Agnieszka Sobieska – who will analyse the problem from the point of view of social relations between Islam and local culture, and Barbara Jelonek, who will deal with the problem through the prism of the conditions prevailing in Japan. The essay by Magdalena Tabernacka is to inspire you to creatively approach the problem of the active role of women in society, and in particular in the public sphere. The reference to the considerations is how the life chances of both sexes are influenced by the law of culture and economic conditions.

These essays will be developed during the Sunday meeting and in a future publication.

  • Research scheme In this year’s research, it is important to look for answers to the following questions:
  1. Where is the disproportion?
  2. Where is the cause / risk of disproportion?
  3. To what extent and scope do it generate attitudes towards women and to what extent attitudes of women and what they are conditioned by?
  4. What specific factors / actions / reactions / manifestations of discrimination related to the “cultural burden” of women or legal regulations towards them cause the emergence or widening of social gaps? The point is to show that the institutional or cultural inhibition of individual growth translates into the inhibition of social growth.

The subject of the analysis may be a specific country, not only those to which the base texts relate, social environment, religious group – any clearly identifiable human community.

  • How will Trace look technically:

Session abstracts and  wordpress mailing list will be available throughout the summer session. On Sunday, August 2 between 12.00 and 14.00 there will be an online discussion and exchange of views on the problem and brief summaries of the results of the mailing list discussion. 

Link to the meeting:

https://meet.google.com/qoj-wmvc-nch

The basic texts are presented below. Click on their title to read the content. You can post your comment or send your comments to magdalena.tabernacka@uwr.edu.pl. If you want, and your text will fit in the subject line – I can put your text in this post. Essay title, author identification and affiliation are expected

 After summer session, it is planned to publish a publication containing a summary of the results of the discussion and short texts containing theses of individual speeches.

How the social, cultural and economic position of women can affect the emerging or closing of the social gap

Magdalena Tabernacka

Uniwersytet Wrocławski

Do you remember the mother of Emil of Lönneberga[1] from the books written by Astrid Lindgren? Her behaviour hides an answer to the question: How the social, cultural and economic position of women can affect the emerging or closing of the social gap?

Her character exemplifies mechanisms which allows a specific position of the woman in society and her specific behaviours to influence the reduction of the social gap – in her individual case, but also in relation to the entire community. After all, the whole of the community is greater than the sum of its parts, and each individual impacts in a specific way the human group in which they live – sometimes directly, but always indirectly.

In the case of Emil’s mother, regardless of the fact that Astrid Lindgren placed her character in Sweden in the turn of twentieth century, the reality of the society in which she “had something to say” allowed her to co-decide about the fate of a small social group, this is her own family and her friends (do you remember the cherry wine for Mrs. Petrel and party guests?). Those conditions also allowed her to develop her own creativity and unfold a protective umbrella over Emil, whose creativity and future possibilities she saw from the very beginning (as you probably remember, when Emil grew up he became the chairman of a municipal council).

To reach a certain cultural social standard, a woman’s position is built over generations and is conditioned by history. In a globalised world, however, everything happens quickly. We must also remember that there is no such thing as  “historic constants”. Once achieved, the progress in any field is not given to us forever, and at any moment we can expect a regression or a perceived  regression, which is a reversal of the direction of the order built so far. Of course, the culture of societies (organisational culture) understood as the programming of minds, which Hofstede wrote about, is a relatively permanent phenomenon, but not permanent enough for the consequences of certain political actions or specific legal regulations to not change this climate[2].

In the face of an increase in the authoritarian tendencies and the evident threat to the state of the “end of history”, understood as a maintained standard of democracy in the form of fluctuating power in conditions of potentially equal access to the opportunities, it is necessary to ensure a bottom-up approach to democracy and in particular, the actual operation of mechanisms allowing women to maintain a high social position. This bottom-up democracy should be considered both in terms of the individual participation of women in public life and the possibility of their participation in the activities of non-governmental organisations dealing with, for example, crisis intervention.

Inequality of opportunity occurs when people living in the same society do not have access to the same opportunities. In practice inequality of opportunity means taking away the substantive power and cultural potential from the discriminated group. In case of sex discrimination, this could mean giving up the potential of half of employees and allocating them to functions of negligible attractiveness which the other half of employees do not want to perform.

The findings based on economic sciences showed, that if both genders perform in society strictly their biologically determined roles, there was a deepening of the division in households, which resulted in the depreciation of the social and economic capital of women at the expense of the potential profit of the entire group (Gery Becker and negotiation model Ott 1992). Nevertheless, at the end, a woman has always been personally victimised. It is important to note that the depreciation of a woman’s individual capital has effects far wider than those that would only apply to her. It is important to notice other consequences – to her family, local community and ultimately for the whole society.

It can be put straight. The depreciation of women’s social capital is not only their problem; it is a problem for us all. Therefore, the role of the state, including legislation, is to provide mechanisms to counteract the depreciation of women’s capital, which should not necessarily take the form of affirmative actions.

Equalisation of gender opportunities, by excluding discrimination against women, ultimately contributes to closing the social gap. Therefore, it can be noticed that the expansion, consolidation and existence of anti-democratic and authoritarian mechanisms are accompanied by actions weakening the position of women in society or the level of their exclusion.

So what should the construction and consolidation of social standards of gender equality look like?

In practice, it is about ensuring gender egalitarianism in decisions directly related to the need to ensure:

– appropriate economic basics of existence and the possibility of satisfying the real economic needs of women (remember when Emil’s dad asked: Why do you need new shoes? Is it always a need to  buy you new shoes every 10 years? – Exactly – Emil’s mother replied. This stopped the conversation and they went to buy her shoes.)

– a real impact on the family (even if it takes the form of hiding Emil in a woodshed under the nose of his father, who was having an attack of madness, which in this particular case was justified and effective)

– elimination of a climate conducive to misogyny in society;

– elimination of occupational segregation, understood as reserving certain professions only for certain genders, which may relate to the issues of prestige, earnings and life chances related to these professions;

– elimination of discrimination, in particular professional discrimination understood as the perception of gender as a criterion for assessing the usefulness, professional effectiveness and abilities of an employee (Waszkiewicz, 2007)

– elimination of penalisation and legal regulation of behaviour related to planning procreation.

– elimination of violence against woman, which should be guaranteed at the level of international law and national law. It is also necessary to properly practice the exercise of this right by public authorities[3].

The belief that legal regulations can immediately change the social culture is naive, but as other texts within this Trace will show, the law is, nevertheless, an important element affecting people’s actions, which in turn leads to the development of certain attitudes. In practice, it is about eliminating discrimination that would lead to the depreciation of capital and the failure to use the creative and positive social capabilities of individuals – not only women themselves, but also people on whom they can have a real impact.

 Hard data points to the fact that countries (Boski 2009), where the axiology of equality prevails, are richer and are characterised by a higher welfare than others (House 2004); these are mainly civil societies where democracy becomes the subject of everyday life practices and citizen involvement. Similarly, there is a correlation between the broadly understood social egalitarianism and the high status of women in society expressed as the participation of women in legislative bodies, the lack of a clear disproportion in the wages of women and men and a comparable percentage of women and men with higher education (R. Wilkinson, K. Pickett, 2009).  Moreover, it was noticed that the higher the level of egalitarianism, the stronger the feminist ideology (House 2004).

The analysis of the problem leads to the conclusion that the correlation of gender equality in society is directly correlated with the actual possibility of eliminating the social gaps. This applies to both the mental sphere of individuals living in a given society and their economic sphere. First of all, the challenge is to ensure the diversification of sources of emotional and economic support for dependent individuals on the family scale – who are not dependent on just one source of support. Secondly, the possibility of independent decisions about the directions of their own development by culturally and economically emancipated women. Obviously, this is a broad-based problem covering various aspects of women’s socially respected independence, where such phenomena as, among others, honour killings, lack of physical safety of women in public space, or legally sanctioned cultural customs and the regulation of the clothing worn by women.

The most important finding in the analysis of the issue of reducing social gaps is that the high position of women directly impacts the increase of the level of life chances of their dependants. Therefore, the legal and political measures are necessary to increase the climate of egalitarianism in terms of gender, which should be understood as an obligation of public authorities, implemented both in the sphere of providing administration, education, as well as designing and monitoring the implementation of legal norms.


[1] A. Lindgren, Emil of Lönneberga (from Swedish: Emil i Lönneberga)

[2]An example is the analysis of the consequences of over 30 years of teaching religion in public schools, which has profound social and cultural consequences: M. Tabernacka  The human right to freedom of religion in the Polish education system

Nordicum-Mediterraneum, 2018, 2, s. 1-35

[3] See:   The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in the polish social safeguard system,  Nordicum-Mediterraneum, 2017, 12, 2, s. 1-20

Japanese views on women’s equality

Barbara Jelonek

Uniwersytet Wrocławski

The position of women in the social hierarchy in Japan is very specific. This is due to many factors: social, cultural, economic, political and legal.

During of my research at the Centre of Oriental Law Research at the University of Wroclaw in Poland I discovered many interesting conclusions about the discriminatory position of women both in the family and the workplace – private and professional sphere.

I examined ancient chronicles, administrative and civil codes that were created from the VII to the XIX century in Japan, as well as modern legal regulations.

It was for tracing the past and present position of a woman in the family, marriage (getting married and divorced) and at work (in this way, that when women’s are assuming the family, well-educated Japanese women depreciate their intellectual capital).

While I was analyzing the above issues, I asked myself many questions to which I was looking for answers also in legal analysis, social research and literature.

Why is their social position culturally conditioned?

What social and cultural views influence the position of a woman in the family and at work?

Why can’t women inherit the imperial throne?

Why does a woman have to stand one step behind a man?

Why do Japanese women not occupy high positions at work, but only work as office ladies?

And finally … why Japanese women were only allowed in 2020 not to wear high heels at work?

Based on my research on the discriminatory attitude of the Japanese legislator and society towards women I would like to discuss how the tradition, customs and opposition of political groups to changes regarding discrimination against women can have a destructive impact on their fate in such a technologically highly specialized state which still sticks to its views on family and marriage in the VII century. There’s no denying that discrimination against women in Japan affects the whole society is because of its beautiful half cannot participate in the political and economic, which directly affects the active participation of women in the passive electoral law in this country. A female voice, long culturally and socially subordinate to men, seems to have been inaudible since the very beginning of Japan.

Law as a tool for changing the traditions and customs of Muslim women.

Agnieszka Sobieska

Uniwersytet Wrocławski

Among the followers of Islam, gender is the factor that causes the greatest disproportions and discrimination.

Many traditionally sanctioned customs that discriminate against Muslim women are still present and practiced, even though they have no basis in religion.

According to tradition, the unity of the Muslim community (umma) is influenced by the honour of a man, which depends on the purity of women. Hence the need for Muslim women to cover their body and hair, and sometimes even their face.

  • Is the law an effective tool to change old traditions and customs practiced by Muslims?

The law, the one that imposes bans on Muslim women in countries where they are a minority, is often not accepted and respected, because old traditions cannot be changed in a revolutionary way.

I believe that the law is not the right tool to change traditions and customs, especially those that are deeply rooted in the culture of Islam. The only effective way seems to be to change the mentality of society. Society creates laws and strongly influences the observance of them. Examples from Muslim countries show that social pressure has a much stronger impact on compliance with rules (including those relating to clothing) than the law.

In Europe, in some countries, it is forbidden for Muslim women to cover their faces in public places. Women wearing the hijab are hindered from accessing public professions (including teachers, lawyers, employees of public institutions) and to education.

We are not liberating women by introducing such prohibitions. On the contrary, by taking their agency away from them, we objectify them. Looking through the prism of the symbol (face veil / hijab), we forget about the people behind it. Under the guise of liberating Muslim women from under the veil, as a result, we prevent them from functioning in social life.

Meanwhile, it is the voice of a woman that is a revolution. The history of Muslim countries shows that it was their participation in anti-government and nationalist democracies that led to upheavals and changes to the law. Women demonstrated in the 1920s in Egypt, throwing off their veils; they actively participated in the overthrow of the Shah in Iran and the victory of the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as in national liberation demonstrations in the Maghreb countries. Costumes were very often a symbol of these revolutions and a political tool.