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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 90-94

Impact of psychosocial paradigms on gender equality

1 Department of Psychology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
2 Department of Psychology, School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Central University of Karnataka, Gulbarga, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2018

Correspondence Address:
Mr. Abdul Raffie Naik
Department of Psychology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/AMH.AMH_22_18

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Gender is the social, behavioral, and cultural attributes, expectations, and norms associated with being a woman or a man. The aim of gender equality is the empowerment of women, thus enabling them to manage their lives. Gender equality is a fundamental issue. The lives of people are heavily influenced by the societal stereotyping of gender. While there are differences in the biological makeup of men and women, the gender roles that are played are determined both socially and culturally. Despite major changes in the attitudes of people over the years, the issue of gender is still very much alive in society today. Gender inequalities impact women over their lifetime, their health, educational attainment, and economic conditions. Gender equality will be achieved only when women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life. The paper is a study on the existing literature on gender and equality to understand the existing social and psychological paradigms that act as a barrier to equality among the different genders. The present study aims at understanding an overall picture of the psychosocial paradigms that infringe on gender equality. Journal articles and texts on gender inequality were identified and reviewed. psychological, sociological, and psychosocial perspectives of gender inequality are presented in the paper. Gender inequality in health, education, and work is present to date.

Keywords: Education and work, gender role, health

How to cite this article:
Naik AR, Padikkal T. Impact of psychosocial paradigms on gender equality. Arch Ment Health 2018;19:90-4

How to cite this URL:
Naik AR, Padikkal T. Impact of psychosocial paradigms on gender equality. Arch Ment Health [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 5];19:90-4. Available from: https://www.amhonline.org/text.asp?2018/19/2/90/248879

  Introduction Top

From ages, humans have been divided in terms of religion, race, age, geographical location, and in some cases, caste. One of the major classifications, however, comes in the form of gender. This division has a lot of practices that pervades each and every aspect of human life. Throughout history, the discriminated groups have faced a lot of disadvantages. Gender is a major indicator of social and economic stratification. Gender discrimination is a characteristic of most societies, wherein males are in a better position with respect to social, economic, and political factors. To explain gender equality, it is better to start with an understanding of the term “gender.” The World Health Organization defines gender as socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as the norms, roles, and relationships that exist between them. These roles and norms can vary from society to society and can be changed and people are taught appropriate behaviors. These gender norms influence people's susceptibility to different health conditions and diseases and affect their enjoyment of good mental, physical health, and well-being. They also have a bearing on people's access to and uptake of health services, and on the health outcomes, they experience throughout the life course.[1]

Gender equality is considered a critical element in achieving social and institutional change that leads to sustainable development with equity and growth. Inequalities between men and women manifest themselves in all areas of development and are most obvious in health and education, economic development, violence against women, participation in public life and policymaking and social attitudes, and gender stereotyping. Gender inequities throughout the world are among the most pervasive forms of inequality that concerns each and every member of the society and forms the very basis of a just society.[2]

  Gender Equality Top

Gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, recognizing the diversity of different groups' women and men (for example, women belonging to ethnic minorities, lesbian women, or women with disabilities). Gender equality is both a human rights principle and a precondition for sustainable, people-centered development.[3] Gender equality, centered in human rights, is recognized both as a development goal on its own and as vital to accelerating sustainable development. Unless women and girls are able to fully realize their rights in all spheres of life, human development will not be advanced.[4] Gender equality aims at the empowerment of women, giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives.

Gender equality is a fundamental issue. This is because people's lives are heavily influenced by the gender stereotyping in the society. While there are differences in the biological makeup of men and women, the gender roles that are played are determined both socially and culturally. In the past several decades, there is a closer movement of the people in the world toward gender equality. This has brought about advancement of women across a wide range of economic, social, and political indicators, in all regions of the globe. Despite major changes in the attitudes of people over the years, the issue of gender is still very much alive in society today. Throughout the world, women remain at a disadvantage to men in important areas of social, economic, and political life. Women's autonomy has been determined by three areas – control over finance, decision-making power, and freedom of movement.[5]

  Rationale and Aim Top

India has witnessed gender inequality due to its socioeconomic and religious practices that resulted in a wide gap between the position of men and women in the society its prevalence is found in various forms ranging from preventing proper access to basic rights to the use and control of resources by a particular gender and in the availability of economic opportunities. People in power and political voices become impediment to development.[6] The present study aims at understanding an overall picture of the social paradigms that are infringing upon the gender equality. The paper is a study on the existing literature on gender and equality to understand the existing social and psychological paradigms that act as a barrier to equality among the different genders.

  Methodology Top

For the present study, a systematic review was adopted. Journal articles and texts on gender inequality and the various perspectives were identified and reviewed. Fifteen journal articles and two chapters from texts explaining psychological perspectives and sociological perspectives were finalized for the present study.

  Psychological Paradigms Top

At the root of gender inequality lies gender norms that ascribe men and women to different status and roles based on what is termed as ‘culturally appropriate’ by the society.[7] In every cultural setting, individuals are socialized from birth to conform to rules specified to their gender.[7]

In the book Handbook of Socialization, Leaper and Freidman explain the different theoretical frameworks that explain the concept of gender.[8] One of the theoretical frameworks is the cognitive-motivational process. Leaper and Freidman describe how the notions of gender based on culture are formed and internalized among children based on cognitive representations of gender. This is based on the premises of various theories, namely the cognitive-development theory, gender schema theory, social-cognitive theory, social identity theory, and self-categorization theory. These theories explain how children infer the meaning of gender- related activities based on their observations and social interactions. They seek out situations which encourage them to behave according to their gender roles and also regulate their behaviour based on the vales they develop and perceived consequences. In the social interactive process, Leaper and Freidman use the social-cognitive theory to explain how children are repeatedly exposed to incentives or disincentives for gender-typed practices, thus influencing their behaviors, and also contribute to the development of gender differences in the expectations, values, and skills.

While the gender socialization starts at birth, the point of the development of gender-based attitude is intensified during early adolescence. In the low- and middle-income countries, with the advent of puberty, girls are more restrained and are expected to take on various chores, while boys have greater freedom to move around and also face the expectations of the family to support them financially.[7]

  Sociological Paradigms Top

Sociological perspectives on gender differ at two levels, namely macrosociological and microsociological perspectives.[9] The macrosociological perspective focuses on gender roles in large phenomena such as education and political situation, whereas microsociological perspectives view gender roles in families and peer groups, that is, on a smaller scale.[9] Societies have different expectations on how individuals and groups should behave and this is based on the values, beliefs, and various forms of interactions existing between individuals in the society that give cues to how men and women should behave.[10]

Various sociological perspectives attempt to explain gender differences based on the roles played by men and women in their own families. This in turn has an impact on the social roles men and women perform in the society at large. One such perspective is the functionalist or the structural-functionalist perspective that is based on the premise that the society is made up of various parts that contribute to the overall social stability and equilibrium. The gender roles, marriage, and family are central to functionalists' assertion of social equilibrium. According to them, in preindustrial societies, men and women had different tasks where men, due to various activities such as hunting, gathering, and farming, were responsible for the food and protection of the family, while the women stayed at home and played the role of caretaker by gathering food, working on farms, and caring for the family. This undermined the work of women as they were dependent on men for their safety and food in turn viewed that role of males to be more valuable.[11] Talcott Parsons, a functionalist, believed that gender socialization and the roles held by men and women is what holds the family stable and that children were socialized to maintain the roles specific to their gender. Friedrich Engels, in conflict theory, explained the how that Marxist idea of the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariat” can be applied to gender roles. Engels explains that at home, the dominance of men is not questioned and that, when compared to that of men, the work of the women is not given importance. Engels also said that women's liberation is possible when women participate in work beyond the domestic chores.

Feminist sociological theory bridges the micro-macro level gaps and its impact on gender in relationships. The perspective is compatible with the conflict theory and symbolic interactionism. It asserts that the social inequality is maintained when the ideologies are accepted by the privileged and oppressed. Feminists focus on women to improve women's empowerment and help them gain resources and take control of their own lives. With symbolic interaction, feminist theory looks at the imbalance in the power between men and women and attempts to help empower women in their work settings. Dorothy Smith, in the standpoint theory, emphasizes the notion that one's knowledge is affected by one's position in the society. The bifurcation of consciousness is a branching out from her standpoint theory that looks at how the women view the world from men's perspective because it is practiced in every institution in the world. In this perspective, Smith points out that the men are a dominant group and women are a subordinate group. Smith, in her poststructuralist work, maintains that social domination occurs through texts and this helps maintain social control which is described as “relations of ruling.” This is done through medical records, psychiatric evaluations, census, as well as scientific and cultural discourses that women are excluded from.[12]

Ridgeway and Correll (2004) in their work “Unpacking Gender System” describe gender as institutionalized system of social practices and view inequality in multilevel perspective with cultural beliefs and resource distribution at macro level, behavior patterns at interactional level, and selves and identities at the individual level. Leaper and Friedman use the social-structural process and the social-interactive process to describe children's gender development with relation to the societal context. The social structural process views how power and status at home and outside impose gendered roles and emphasize gender equality and the constraints placed on these roles. The social-interactive process views the gender roles in the society during children's development requires linking it with the larger cultural context that places emphasis on the social interactions and daily activities.

  Psychosocial Paradigms on Health, Education, and Work Top

Males and females were generally viewed as having distinct roles with females being restricted to household chores and men working in the public sphere. Men and women face different expectations about how they should dress, behave, or work. Relations between men and women, whether in the family, the workplace, or the public sphere, also reflect the behavior appropriate to women and to men (UNPFA undated). The role and movement of women are limited to household activities, and they are not allowed to work outside this framework.


The World Health Organization defines gender equality in health as women and men, across the life course and in all their diversity, have the same conditions and opportunities to realize their full rights and potential to be healthy, contribute to health development, and benefit from the results. Achieving gender equality in health often requires specific measures to mitigate barriers. The women in India belong to various socioeconomic backgrounds and are neglected when it comes to basic health care. Research on women's status has found that the contributions of Indian women make to families often are overlooked and instead they are viewed as economic burden.[13] In rural areas, girls are married before the age of 18, and most of the married girls bear children before they are 19. Almost one-third of babies are born with low birth weight because of poverty, early marriage, malnutrition, and lack of health care during pregnancy.[14]

In India, most of the women still do not receiving health facilities. Poor condition of women can be seen in availing nutritious food, prevalence of anemia, and nutritional status of women. There are various reasons for the gender inequalities in the health-care sector. They are early and excessive childbearing due to the overemphasis on the childbearing role and early marriage of women; sex preference manifested in discrimination against female children in both health and general care and a lack of autonomy of women to take decisions and access to finances or proper financial support.[15]

Health discrimination against women in India is evident in the skewed sex ratio of 933 women to 1000 men. Maternal mortality in India is the second highest in the world and close to 125,000 women die due to pregnancy and pregnancy-related illnesses every year. Although India has witnessed dramatic growth over the last two decades, maternal mortality still remains high as in comparison to many developing nations. The rate of suicide has been found to be higher in women as compared to men in India.

Women are also targets of provider-centric population control and disease control policies such as injectable contraceptives, oral contraceptive pills, hormonal drugs, fertility regulators, and intrauterine devices.[16] Very little is known about the postreproductive effects of drugs (such as menopause, menstrual regulators, and hormone replacement therapy) on the metabolism of women.[17]


Although most women in India work and contribute to the economy, most of their work is neither documented nor accounted for in an official manner. Women majorly shoulder the domestic responsibility primarily, irrespective of work commitments (Green, Moore, Easton, and Heggie, 2004). Many activities as work that women actually do to enable their families to survive collecting fuel, fodder or water, keeping poultry, working on family land, etc., are not recognized. Women also work in home-based industries, bidi and agarbatti rolling, bangle-making, weaving, etc.[18] They do not get social security benefits and are paid very low wages for this informal work.

At work, this disparity is visible through a different working environment for women, unequal wages, undignified treatment, sexual harassment, higher working hours, engagement in harmful industries, occupational hazards, and working roughly twice as many hours as men, and a nearly 27% of women are accounted by unpaid activities.[6] One-third of agricultural workers are women. Women's right to land and other assets is weak.[14]


In the education sector, there is a substantial gap in primary and secondary schooling, and gaps in secondary enrollment still persist, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and Central Asia.[19] This is compromised by high rates of dropouts and poor attendance and hence constitutes a large portion of out of school children. Around 245 million Indian women cannot read or write and they form the world's largest number of unlettered women.[14] There are wide disparities within states. Enrollment and retention of girls in education is poor and the average years of schooling for girls is only 1.2 years as against 3.5 years for boys. Girls miss school because they have to look after siblings.[20]

In the rural parts of India, female education is due to the lack of proper school facilities such as sanitary facilities and shortage of teachers. Female literacy too is less in India as fewer girls are enrolled in education and many dropouts. Although this gap has been reduced significantly, problems still remain in the quality of education for girls where boys in the same family will be sent to higher quality private schools and girls sent to the government school in the village.

  Conclusion Top

The present paper aims at viewing the barriers to gender equality from various perspectives. The paper introduces the psychological, sociological, and a psychosocial perspective of gender equality. It looks at gender inequalities and its impact on women's health, their educational attainment and economic conditions. Girls and women who are poor, disabled, or belong to minority groups continue to lag behind in various spheres of life. Many females are still dying in reproductive ages. Women are not paid equally. In areas of education, girls are not allowed to attend schools. There is a lack of access to health-care facilities, and in many cases, restriction is placed on their movement. Gender equality will be achieved only when women and men enjoy the same opportunities, rights, and obligations in all spheres of life.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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