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OP-ED: How to tackle the gender divide

  • Published at 06:02 pm January 23rd, 2021
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Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

It is obvious that there used to be near entire and whole discrimination over who did what jobs

Gender discrimination in employment is one of those odd things where the less of it there is, the more people complain about it. 


This does not, though, mean we never need to do anything about it, for despite the coincidence it does not mean that a rising volume of complaints is evidence of there being nothing to solve.

It is obvious that there used to be near entire and whole discrimination over who did what jobs. 

This not being, despite certain claims, because of the patriarchy, or the evils of capitalism, but because everyone used to live in a muscle-powered economy. 

One of the things about human beings is that -- on average, of course, we have all met the occasional hefty woman and rather more wimpish men -- men tend to have more muscle power than women. 

This is the very thing that is causing sport so many problems as they try to handle claims about the rights of the transgender. 

It is just a fact that again on that average, someone who has been through male puberty has about 40 per cent to 50 per cent more muscle power than someone who went through the female version. That is what those floods of testosterone do.

When we are in an economy where all power is muscle power, whether animal or human, then those with that greater power are going to be the people powering it.

Of course, it is not true that the only sort of work is that outside the household, requiring that strength. 

Therefore, those without muscle power do the work not needing it. 

It is not so much that a peasant society forces women to stay home as it plucks the men out to go and do the heavy work outside it.

Things do, of course, get better. We use more machines, we have economic development -- the two are the same thing, using machines is development -- and eventually, we all have nice indoor work with no heavy lifting. 

At which point that gender divide in the workplace rather disappears. Sure, there will still be some who think it should continue. 

There might be marginal differences at certain types of work -- say, female hands being better at delicate stitching -- but those differences are going to be marginal. 

The variation among men and women will be greater than the differences between men and women. As the requirement for gender determination in work ends, so it will largely end. 

Mostly because we the people tend to do things we must and not to do things we don’t have to.

That’s economics though, and despite appearances, economics is not all of life. 

Some will think those divides should continue, should for whatever reason. 

One such is the recent story of the marriage registrar, or more accurately the woman who wished to be a marriage registrar. 

She was refused the job because at times -- during menstruation say -- she would not be able to enter the mosque and therefore would not be able to work.  

My own answer to this would be to appoint her along with the instruction that she should give warning, in advance, of her period. 

Those who would use that mosque, or those mosques, for their marriages, would then have to wait and much good it will do them to face their prejudices. 

But then I am not noted for the delicacy with which I approach religious questions.

There is, fortunately, a less objectionable manner of dealing with this. 

It is entirely true that marriage, in Islam, is a contract rather than also the sacrament that it is in Christianity. 

Yet, even in the Christian churches of Europe, a clear distinction is made between the religious parts of a marriage service and those state ones. 

A service takes place -- say in my own Catholic Church, a marriage mass -- with all the singing, incense, and flummery usually demanded by the bride’s mother. 

In the middle of all of this, for just a few minutes, the bride, groom, and priest go into a side room and that’s where the marriage contract, the government approved part and register of all of this, takes place. 

This has its equals in all other religions, the various flavours of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and so on. 

The state part of the marriage is already distinguished from the religious, with the minister, imam, rabbi, being deputed to handle that paperwork part.

It is possible to take this further as countries are beginning to do. Portugal, for example. 

This was a country so Christian that the Inquisition would burn at the stake those who were not Christian. 

Things have changed, thankfully, and no there is no such thing as religious marriage in the country. No such thing as religious marriage according to the government, that is. 

If you wish the contract, then fine, you go to the government office, to the registrar, and sign and complete it. 

How you then go on to celebrate again in your own religious format is entirely up to you.

Which is the way, perhaps, to deal with this problem of access to the mosque for the government-appointed female registrar of marriages. 

Take the government part out of the mosque and leave the religious part -- with whatever restrictions anyone wants upon the participation of women -- inside it. 

Or, as we can put it, if we wish to apply our secular, not the religious, standards concerning gender discrimination then make the process secular, not religious. 

This being how to deal with those who, more generally, think the old ways of discrimination should continue. Allow them to do so, allow them to continue in those ways. 

Just take everything of importance out of their hands and into that public realm where it is our more modern forms of non-discrimination that hold sway. 

We do not, that is, have to have the very loud arguments about insisting that people don’t gender discriminate. 

We can just, instead, make it irrelevant that they do or do not.


Tim Worstall is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London.

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