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“We need gender studies to battle inequality”

LAU’s Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World and the Department of Social Sciences have put together a new minor in gender studies.

Historically, gender has been a psychological and cultural category of paramount importance. Understanding the socially constructed meaning of being female or male through time and across civilizations helps us interpret the changing dynamics and evolution of contemporary and past societies.

The new Minor in Gender Studies will allow students from various disciplines to present themselves on the job market with the tools and skills necessary to examine and address inequalities. While individual courses in related disciplines have long been available at LAU, having them grouped in a minor degree reinforces the importance of this field of study.

According to Lina Abirafeh, director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW), we need gender studies to combat imparity and all forms of discrimination. “Students should be asking themselves whether they are happy with the world as it is and – if not – what they are going to do to change that,” she says. “They should feel empowered to be advocates of social change.”

The minor aims to provide interdisciplinary competencies by combining both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Its core requirements, which lay the theoretical foundations, enable students to explore human rights, political science, literature, social media and others from a gender perspective.

Paula Naufal, a political science and international affairs major at LAU, has opted for the minor to round off her education. “The realm of gender studies encompasses many political issues, from unequal pay to forced early marriages and genital mutilation. I believe a minor in gender studies will complement my major in that it will give me a better understanding of the context of these issues and help me present these topics in a comprehensive and informed way.”

Alexandra el-Hajj, one of the students attending the course ‘Women in the Arab World,’ taught by IWSAW’s Assistant Director Myriam Sfeir, shares Naufal’s desire to curb the imbalance that characterizes female employment. “While women constitute half of the world’s population, their representation in politics is still shamefully low,” says el-Hajj.

Similarly, Cinderella Ghrawi wants to gain a more informed perspective in order to have an impact on the society she lives in. “You often find yourself discussing the issue of gender,” says Ghrawi. “I want to become knowledgeable on the subject in order to give fact-based answers that are hardly disputable.”

Gender studies is not just about women. Traditional roles dictating gender-based behavior can be as challenging for men as they are for women, and on many levels. “Discrimination based on gender is so widespread that we do not notice anymore how it plays a role in our daily lives,” says Hadi Audi, another student in Sfeir’s class.

“Understanding gender is a lens through which to view the world,” concludes Abirafeh. “It is about life-skills, civic responsibility and a commitment to making the region better. Students can be ambassadors for equality and human rights - and can demonstrate that Arab youth can be leaders of change. I hope they will take up that challenge.”

 

This article is part of a series published on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

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