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GWS Colloquium in Review: Global Women’s Equality and Advancing Cultural Understanding of Gender Worldwide

slide presentation

Bahira Sherif Trask, a University of Delaware professor of human development and family sciences, presented her research to members of the global women’s studies (GWS) minor at the GWS Colloquium on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Dr. Trask’s research is focused on global women’s equality and advancing cultural understanding of gender worldwide. She stated that “there are enormous differences in the lives of girls and women, depending if they live in high-income countries, and low-income countries.”

While many feel that gender equality is still a problem in first world countries like the United States, those problems pale in comparison to the problems that women face worldwide, specifically in third–world countries.

“Depending where you are [in the world], it's really going to affect what your chances of being married off when you're very young and having babies when you're very young. The main problem with that, besides health-related issues, is that if a girl marries very young, at 14 [or] 15, it's going to stop her educational and occupational opportunities,” Trask said.

She continued, “This is something we take for granted in the United States, that you having a baby is a joyous blessing, but in many parts of the world, having a baby is still the most dangerous thing that a woman can do.”

The issues do not stop at early marriage and education; some needs are far more immediate. Some countries lack the resources to provide women, especially pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the nutrition they need.

“If a woman does not get the right nutrition when she is pregnant, it affects the babies that she carries, and this is an enormous problem worldwide, [but] something that we don't focus on very much at all,” Trask said.

“Just to give you a little bit of a feeling, 18 million babies every year are born with brain damage due to iodine deficiency,” said Trask. “Also, many women are anemic, and because of the anemia, they die in childbirth. These [issues] are sort of hidden, we sometimes talk about poverty and we talk about not having enough food, but we don't talk about the actual sex-related consequences of that.”

Many of the issues that women face are embedded in their cultures.

“In a lot of places, physically, a girl's world becomes smaller once she enters puberty, and for a boy, that physical space increases,” said Trask. “Once the young woman hits puberty, it's very difficult for her to go to school for modesty reasons. The secondary school may be far away, [and] she would have to travel to that school. The family doesn't want her moving around alone, and a lot of times, even if the mother is working outside of the home [a girl] needs to take care of the siblings and take care of the domestic chores.”

Trask said that growing up “shrinks [some girls’] opportunities because she's not going to school. She's not learning new skills. She is in danger of getting married off very young, and then that sort of cuts off her future basically.”

Trask hopes that her research and work in global gender equality will help other cultures worldwide to protect and value their women and help them become educated citizens. In order to do that, Trask believes that “stopping child marriage is a very important initiative.”

Trask believes that providing all women with education will solve problems globally and make the world better.

“Every individual has certain capabilities. Let's say about half of human populations are female or male, but if you don't empower [the female] half of it, you're going to miss out on all those talents.”