I am studying abroad this summer in Valencia, Spain to do an internship, cool right? We had a meeting with everyone in the program this past week to get all of our questions addressed. One person asked, “what is the dress code for these internships?”, which turned out to be a concern for all of us. A couple of students who had lived in other countries mentioned how the overall dress in European countries is more respectful and modern than what we wear in the United States. Which made me realize that there are many cultural differences I will be experiencing this summer. From the time people eat dinner to the way people communicate with each other, the differences from country to country are immensely apparent.
Culture shocks can be a very difficult experience for many students who study abroad, so much so that JMU offers courses in order to educate students on the country and their cultural norms prior to their arrival. Unfortunately, my program does not offer these courses. But, I have taken it upon myself to become educated on these cultural differences and why they occur. Being a female in college, I was especially curious about how society’s gender norms in Valencia may differ from the United States.
Before understanding why Spain may have different gender norms from the United States, I needed to comprehend why gender inequalities vary globally. I have come to the conclusion that there are two major forces that impend equality among genders, education, and economics.
Education can play a role in gender inequality in multiple ways. The first is job opportunities. Access to education allows women in society to feel empowered and have more flexibility to social mobility (Voigt and Spies, 2020). In addition to social mobility, women who are educated are more likely to be politically engaged. Higher rates of female political engagement not only directly inrease gender equality in countries but also helps women feel empowered by seeing strong female leaders.
In most cases, satisfactory education must be occupied in order to obtain a well-paying job. While some women may be able to receive that education, the wage gap continues to hinder the amount of pay women receive compared to men. In these cases, it is made clear how gender imbalances can become an endless cycle with one obstacle after the other.
It is hard to say that the economy is directly linked to gender inequality, but it is also a very important aspect of the matter. As I said previously, the wage gap is a constant cycle that there seems to be no solution to. But, some countries do work on improving the pay that women receive in the labor force. The administration in Spain has taken it upon themselves to try and close this gap after the stark realization that in 2017 women made 15.1% less gross hourly earnings compared to men (Valdivia 2019). This was done by raising the minimum wage by 22% (Valdivia 2019). Additionally, found in a study done by Michele and Ailie, with the country of study being South Africa, there is seen to be a U-shaped relationship between GDP per capita and female labor force participation. More simply put, as GDP per capita decreases, participation in the labor force by women also decreases.
With all of this being said, the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Report gives the best overall rankings of countries taking many different variables into account. Spain is placed 8th in the report, having been raised from a ranking of 29, giving benefits to their administration’s strong efforts to battle the wage gap. The United States is ranked 53rd, unfortunately coming from a place of 51st.
Going into a completely new professional world overseas is going to be challenging, but going in with this knowledge is going to be beneficial. Who knows, maybe I will be able to come back to the United States and educate those at JMU about what we can do on a smaller scale to combat the globally faced gender inequalities.
Ruiters, Michele, and Ailie Charteris. “Gender Equality in Labour Force Participation, Economic Growth and Development in South Africa.” Development Southern Africa, vol. 37, no. 6, Nov. 2020, pp. 997–1011. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1080/0376835X.2020.1772042.
Valdivia, Ana Garcia. “Spain Is Now In The World’s Top 10 For Gender Equality—This Is How Progress Happened.” Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/anagarciavaldivia/2019/12/20/spain-enters-the-worlds-top-10-for-gender-equality/. Accessed 12 Apr. 2022.
Voigt, Katja, and Michael Spies. “Female Education and Social Change: Changing Perceptions of Women’s Roles in Society in the High Mountains of Northern Pakistan.” Mountain Research and Development, vol. 40, no. 4, 2020, pp. R9–16. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27029089.