The most succinct explanation of why and how gender is a social barrier to well-being was given by the former President of the International Center for Research on Women, Geeta Rao Gupta, at the Thirteenth International AIDS Conference in South Africa in 2000. Gupta was a plenary speaker at this conference and explained:

Gender refers to the widely shared expectations and norms within a society about appropriate male and female behavior, characteristics, and roles. It is a social and cultural construct that differentiates women from men and defines the ways in which women and men interact with each other. Gender is a culture-specific construct—there are significant differences in what women and men can or cannot do in one culture as compared to another. But what is fairly consistent across cultures is that there is always a distinct difference between women’s and men’s roles, access to productive resources, and decisionmaking authority.
Gender inequality exists where women and men:

  • Are not treated equally in laws and policies.
  • Do not share equally in power and influence
  • Do not have equal access to services, financial resources, information, and technologies
  • Do not have equal opportunities, rights, and obligations in the public and private spheres – including those that are related to work and to other ways of generating income.

Gender equality does not mean that women and men are the same. Rather, it means that no one’s rights, responsibilities, and opportunities depend on his or her sex. This frame provides an important context for understanding the curriculum we have designed to accompany the audience engagement efforts for our film OBLIVION. For too many women in this world, the conditions under which they enter marriage are violent. Our film tells the story of one 14 year old Ethiopian girl named Aberash Bekele who challenged this reality and in the process changed the history of women’s right in Ethiopia.