In first-world countries, gender equality has become a hot-button topic for many people. We often view societies that have a different kind of relationship between genders as oppressive and medieval. But, if our perceptions of different situations are subjective, what constitutes as truly oppressive?
In his essay, “The power of Women in Haiti,” social anthropologist Timothy Schwartz prompts us to view gender issues in Haiti from a different perspective. He cites several ways in which first-world societies, such as our own, view countries like Haiti as the epitome of oppressive and, at times, even violently so. He then counters these arguments with some of his own, which conclude that Haitian women have more power than usually acknowledged by those who claim to understand Haitian society. Substantiated by his extended presence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Schwartz discusses both statistical data and personal experiences to back up his thoughts on the matter.
In an issue as diverse as gender inequality, it is of critical importance to view the situation from every angle possible. When you eliminate cultural bias to the best of your ability, then you can begin to assess what is truly unequal about the society you’re studying. It is very easy to view things from holier-than-thou perspective and assume that Haitian women are being oppressed in a cruel way, or, through cultural relativity, we could attempt to view the issue from the perspective of how it fits in with Haitian society. With the points given by Schwartz, it is apparent that, while gender inequality certainly exists, some of it can be reasonably understood by understanding the culture.