Written by Elisa Moraes Liu
As we enter 2018, society has come a long way in terms of gender equality, but there is still a long way to go. Gender inequality still pervades, and women face significant barriers throughout their lives. There has certainly been meaningful improvement over the years, but men and women still face largely unequal opportunities in society. This is why single-gendered organizations still matter. Women’s organizations, particularly women’s colleges, play an important role in breaking down barriers.
Women’s colleges were originally created to offer women access to education. For most of our his- tory, women have been excluded from academic institutions of higher education. Women were not allowed to study in most Ivy League colleges, for example, until the late 1960s and early ’70s. While the vast majority of colleges are now coed, single- gender women’s groups still have an important role to play.
Today, women are underrepresented in many areas, including the media, boardrooms and elected positions. The wage gap, for example, remains prevalent even in fields that are predominantly female. Certain single-gender organizations can help empower women, especially when the organizations strive for achieving societal equality.
Single-gendered organizations play a big role in helping to break down gender stereotypes. Ac- cording to a study by U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, women are far fewer in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, occupying fewer than 25 percent of jobs in STEM. In women’s colleges, gender stereotypes regarding occupations are much less common. There are far fewer preconceptions about which fields are appropriate for women, and gender biases don’t stand in the way of opportunities. In contrast, in many coed colleges, advanced STEM courses tend to be disproportionately male. Due to this composition, female students receive the message that these classes are not for them. According to College Wise, women in single-gender colleges are 1.5 times more likely to major in math, science or pre-med than those who attend coed colleges.
Women’s colleges also have a role indirectly empowering women. They provide their students with women-dominated environment, offering direct access to role models. This access to role models and less-restricted education has impacted female students far beyond the college walls. Women are empowered to become the leaders of tomorrow, and are given a lift on their way to breaking glass ceilings. Many “firsts” have come from women who attend these institutions. The first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, to serve as a U.S. Army General and to be in a presidential cabinet have all been alumnae of women’s colleges. Currently, 20 percent of women in Congress attended women’s colleges, an astonishing fact considering only two percent of women who attend college attend these institutions. Women’s colleges provide an environment with fewer barriers that helps women thrive in their future careers.
Although single-gender organizations for women have a clear role in society, organizations exclusively for men are surrounded by much more controversy. Men have historically held more dominant positions within society and experience a lot more privileges than women. As such, men do not really need the empowerment and role models that single-gendered organizations provide women.
We are living in a constantly changing society, one that has left the majority of single-gendered organizations in the past. But, unfortunately, it has not left gender inequality in the past. Our society still provides extra challenges for women, and gender discrimination is present throughout our lives. While we aspire toward gender equality, we should not be hasty about eliminating all gender-based organizations. Yes, many are outdated. But organizations such as women’s colleges still have an important role left to play.