Women and Families

General Topic Information
Occasionally IELTS questions focus on women and their role in society. These questions often challenge students because Western views on the role of women are often different to those in more traditional cultures. The focus of all gender-based questions should be equality. It is culturally unacceptable to describe women as inferior, or weaker than men.
Questions that focus on the role of women in the home should focus on providing women with choices rather than suggesting that they should adopt a particular role. Many women will prefer to stay in the home while others will wish to re-join the workforce after having children. These are both valid choices and should be supported. Some questions focus on whether women choosing to be working mothers negatively affect families. An important idea is that both women and men are responsible for a successful family, rather than just the mother. In Western society it is gradually becoming more common for men to stay at home to manage the home while women work. This is not the norm and risks isolation for stay-at-home fathers because they may not be comfortable or welcome in female-dominated groups.
Some questions focus on whether women should be given preferential treatment in selection for university placement or promotion. The advantage of such an approach is that it can help in achieve more equal representation of men and women in decision-making roles. However, such an approach involves selecting people based on gender rather than on merit and means that less qualified candidates are selected in preference to better quality candidates. There is also the risk that women who are promoted in a preferential environment may be seen as not having earned the position and may lose the respect of others.
An interesting question is whether women should be allowed to be involved in the armed forces. In this question students often fail to consider that within the armed forces there are both non-combat and combat roles. Clearly women should be permitted to perform non-combat roles. A more difficult question is whether women should be permitted undertake combat duties. Currently most countries (Israel is an exception) do not allow this to occur. The common
argument for allowing women to fight in combat is based on equality. The reasons for not allowing women in combat is that men will often act to protect women, even when this is not the most appropriate choice. In addition, women are usually not as physically strong as men and that if captured they are much more likely to subject to sexual abuse.

Topic Vocabulary

Affirmative action – Affirmative action is a process whereby preferential treatment is given to a minority group (usually women or a racial group) in order to balance power or numbers within an organisation (university, jobs, etc.).
Stay-at-home mothers/fathers – Stay-at-home mothers or fathers are parents who choose to look after children rather than work for money.
Gender – Gender means whether a person is male or female.

Sample Essay – University Quotas
Universities should enrol equal numbers of male and female students in all subjects. Do you agree or disagree?
Universities should not accept equal numbers of male and female students because this is likely to lead to lower overall levels of education. Although it is clearly important that society provides equal opportunity to all members of society, men and women often choose different paths and society is best served by selecting university students based solely on merit. In this essay, the advantages of selecting students based on merit will be discussed.
Providing equal opportunity to all people is a critical part of creating a fair society. It is highly desirable that all people within a society have the opportunity to achieve their personal goals and knowing that achievements are based on equal competition is very important for both those who achieve those goals as well as those who do not. Universities having gender quotas create the risk that people of both sexes may be excluded from their chosen course of study based on gender.
Women and men are different and therefore it is not surprising that they choose different courses based on their personal preferences. For example, women more commonly choose courses such as nursing and teaching while men often prefer courses such as engineering and physics. Imposing quotas based on gender may mean that some courses may not attract enough qualified candidates or that a highly suitable candidate of one gender is excluded for a much less suitable candidate of the opposite sex in order to meet gender quotas.
The effect of choosing lower quality candidates of one gender will ultimately lead to the lowering of the overall standard of courses. This could result in lower professional standards in some fields and is not beneficial to society as a whole. It is desirable to have a society that has roughly balanced numbers of educated people of both genders, but individual courses should not adopt quotas.
In summary, if quotas are to be introduced they should only be introduced at an overall level not at a course level and then only if there is a significant gap between the numbers of students of each gender as quotas serve to decrease the overall quality of some courses and are a form of discrimination.

Essay Notes

This topic presents a difficult challenge as it contains significant cultural elements, notably the roles of women in society and acceptable ways of discussing gender differences. It is culturally unacceptable to refer to women as inferior or in any way weaker than men in any context and should be avoided. It is culturally acceptable to refer to differences between women but should be done by referring to these differences as preferences. The second body paragraph is a good example of how to handle gender differences.
In this question it is asked whether universities should accept equal numbers of male and female students. The correct word for placing restriction on male and female students is, “gender quotas”. Commonly students copy language from the question into their essays and in order test whether students know the correct vocabulary examiners will often avoid the correct word in the question and replace it with a definition.
The introduction contains three sentences. The first sentence tells the reader the topic and the reason why it is important. The second sentence contains the three main ideas, which are presented in the order that they appear in the essay and defines the high level structure of the essay. The third sentence is a thesis statement that outlines the aim of the essay. It should be noted that all key elements of the essay are presented in the introduction, which prepares the reader for the content in the body. The reader is unlikely to become confused about the direction of the essay if the topic and ideas are fully introduced.
In the first body paragraph the first key point in the introduction is restated to provide the subject for the paragraph. The following sentences are used to provide reasons and explanations. This pattern is repeated in all of the body paragraphs. In this essay there are few examples but when they are used they are to make the points being made clearer.

Essay Vocabulary
Quota – The question refers to equal numbers of male and female students.
Gender – Gender is a noun and refers to people’s sex. The word “sex” is often (but not always) associated with the act and it is safest to use as a verb only. Gender is never used as a verb and is always much safer to use unless referring to the act itself. Common collocations using the word “sex” include, “sexual acts”, “sexual orientation”, “sexual preference”, “opposite sex” and “both sexes”.
Discrimination – Discrimination means that something is deliberately treated differently to others of its kind. It is used mostly in a negative sense and is often used in the context of unfairness or mistreatment of people. It is used far more often in English because there is a higher emphasis placed on fairness (particularly with respect to race, gender and wealth) in Western culture compared to other cultures.