The way in which societies set up statuses of men and women, how sexual roles are defined and how people identify themselves in terms of gender are issues facing every culture.
"Many issues people think of as local are really international. I try to get students to see the unity that exists in the diversity of world societies," said Richley Crapo, anthropology professor at Utah State University.Crapo divides gender issues into such broad topic areas as institutionalized power, patriarchy, incest and sexual abuse, female infanticide, personal sexual identity, rape and other forms of sexual terrorism, prostitution, sexual slavery, pornography and reproductive rights.
He covers these topics in an annual course called "Human Sexuality and Gender." It arose from a 1989 conference on teaching about women from an international perspective, offered by the Southwest Institute for Research on Women.
Although individual societies differ widely in the sorts of specific gender issues they face, there are underlying similarities, Crapo said.
For example, what constitutes rape is a big concern in the United States. Crapo cited a current Utah case in which a court is reluctant to prosecute a man who raped his former wife because, although she had been granted a divorce in court, the papers had not actually been signed.
"It is not a crime for a man to rape his wife in Utah," Crapo said.
A gender issue that appears very different is "veiling," the Islamic practice of women wearing many layers of clothing that nearly obscure their entire bodies, which many Americans see as repressive and archaic.
"Insiders have a very different perspective. In Egypt, veiling is seen by many women as high status. Educated young women are returning to Islamic dress by choice," Crapo said.