Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gender Equality

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces the creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.

In the early years of her age a female child, like male children exists only for herself and is hardly aware of the fact that as an adult she would be sexually differentiated. It is not until when she grows up and is faced with occasional denial of some rights, she realizes that she is the disadvantaged sex, ‘the woman’ that men think is inferior to them both, intellectually and socially.

This attitude of men is liable to have two kinds of impacts, the extent of which highly depends on the economic and social development of the society a woman lives in. women living in the under-developed nations of Africa and Asia, generally accept the inferior status as the only option. On the contrary, women of the more developed countries like America, often fight for their rights and donot settle for low standards. It is the unwavering motivation of these women, that has successfully produced some prominent American activists like, Elizabeth BlackWell, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, who campaigned to expand opportunities for women like, the granting of equal rights and also to improve their lives in general.

The demand for women’s rights includes not only the assurance of equal rights (e.g , property, legal, political, marital, educational and employment), with men, but also the removal of all forms of discrimination against women on the basis of sex. The demand for them has been denied both by the custom and by the law and the struggle to gain them is one of the basic movements for human liberty.

In the modern world, the status of women varies widely from country to country and from one social class to another within countries. The traditional view of women, as intellectually and socially inferior to men, continues to prevail in certain areas. In rural part of some less developed nations, for example, women have little or no personal independence. They pass from the control of the father, to that of the husband, and function only as servant of the husband and bearer of his children.

In most countries women have the right to vote and certain other political and legal rights. Traditional attitudes, nonetheless, restrict women’s activities to some extent, especially in business, industry, the professions, and higher education. Even in societies where women have been given broader responsibilities and power, men have normally dominated political life. The emergence of classes, states, and major religions has universally strengthened male dominance, and the rise of capitalism has furthered this tendency.

Preliterate cultures: In both hunting and foraging and early settled agricultural societies, women contribute directly and indispensably to subsistence, frequently controlling and collecting the essentials for survival. No known societies have entrusted any technological activities specifically to women. Although such female activities as cooking and food preparation approximate technology, men monopolize hunting, butchering, and the processing of hard materials. KINSHIP provides the basic social organization in preliterate societies; work is allocated according to gender and generation and there is great sexual segregation. Women are responsible for child-bearing and homemaking and men belong in public world of employment and politics.

Western cultures: the classical Greek civilization in keeping with its cultural hostility towards women, severely curtailed their political participation. Athens firmly relegated women, with slaves and children, to the household which male citizens dominated and represented in the polity.

Traditional Judaic societies also restricted women’s social role and encouraged sexual segregation. Judaism also reflected a historic revolt against a pre-historic female-centered cosmology. Jewish monotheism is clearly found upon the worship of a male creator and lawgiver.

The roman state granted even fewer rights to women than the Greeks did, but permitted them greater personal freedom. Although a husband possessed the right of life and death over his wife, roman culture never expressed deep hostility toward female sexuality.

Though the majority of the early converts to Christianity were mainly women, the architects of Christian orthodoxy, notably Saint Paul, mistrusted sexuality in general and women in particular. Increasingly, Christianity stressed both Eve’s responsibility for the fall of the human race from divine grace and Mary’s virginity. Women were denied official religious roles until, eventually, a place was made for them in the religious orders.

Eastern cultures: the dominant cultures of the Islamic countries, India, china, and Japan rested on sharp social distinctions and on the labor of peasants and tribal masses. Official ideologies and ruling elites saw the seclusion of women as essential to social and political order.

Islam confirmed and strengthened female subordination among the people it conquered and, by including women’s status in holy law, or Sharia, made subsequent change difficult. Allowing polygamy, it restricted the number of wives to four and insisted on equal treatment. Declaring a woman worth half a man with respect to inheritance and testimony, it encouraged female INFANTICIDE. Islam veiled women and isolated them from all men, other than their own relatives. Yet Islamic women were entitled to full support for themselves and their children form their husbands.

In India, the caste ENDOGAMY stressed marriage as the central purpose of women’s life. Marriage policies and a deep mistrust of female sexuality, especially among the Brahmans, resulted in pre-puberty marriage and SUTTEE, i.e. the wife burning herself to death on the husband’s funeral pyre, which was an attempt to ban remarriage of widows. Hinduism emphasized the nature of women as benevolent wives.

Confucianism, originating in the 6th century B.C. emphasized that the duty of the wife was subject to her husband and to his parents. Although there was no polygamy, the husband could take concubines.

In eastern countries women lost most of their property rights and all political roles. Men practiced polygamy, kept concubines, and could repudiate their wives at will.

In the early years of civilization women, along with unequal rights in all spheres of life, were also subject to persecution and torture. In Egypt, beautiful women were slaughtered in the name of their god so as to please him.
Before the advent of Islam, that is to say about 1400 years ago, when there was no concept of education, knowledge and moral values, people used to bury new-born babies if they were females.

Even to this day in some rural counterparts of underdeveloped countries, women are married to dogs, to the HolyQuran and to men as old as 5 times their age. The concept of ‘Hang’ is highly prevalent in rural areas of developing countries like Pakistan, where if a man from tribe A murders a man in tribe B then to compensate, tribe A offers that, tribe B may choose a girl form tribe A to be married to a man or relative of the murdered from tribe B. Girls as old as 11 have known to have been offered to marry 70 year old men.

Early struggles for equal rights in the united states: in the united states, widespread religious revivalism at the beginning of the 19th century inspired the early women’s rights movement. Large numbers of middle class women joined societies whose efforts centered on religious conversion and on moral and social reform. The basic motivation was derived from the Anti-slavery convention in 1840 when women were barred from participating in the conference and were made to sit behind the curtains. This experience of discrimination inspired them to organize the first women’s convention. For the convention Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott and many others wrote a declaration that stated that men and women were created equal and that, like men, women were born with certain natural rights. The document criticized men for denying women the right to vote, the right to hold property, equal terms in a divorce and custody of children. It also criticized men for blocking women’s access to higher education, the professions and ‘nearly all the profitable employments.’

Property rights: in 1848 New York state passed law allowing women to acquire and retain assets independently of their husbands. This was the first law that established the idea of a woman having a legal status, independent of her husband, after marriage.

Right to vote: women gained the right to vote in the 1920’s. The 14th amendment provided that all citizens were guaranteed equal protection under law and that no citizen could be denied process of law.

Equal pay act: the equal pay act made it illegal to pay different wages to men and women who performed the same work. However, the new law had little effect on narrowing the gap between the sexes. Most female workers remained in jobs traditionally held by women, offering low wages and little prospect for advancement. In 1963 female workers earned 58.9% of average men’s earnings and by 1995 the earnings increased to 71.4%of the amount that men earned.

Reproductive rights: abortions have been widely performed by doctors, midwives, and pregnant women throughout history. However, by the late 1800s the majority of U.S states made it a crime to perform and obtain an abortion, except when the life of the mother is in danger. These days, abortion is legal under specific circumstances. Some countries with severe population have the most liberal abortion policies. China for example places no restriction on abortion. However, in Canada, where there is no over-population problem, abortion is illegal unless the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Protective labor legislation: when increasing number of women began to enter the labor force, some social reformers grew concerned about the impact of long working hours on women’s health. They made efforts to limit women’s working hours and argued that women’s role as mothers required that they be given special protection in workplace, flexible timings and also once or twice a maternal leave. But the opponents of this legislation argue that special rules for women would inhibit women’s struggle for equality with men, even if the legislation was limited only to labor laws.

Women’s rights today: since World War II the position of women around the globe has begun to change at an accelerating rate. Women have gained most in politically progressive and economically developed nations. In highly developed countries, women account for about 30-40% of the total labor force, and 5-10% in less developed countries. However, female earnings have not improved to a very substantial extent. Throughout the world women continue to earn less than men for comparable work. Women’s near exclusion to earn high incomes is closely related to their formal political and legal rights, and also to the persistence of traditional religious, cultural and family values.

Although, women have acquired the right to vote, they donot exercise power in proportion to their numbers. A few exceptional women have attained the highest political offices: Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher.

Women have also failed to gain access to higher education. Women’s illiteracy has declined dramatically in the past few decades, but only during the 1970s and ‘80s have American women finally constituted 20% of those in professional training—medicine, law, business. In third world countries, preference is normally given to men for advanced economic and governmental sectors. Also in many countries, defenders of traditional and cultural values regard liberation of women as another manifestation of western domination.

Overall, while the needs of women in different countries vary, and the rate of progress is inconsistent, increasing numbers of women around the world are in a fair way to dethrone the myth of femininity; are beginning to affirm their independence in concrete ways and recognizing their need to be full and equal members of the society.

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