As the world celebrates another 8th March – International Women’s Day, a rightful commemoration of the great deal that has been achieved in gaining women’s rights since the mid-nineteenth century, a careful analysis of the situation leads us to state that there is so much more to do, so much further to go.
Women’s Rights had already been guaranteed in many states – and lost – long before the Suffragette Movement finally managed to dispel the absurd male-invented notion that females were not stable enough to hold an opinion – even more ridiculous if we remember that history is studded with the annals of Great Women since pre-classical times, in all Continents, and also those of Great Men, behind whom there usually stood a Great Woman.
As times change, almost imperceptibly on occasion, principles can change and victories can be lost. Matriarchal tribes worshiping the Moon (female) and respecting white as the symbol, and the owl as the harbinger, of death, were supplanted by patriarchal societies worshipping the Sun (male), where black represented the end of life. The fertility sign, holding the indicator and little finger high, used to be a symbol of fertility in pre-classical times (representing the two quarters of the Moon, when the female was deemed to be more fertile), yet today this is an insult in Mediterranean countries (being the sign of a cuckold).
As women’s rights were perceived to be gained in western societies from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and as more and more women participate in civil and political organisms at the highest level, across the globe, we could be swathed in a cloak of self-congratulation and imagine that the task has been done.
However this could not be further from the truth.
How can we sit back on our laurels and congratulate ourselves when Female Genital Mutilation (article)continues to be a shocking reality for thousands of girls who do not have a say in what happens to their bodies? How can we be satisfied when women can be killed or set fire to if their husband’s family does not like them, or their dowry? How can we, collectively, claim to be “civilized” if women are not allowed to walk free without a veil in societies where their rights had been guaranteed?
Taking Iraq as a shining example, a country where only four years ago, women were totally emancipated and were free to use whatever dress code they wished, where religion was a matter of private choice and not a badge to wear, today a woman can be raped or decapitated in broad daylight if she is not wearing a veil. And Saddam Hussein cannot be blamed for that.
So women’s rights can be gained and lost. Yet are women truly free anywhere today?
While maternity leave is law in many countries, how many women avoid becoming pregnant because they fear they will lose their jobs? How many hide the fact that they are pregnant or might be planning to have a baby when they go for the interview? (Are you planning to have any children in the near future?) Do Governments provide incentives for women to have babies? Is there any benefit for a company which employs pregnant women or young mothers? Or are these treated like some form of disease when they appear? (Oh no! Don’t tell me you’re going to have a BABY!!) Do Governments reward couples in fiscal terms for being married? Or are they penalized?
Are women given any preferential treatment, such as reduction of timetable from work when they have young children to collect from school, wash, feed, get the dinner ready and prepare everything for the next day, after having had a full workload and before having another full working day, and probably earning less than a male counterpart?
So have women’s rights really been conquered or are we simply at a cosmetic stage, wallowing in glory just because they have been given the chance to vote?
As the world moves forward in the 21st Century and as globalization becomes a reality, it is time also for a globalization of principles and a harmonization of standards which describe and support basic precepts for civilized society / fundamental principles of Humanity.
While it is true that no culture has the right to dominate another and however abhorrent it is when certain western nations attach political strings to trading agreements, surely in this day and age we can all agree that one basic and fundamental human right is the non-violation of a person’s integrity by another unless there is a willing and consenting agreement between two adult persons?
The many examples of violation of women’s basic rights above would fall into this category which the lawmakers could easily adopt and adapt. Yes, we have made great progress but while women have to work longer and harder for less, while their full rights to receive recognition for extra-professional activities are not guaranteed, while their physical integrity can be violated by law, custom or lore without their consent, then there is so much more to do, so much further to go.