“Women make up one half of society. Our society will remain backward and in chains unless its women are educated, enlightened and emancipated.”– Saddam Hussein, The Revolution and Women in Iraq
The beginning of human civilisation witnessed multiple wars and conflicts for land and power. The pre-requisite of physical strength in such times forced the biological differences between man and woman to surface. The consequence was that women were confined in the four walls of home to do household chores and child rearing activities. The belief was that men are superior to women resulting in the ideology of Patriarchy.
It is not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the primary model for all others as well. Sexual division of labour gave rise to our gendered society. We can read about the disgraceful and humiliating status assigned to women throughout history. However, today we see that women have more freedom and choice than ever.
Saudi Arabia has legalised women drivers and gave them the right to vote as well. They also gave them the liberty to travel alone without male guardians. South Korea took the pro-choice stance and legalised abortion, allowing women to take their personal decisions. African countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda have announced that 50% legislators in the national Parliaments should be women, thus increasing the share of women voices in country’s policy making. The global #MeToo movement on social media provided women a platform to share their grief and emancipated them psychologically.
In India, women have been emancipated from using cow dung and dry leaves to cook food through a government scheme ‘Ujjwala’. World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that using such traditional energy sources produces smoke of 4,000 cigarettes in an hour and such polluted air is degrading women’s health. They now, use LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas). The construction of toilets in villages and poor households in cities has liberated women. They no longer need to control nature’s call or relieve themselves out in the open against one’s dignity. The Triple Talaq Act has successfully emancipated Muslim women from the threat of arbitrary divorce.
Now, the question is what helped change the previously attached stereotypes and cultural values to women? The meta-narrative of feminism emerged to end the patriarchy- generated power imbalances and all forms of discrimination against women in our society. The first wave of feminism, initiated by Mary Wollstonecraft, presented the ‘Bill of Rights of Women’ following the French Revolution to emancipate women’s political voices. The modern political system of nation states, based on equality, liberty, fraternity and democracy pillared on an individual’s dignity, helped further women’s rights.
Politically also, women today have a clear voice and vision to create a gender-justice world. Technology and quality education have become tools of social revolution and have emancipated women. They have set in a modern mindset. The UN Declaration of Human Rights quoting universal education enabled women to study and pursue higher-paying jobs. Thus, they are no longer restricted to the traditional role of the caretaker.
The evolution of human consciousness has freed women in the course of time. The second wave of radical feminism is continuing till date mainly in the developing countries. It has achieved significant freedom for women in developed countries. Supporters are raising public awareness about such issues like violence against women, opposing the sexual objectification of women, and challenging the concept of gender roles.
However, the extent and pace of liberation have been highly varied. To begin with, what continues emancipation of women can be contested. It will differ across continents and geographical locations based on ones perception. We cannot turn a blind eye to the existing status of women.
The ‘cradle to grave’ phenomenon of women discrimination and oppression has continued. Breast ironing is practised in African countries to protect girls from being potential rape targets. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is performed at birth to control the sexual urges of women. In some Indian villages, women are accused of being witch hunters and are beaten or paraded naked. The politics of dress code is transcending borders i.e. no burkini in France and no jeans in Indian villages. The constant power struggle over women’s bodies and their choices is witnessed globally.
Even, the global giants like McDonald’s and Amazon have low women workforce participation rates. In India, female participation in economic activities has declined from 42% in 2010 to 23% in 2018. The gender pay gap along with pink collarization of jobs like secretaries and receptionists etc. has caged women globally. The working women have to handle the both, work and home. GDP has no contribution from stay-at-home women that translates into no respect and no individual identity.
There is a whole slew of other challenges which account for ‘invisible structural violence’. The lack of quality education forces women to stay out of the decision-making process in household affairs. She has no idea about the importance of family planning. As she is responsible for cooking meals, she is the last one to eat. Thus, in poor households, she is often left undernourished. Negligence in diet during pregnancy leads to the birth of malnourished kids.
There are new avenues hindering women’s emancipation. Climate change is severely impacting women in villages as women are responsible for fetching water. The extreme drought conditions force them to travel longer distances in search of water. So, men are preferring to have more than one wife i.e. polygamy. Terrorism and civil wars have the worst impact on women for they are sexually assaulted and raped. The aim is to target a women’s body as we see it as a temple that must remain pure. Natural disasters also affect women more because they become more vulnerable and easy target for human traffickers.
The violence against women can be called as ‘Banality of Evil’. We have internalized patriarchy so in deep, that we now fail to see it affecting the women. Evil now is part of you, me and all of us. The dimensions of women violence and her subservient position cannot be comprehended in totality. These have been trivialization in our minds. To end patriarchy, we must first move towards acceptance of it. We must admit that there is a flaw in the way the world is working around us. Only after acknowledging it can we truly begin to work on the solutions.
The most ancient and difficult hindrance in women’s emancipation is the opinion of male entitlement over her body and labour. This prejudice gave birth to the global culture of gender hierarchy. We must end it by teaching the boys to help girls in their chores and telling our girls that being career-oriented is not being selfish. It will also dilute the undue pressure on men to be the providers. We must re-define our society to break stereotypes.
Another reason for women imprisonment has been the minimum interaction between the two genders. The developed nations have encouraged it and thus, we see mutual respect and trust in the society. This needs to penetrate to the villages and remote areas for true women emancipation. Such interactions will end the notions of the other genders and they will be able to experience a fuller life without fear.
The social conditioning of the world needs to change. Its not a biological inequality, its a cultural one. We must remember that “Existence is prior to essence.” Our individuality is more important than society-imposed roles. To understand a strong and independent women, one has to be strong and independent person. We need to be modern and open-minded, not western. Its time we give the women their share of freedom and justice to be truly and totally emancipated as a society and strive on the paths of prosperity.