The evolving status of women in the world
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
For far too long, women have been denied their rights as human beings, treated as chattel like sheep or goats, or as virtual slaves, relegated to drudgery to serve their masters. Either purchased by their future husbands, or demeaned by a dowry (bribe) to attract a husband, they had no say in the choice of their husband.
Literally owned by their husbands, women could neither own property, nor have redress for being beaten by their husbands, which in a male-dominated society was accepted as a husband’s right.
A wife’s primary function and obligation was to produce a male heir. Failure to do so could be grounds for rejection, and daughters were unwelcome because of the financial obligation of their dowries.
Although the status of women in Western societies started to improve in the latter part of the 19th century, in most of the world it has changed very little.
In many Muslim countries, women are virtually prisoners in their own homes, unable to leave without a family male escort, and then only if covered with a shroud concealing all but their eyes, as though they are some sort of pariah; and girls are denied an education. In cases of rape, it is the blamed on the victim, who becomes “spoiled” goods, unable to marry and ostracized by her family, while the perpetrators go free.
Interestingly, in 622 Muhammad instituted reforms improving the legal status of women, including their consent in marriage, right to inheritance, and right of ownership of their dowry. These are rights they no longer have in most Muslim countries.
The treatment women are subjected to in so many parts of the world constitute crimes against humanity. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been the victims of rape as a weapon of war in Bosnia, Sudan, Libya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone, to name just the worst examples. In many cases they are forced to choose between bearing the child of a man they hate, or risking their lives from primitive abortions.
For lack of adequate enforcement action, abduction and trafficking of women and girls into the sex trade is rampant throughout the world. In India “bride burnings” as a result of dowry disputes still occur at the unconscionable rate of five per day. And in Africa and Asia 2 million girls continue to be subjected to the horror of genital mutilation every year.
Even though there has been great progress in the status of women in the U.S., it has come slowly and has had to be fought for.
In 1872, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Illinois statute denying women the right to practice law, proclaiming, “The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”
Women won the right to vote in 1919, but only after many decades of campaigning for it. It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1972 that discrimination against women in employment was outlawed.
Even today, women continue to suffer from the stigma of the many centuries of subservience and inferior status. Old prejudices die hard. In many cases this attitude toward women persists, and they are still fighting for equal pay for equal work, which is currently up from 60 percent to about 80 percent of what men are paid for the same job.
They are also still fighting the “glass ceiling” that finds them less likely to receive promotion than their male counterparts. But this attitude is gradually being overcome as women are outnumbering men in obtaining college degrees and surpassing them in job performance.
There is a common thread running through all of this. Throughout history it has been men who have made all the rules that have governed women’s lives, condemning them to a subservient status. That would be corrected if women had legislative representation in proportion to their numbers (which would actually give them a slight majority).
What is wrong with women controlling government, and even being their country’s head of government, such as Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto and a couple dozen others?
Historically, matriarchal societies have tended to be more egalitarian and less confrontational than those dominated by males. If women were in control, our Congress would likely become more functional and able to rescue the future of our country, and mediation might reduce the likelihood of brutal warfare both within and between countries.
“As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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