Gender inequality- Part two
Source : Google photo that says it allSynopsis : This topic deals with the serious issue of gender equality that I wrote about in Part one but many readers want to know more so I wrote the Part two where I write about the historical, tribal, religious and cultural reasons why the inequality exists.
Judging from the response of my readers, I am compelled to expand on this topic because I realized that this topic is close to your heart as it is mine. I hope many of you are females because this topic is directly related to you no matter where you live in the world. I only hope that you will read it and share it with your friends and loved ones so that they too will learn to respect women for their abilities and their contribution to the humanity that still tends to get underestimated due to many reasons.
I will now expand on the reasons why women are undervalued in many societies and see why the popular culture and traditions play a great role in determining which gender is the preferred one. I have written many blogs on various aspects related to this topic so please read them as well. ( The other half, Patriarchal dichotomy, Sexual depredation of women, Women today etc. are some of them that have to do with women.)
So let me start with the historical perspective on women’s role in any society. If we look back a few thousands of years during which the humans were undergoing some changes through the evolutionary process , we see that the humans started to settle down in agrarian societies in some places where they learned to cultivate the land to assure a steady supply of food for them and their livestock they had started to keep.
It saved them from the uncertainty of finding food when they were nomadic and had to move constantly from place to place following the season and the availability of wild games they depended upon. At that time women and men shared the responsibility of gathering food equally so they hunted together keeping the children and the old in some sheltered places . They collected wild fruits, grains and roots together when game hunting was limited. Women as well as men made clothes out of animal skins and learned to make simple potteries and useful items they needed. Both sexes made stone weapons for hunting and cutting meat. There was a true equality between them but it started to change when they became sedentary and became farmers.
The cultivation of land meant clearing of vegetation using primitive tools so it was a very hard work . Tilling the land manually was also a very hard job that required muscle power so women took less tiring jobs like seeding and harvest and stayed home to tend to the livestock, milking them and caring for them. This is how the agrarian society developed and each sex divided the work among them the way that suited them the best.
The native Americans followed this division of labor in a very systematic manner where women were responsible for erecting the tepees and dismantling them whenever they had to move to another location. Most of tribes were hunters/gatherers but the gathering was left mostly to women who harvested wild grains, fruits and tanned the hides of hunted animals for clothes and moccasins. They made exquisite potteries and tools they needed but also made jewelries and other useful items ( See the power point on Native American art and craft no. 11)
So women assumed roles that most suited them because they did them most efficiently while men took the role of providing meat through hunting and security for the women, children and the old people. Women also learned how to defend themselves from other war like tribes while their men were away for hunting or for other reasons. This did not denigrate them to a lower status than men because men respected women for their abilities and because they did the jobs assigned to them expertly.
If we study the ancient histories of the old civilization of India or Egypt, we learn that women enjoyed equal status with men , married whom they chose and were as educated as men . The most famous mathematicians, astrologers and philosophers in ancient India were women who were widely respected and acknowledged. Egyptian pharaohs like Hatshepsut and Cleopatra were noted for being efficient rulers of their realm. Queen of Sheba is a historical queen noted for her wisdom and rule.
The Indian history is replete with great queens like Lakhsmibai of Jhansi, Queen Padmini and numerous others who set up brilliant examples of what women could achieve so they still are the role models for all women.
With this background let us now look at women today and learn something about how they lost their preeminent role in the societies of distant past and why. To understand why and how, we have to step back again some one thousand years or more and find the answer in the desert sands of the Middle East where a fierce cult grew out of the harsh climate and barren deserts of Arabia. It had a violent birth when many people died in the process that created a specific role for women as dictated by their prophet . It said that women must veil themselves from head to toe so that men are not tempted. The shortage of men due to wars was believed to be the reason why polygamy was given the religious approval that continues even today in the Muslim societies.
There were many strict laws enacted that determined what women must wear, what they can or can’t do so women took a back seat and submitted because they did not have equal rights anymore. A man could divorce his wife or wives by just saying Talaq three times but women had no such rights. The list of what men can do is long but what the women can’t do is longer so women took a secondary role in their society that has not changed even today although some progress has been made recently in India.
The advent of tribal culture :
The Hindus as mentioned previously claim belonging to the oldest living civilization on the planet that showed high respect to women but slowly they too started to relegate women to a secondary role in their society due to the advent of a tribal culture that rose out of the agrarian nature of living then. The land owned by a man was passed on to his sons to keep the land in the family and daughters were married off with a dowry so the daughter and her husband could not claim any property of the parents.
Women were kept at home to clean and cook , babysit young ones and did other household chores like drawing water from the well , gather firewood and learn to cook. This role suited them well when they got married so they too in return trained their daughters the same way so it continued generation after generation keeping them in the secondary role their mothers and grand mothers had. They remained illiterate generation after generation because the men said that the education for women was not needed since they were not needed to earn a living. The idea that woman is only good for home and hearth was born and sustained not only in India but in Europe and Africa as well.
Beautiful women were not safe anywhere because of kidnapping by roving bands of marauders who made it a lucrative business to kidnap women and sell them to brothels or harems of rich people so women started to hide behind veils that continues even today in some parts of India.
Out of the tribal culture that is not sanctioned by any religion but only by the practicality of owning property and its subsequent ownership from father to son gave rise to a horrible gender bias in favor of boys so the girls suffered. You may not believe this but it is true that even today no doctor will tell you the gender of the baby in the womb even if he knows because of this bias against girls . Women often abort their girl child because the girl is still considered a liability but not a boy. A boy will inherit property and look after the old parents but a girl is married off who looks after only her children and husband so she is treated as a liability by the parents who may decide to abort.
So to protect the baby, the hospitals are told not to reveal the gender of the baby and yet the abortions continue. This abstract of an article written by Sultan Sharif Ali of Brunei University says the over one million female children are aborted in India in spite of strict laws against it and mentions the reasons .
“Women are murdered all over the world. But in India a most brutal form of killing females takes place regularly, even before they have the opportunity to be born. Female feticide — the selective abortion of female fetuses — is killing upwards of one million females in India annually with far-ranging and tragic consequences. In some areas, the sex ratio of females to males has dropped to less than 8000:1000. Females not only face inequality in this culture, they are even denied the right to be born.
Why do so many families selectively abort baby daughters? In a word: economics. Aborting female fetuses is both practical and socially acceptable in India. Female feticide is driven by many factors, but primarily by the prospect of having to pay a dowry to the future bridegroom of a daughter. While sons offer security to their families in old age and can perform the rites for the souls of deceased parents and ancestors, daughters are perceived as a social and economic burden. Prenatal sex detection technologies have been misused, allowing the selective abortions of female offspring to proliferate. Legally, however, female feticide is a penal offence.
Although female infanticide has long been committed in India, feticide is a relatively new practice, emerging concurrently with the advent of technological advancements in prenatal sex determination on a large scale in the 1990s. While abortion is legal in India, it is a crime to abort a pregnancy solely because the fetus is female. Strict laws and penalties are in place for violators. These laws, however, have not stemmed the tide of this abhorrent practice. The socio-legal conundrum female feticide presents, as well as the consequences of having too few women in Indian society is worth deeper analysis.”
So people have not been able to move away from the tyranny of its tribal culture that favors boys over girls due to economic reasons and property transfer reasons. This is slowly starting to change in cities where the middle class people live. They show less gender bias towards girls than their rural counterparts because they have more education, better jobs and have less children so have more resources for their children than the rural people. It is a fact that people with education want the same or more for their sons and daughters but an illiterate person has less inclination to do so.
The push for education for all children in rural areas is now allowing girls for the first time to go to school where the government gives them free education, free meal and free books and even bicycles . Now these girls are eager to go to college or learn a trade that gives them employment opportunities for the first time just like in China where a very large number of rural girls find jobs in factories.
While India is not like China, it too has opened up many prospects for the women by promoting free education and better family planning methods to limit the number of children per family. Banning female feticide by law is a positive step that is now saving millions of lives.
In the western culture, women were also considered second rate citizens who were confined to their homes and hearth with little or no education and not even voting rights while men decided what was good for them and what was not. In my previous blog I mentioned how hard the women had to fight to get racial and gender equality in America and in Europe.
The world is now changing giving all women better opportunities than previously but the degree of progress varies greatly from country to country. In many traditional societies, there have been very little progress where the terrorists blow up schools for girls and try to kill them for going to school. I wrote about Malala but millions of girls of her age continue to suffer because of this gender bias even today.
At the root of this problem lies a naked truth. Women are more attractive than men so as long as men look at women as sex objects, they will continue to exploit them. The media is complicit in this attitude because they think of scantily clad women as nothing more than entertainment material and give them wide coverage in Miss World or Miss Universe shows. The movie industry depends on the maxim that sex sells so they keep on making sexy movies. The same is true of many businesses that promote sexual ads to sell their products. So by objectifying women they denigrate them and feed the hunger of men who are sex starved in so called liberal and not so liberal societies. Prostitution was created to fill a demand that still encourages female objectification.
Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) postulates that many women are sexually objectified and treated as an object to be valued for its use.
Finally it is all about control. Men feel powerful controlling women so they do not like women who are smart, educated and stand up to be counted. The reason for many cases of domestic violence is the lack of respect for women ( read my blog on Drugs and Domestic violence here ).
In conclusion I can say that women and their roles in many societies are changing for the better . They are getting more education and more opportunities to get good jobs than before. Their status will improve even in most restrictive societies if the men there come to their better senses and realize that women need to play a more decisive role in their societies so must be treated with respect. For this to happen , many tribal practices must be abolished like dowry and property rights. In others , many obsolete religious laws must be changed to give women better chance of getting their basic rights that are guaranteed by the United Nation’s charter. I am an optimist and feel that better days for all women anywhere are coming so I say to all my sisters “ Fight on “.
Note : My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography. My blogs can be shared by anyone anytime in any social media.