Women’s Rights: The Battle for Equality
At the present time, the battle for equality between women and men is still a dilemma. In spite of feminist movements, desire of women to be equal with men, there is no equality between men and women. The superiority of men originated from the ancient time that is why it is difficult to root it out. However, it is worth mentioning that women made progress in being independent from men and women obtained new career opportunities. The issue of equality is concerned with two aspects of equality between men and women at home and in the workplace.
In 19th century most women didn’t have the same rights with men. They were dependent on men as they had no possibility to earn money, study and work. Women had neither political no legal rights. On the way to their success women faced with discrimination especially regarding work or education. The main roles of women were those of a mother and a housewife. Women were responsible for cleaning, cooking and looking after children. Women were supposed to be the weaker sex and men were rulers. As we see, men dominated in the society.
However, at the beginning of the 20th century women started to change, they began to prove that they were not worse than men and that they could occupy the same positions as men. Women wanted to prove that they were not the weaker sex. They can be successful not only in family but at colleges and work. Women organized feminist movements in order to get an access to political, educational, economical and medical spheres of life.
The objectives of the paper are:
- To explore the historical events that provoked the struggle for equality between men and women;
- To indentify crucial differences between women’s rights in Scandinavia (Sweden) and the Middle East;
- To investigate and discuss the position of women in modern society.
The History of Development of Equality between Men and Women
During the period of the Great Depression women’s place in society changed. Women began to get traditionally men’s jobs during the war. According to the earlier established rules, women were the defenders of morality and had to behave appropriately. Young girls had to maintain innocence and wait for their love. However, the Great Depression broke the traditional rules. Smoking cigarettes became open and defiant unlike drinking. It was only the beginning of a turn in behavior and moral principles which influenced women of every age. The Great Depression did not only change the morals and manners of women but ruined the traditional stereotypes about them. It was impossible for this generation to remain unchanged when everything was over. The alteration was also accelerated by the growing level of women’s independence and self-confidence. Women started being interested in politics; however, they were not crowned with success.
Even nowadays, women are a rare occurrence in politics. The conspicuous changes also concerned women’s way of dressing and appearance. Besides the fact that women started wearing short and tight clothes, they were keen on short hair. Change in manners was followed by an inescapable change in moral codes. Young people began to get involved into sexual relations at a tender age. Blessed innocence and shyness were not principles to be followed anymore. It is worth saying that the 1920`s were uneasy, but they brought the drastic changes in women’s life. Moreover, this time has become the motive force for women on the way of struggle for the equal rights with men.
The Founding Fathers were the statesmen and political leaders who participated in the American Revolution and established the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers were sexists and they were biased against women. They did everything they could to deprive women of civil rights and of a possibility to go to the courts. Moreover, the United States Constitution did not protect the rights of women. Women were like black slaves and they were prohibited of contact with others and were the property of their husbands. Initially the law even allowed husbands to beat their women. In my opinion Founding Fathers had made a fatal mistake discriminating women.
Equality between men and women would only stimulate the development of the American society at that time. For all practical purposes, Founding Fathers owned their women. Women could not have property, or vote; they were completely dependent on men and did not take part in social and political life of the country. I was also shocked by the fact that women also suffered from domestic violence. It means that women were not respected and were held in contempt. I do not understand why men are surprised nowadays at women`s behavior, at their desire to be free and independent, at the phenomenon of “feminism” (Forrell). Analyzing the activity and behavior of Founding Fathers, one can notice that they treated themselves as gods and treated women as their slaves. They believed that a woman could never be a full citizen because women are too emotional, weak and have no character at all. Founding Fathers devalued women, caused them great hardship and suffering and adopted laws which were oppressing women.
Founding Fathers were superior to women, slaves and poor people and that is why “feminism” appeared to defend the rights of women as they wanted to be equal with men, to be free and to be respected. To my mind, the struggle of women for the equal rights with men and modern feminist trends are echoes of the past underestimation and contemptuous attitude toward women. Women and men should have equal importance and equal roles in both family and society.
The Rights of Women in Scandinavia
Speaking about women’s rights in Scandinavian countries, it is necessary to say that they are more privileged compared to other countries. Scandinavian countries support gender equality. Scandinavian countries (Sweden) belong to the most-egalitarian countries. They have a firm belief regarding equality of men and women. The governments of these countries provide an extensive welfare system in order to give an opportunity to both sexes to balance family life and work. However, in spite of such a favorable position of women in Scandinavian countries, the governments still want to improve it. They want equality in the workplace, at school and home. Indeed there is improvement in gender equality but the modern Scandinavian society still considers gender equality as one of the main cornerstones. Gender equality means not only to have the same working rights as men but to limit and/or eradicate domestic violence and abuse (Byron).
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Scandinavian governments believe that equality between men and women is the basis for progress in the society. According to the Global Gender Gap Report of 2012, Sweden is a world leader in equality between men and women. The equality was measured in health, educational, political and economic areas. Speaking about education, it is necessary to say that the number of women with upper secondary education is higher than that one of men. More women than men desire to get higher education. It is necessary to mention that in Sweden the equal number of men and women participate in postgraduate and doctoral studies. The most important fact is that in Sweden both parents can get parental leave of 480 days. The statistics show that in 2012 women took more days of parental leave as compared to men (only 24% of them took parental leave). Parents also get 10 extra days of leave if they have twins. Adopting parents also get 480 days of parental leave starting from the day when they adopted a child. A single parent also has the right for 480 days of parental leave.
Speaking about gender equality in Sweden, it is necessary to pay attention to the language. The Swedish language is characterized by gender neutrality. Instead of “he” or “she”, they use “it”. However the critics tell that gender neutrality damages the language and provokes confusion.
Sweden faced many difficulties on the way to the equality of men and women in the workplace. However, these are public jobs that are available for women. As to private sector the number of women is still low especially in top positions. The government tries to have equality even in their papers. For example, in the Discrimination Act two main sections are devoted to gender equality at work. All employers are required to promote equality between women and men. Swedish laws prohibit harassment and discrimination and oblige employers to take measures if something occurs. All employees should be treated equally. The differences in salary between men and women should be paid according to difficulties related to profession, work experience, age, position and sector. Differences in salary between men and women are more noticeable in the private sector (Byron).
The Swedish government`s gender equality policy ensures that resources and power are fairly distributed between men and women and creates the conditions that will provide men and women with the same opportunities and power. As to professional sphere the number of women holding the top positions is increasing. In Sweden, women work as managers in county council, municipal and central governments etc. However, the proportion of managing directors and board chairpersons among women is very low, only 4%. 45% of women occupy the places in the Parliament of Sweden after 2010 election. Moreover, 13 out of 24 ministers in the government are women. The Government of Sweden uses all measures to create equality between sexes at the national, regional and municipal levels. In spite of this, in Sweden there were recorded 28,000 cases of violence against women. These cases were revealed because women spoke out and complained.
In Sweden there are the Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters, the National Organization for Women’s and Young Women’s Shelters who can help every woman who is facing violence and inequality. There are also approximately 130 local women’s shelters that were created in order to solve this problem. The National Clearinghouse on Violence against Women and the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence against Women also consult women when they face violence (Byron).
To my mind, in Scandinavian countries women have more rights compared to women in the Middle East because government supports them. There are laws that defend women and provide them with the same possibilities as men at home, work and education. Scandinavian countries, like Sweden create organizations and associations that help and support women when they face violence and gender inequality. I suppose that Sweden should be an example to be followed by other countries. If other countries include gender equality in they policy, there will be less violence and discussions between men and women.
The Rights of Women in the Middle East
Speaking about the rights of women in the Middle East, it is necessary to say that there is no equality between men and women. The most scaring thing is that misogyny and sexism still exist in the society creating violence, discussions and inequality. In the Middle East the status of woman varies according to the country and traditions in this country. The most sexist and oppressive state is Saudi Arabia. Women in the Middle East are deprived of the diversity of life; their life is based on listening to their husband, looking after children and performing household chores. Westerners created a stereotype about Middle Eastern women that they are weak, always veiled and passive. Middle Eastern women live in the severe conditions; they even can not drive cars.
When compared with Scandinavian women, Middle Eastern women have a completely different life and no opportunities to be independent. However, it is worth mentioning that in modern Saudi Arabia women enjoy social and political rights. In Egypt women even can divorce their husbands. In Tunisia polygamy is prohibited and abortion is legal. In the Jordanian, Syrian, Iraqi, Tunisian and Egyptian governments, women are ministers and in Iran the position of Vice President is held by a woman.
Middle Eastern society has conservative, exclusivist and religious laws that limit the rights of women as compared with men. Gender problems in the Middle East remain urgent and need solutions. However, the problem is that the government is not interested in this problem; however, the problem is very deep as it has cultural, religious and national character.
Strict Islamic laws forbid women to hold the top government positions. Muslims always make a reference to Hadith, collection of traditions containing saying of the prophet Muhammad. Indeed Hadith is a very debatable and dubious document for a reference. In the Arab world the number of women who hold important positions lags behind the rest of the world. Polygamy is another phenomenon that influences the relationships between and women in a negative way. Polygamy makes women go downwards. It means that there is no equality even in marriage.
It is necessary to mention that not in all Muslim countries women are discriminated. For example, in Israel women have full freedom in religion and ethnicities, they can vote, speak freely, have access to work and education. Women in Israel have no restrictions when choosing clothes. Law protects women from discrimination. “Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race, or gender to all its inhabitants”, – tells the Israeli Declaration of Independence. While analyzing this statement, a question arises immediately “Why not in all Muslim countries?” The fact that a country cares about gender equality shows progress and human attitude towards each other. It also proves that a government chose a good policy. It is noticeable that Israel moves forward in relation to this question.
In Saudi Arabia the situation is different. Women are not allowed to drive a car, vote, go outside unless their bodies are covered etc. To my mind, it is their culture but women should make their own choice whether they want this or not. In Iraq women are not allowed to have property because of gender. It means that they are deprived of independence. In Syria it is a long and time-consuming process for a woman to get divorced while men can divorce just pronouncing the following words: “You are divorced”.
In the countries of the Middle East there are a lot of family crimes, domestic violence and discriminations. That is an issue that should be solved.
It is obvious that there are factors that can push for the creation of equality of genders. These are governments, organizations that will protect women’s rights and laws. This issue should be solved not only by national organizations but also international ones should interfere especially when the level of violence is too high. These organizations should be active and initiative especially in the countries of Middle East.
The problem of gender equality belongs to the policy frame that is why the main role here belongs to the government. Domestic, international and political institutions are able to change the situation with the help of laws. Women’s movements and organizations are driving forces that encourage other women to struggle for their rights. These movements and organizations prove that women can have the same working conditions as men; they are intelligent and they are not the weaker sex anymore. Women’s movements and organizations want to ruin the stereotype about weakness of women (Fälth).
Gender inequality is a social problem. It means that women are discriminated by men. I think that gender inequality harms society. It provokes contradictions between men and women. However, our society with social equality is utopia. To my mind, women should have the equal rights with men. Discrimination is a barbaric behavior at the present time.
In my opinion, gender inequality exists not only in our society but also in our mind. We should develop ourselves, our mental attitudes, our moral and ethical values. We can decide by ourselves whether we are free from gender inequality and discrimination or not. If a person is free, self-confident and morally rich, he/she will not feel discriminated even if this woman is from Saudi Arabia.
Aristotle proved that there were people who were born to be slaves. I think that he was talking about people who did not want to struggle and the easiest way for them was to be discriminated. One should always develop his/her moral values. Aristotle said: “Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit”. It means that one can not consist only of virtues or only of evils. One should develop these virtues and oppress his/her evils (Sandel).
It is a normal phenomenon for a woman to be a wife and mother at the same time. However, the society considers a woman who chooses not to marry and not to have children as a strange one. There is nothing strange in the fact that at present time there are a lot of feminist movements who struggle for the equal rights with men. All people are created to be equal and to have equal rights. To my mind we should eradicate the ideology of inequality and become more kind-hearted.
Having analyzed the position of woman in Scandinavian countries (Sweden, in particular) and in the Middle East, we came to a conclusion that there are drastic differences between these countries. In Scandinavian countries women are more privileged as compared with the Middle East. Scandinavian countries support gender equality. In the Middle East there is no gender equality. In Scandinavian countries women have respectable rights because they are supported by the government and protected by the laws. The Middle East should learn from Scandinavian countries. Gender equality benefits development and progress and decreases the level of domestic violence.
To my mind, the problem is that Scandinavian countries and the Middle East countries have different mentality, culture, traditions, customs and laws. This issue should be solved at the state and international levels. I am convinced that these are Arab women who should struggle for equality and for new possibilities which are enjoyed by women in other countries. They should organize feminist movements and organizations that will defend their rights.
Middle Eastern society has conservative and religious laws that limit the rights of women. Gender problems in the Middle East remain urgent and needs solutions. However, the problem is that the government is not interested in this problem; however, this problem is very deep as it has cultural, religious and national character.
To my mind, in Scandinavian countries women have more respectable rights compared to women in the Middle East because government supports them. There are laws that defend women and give them the same possibilities as men regarding home, work and education. Scandinavian countries, like Sweden, create organizations and associations that help and support women if they face violence and gender inequality. I suppose that Sweden should be an example to be followed by other countries. If other countries include gender equality in their policy, there will be less violence and discussions between men and women.