So where did this inequality all begin? It has been said that Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, was convinced that women were inferior to men. He based this erroneous theory on the even more fallacious view that it was the man’s semen which formed the foetus while the woman’s role in procreation was that of a mere inanimate receptacle.
by Ruwantissa Abeyratne
“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives’ mouths.”
…Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society
( January 27, 2017, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) On 21 January, more than one million people marched in Washington, both men and women, but mostly women. Elsewhere in the United States, from Chicago to Los Angeles and in 20 countries, this happened simultaneously. It was not a protest against any one individual, but a collective cry against inequality by the women of the world. It was a statement of outrage that decried their denial of a fundamental human right – a right to be treated with equality, dignity and not to be treated like mere objects to be tolerated.
In other words, women all over were demanding accountability and justice for dismantling the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system; freedom from sexual violence; guarantee of equal protection based on gender; affirmation that all domestic and caretaking work is work, even if unpaid, and that women — especially women of color — bear the brunt of that burden; the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage for all workers, labor protections for undocumented and migrant workers; and solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements; together with comprehensive reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant and refugee rights.
So where did this inequality all begin? It has been said that Aristotle, one of the greatest thinkers of all time, was convinced that women were inferior to men. He based this erroneous theory on the even more fallacious view that it was the man’s semen which formed the foetus while the woman’s role in procreation was that of a mere inanimate receptacle. Small wonder then that lesser mortals whose blatantly inelegant and inadequate moral sense lead them to gang raping women and stoning pregnant women to death on the vile justification of honour killing. A woman cannot change her religion without the threat of being put to death or being sentenced to life imprisonment. If women are of the wrong caste and are vulnerable and too poor or weak to defend themselves they are raped, killed and hanged. If they dare educate themselves, they are kidnapped in droves and made to vanish into thin air. A woman cannot go anywhere without a male chaperone in some places; elsewhere, a young schoolgirl is shot for standing up for the rights of women to be educated. She barely escapes death.
Amnesty International records that “violence against women feeds off discrimination and serves to reinforce it. When women are abused in custody, when they are raped by armed forces as “spoils of war”, or when they are terrorized by violence in the home, unequal power relations between men and women are both manifested and enforced. Violence against women is compounded by discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, social status, class, and age. Such multiple forms of discrimination further restrict women’s choices, increase their vulnerability to violence and make it even harder for women to obtain justice. There is an unbroken spectrum of violence that women face at the hands of people who exert control over them. States have the obligation to prevent, protect against, and punish violence against women whether perpetrated by private or public actors. States have a responsibility to uphold standards of due diligence and take steps to fulfill their responsibility to protect individuals from human rights abuses”.
Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants everyone the entitlement to right to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Then there is the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women which in Article 1 states that “violence against women means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), defines discrimination against women as any “distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality between men and women, of human rights or fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
One of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, adopted in 2015 is to Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls where the UN says: “Gender inequalities are still deeply rooted in every society. Many women still lack access to employment opportunities, basic education, and healthcare, and they’re often subjected to violence and discrimination. The math is simple: in countries where there’s higher equality, there’s less poverty, more economic growth, and a higher standard of living. Let’s improve opportunities for everyone by dismantling barriers to women’s participation in economic, social and political life”.
This is mere lip service at best.
.Simone de Beauvoir, in her monumental book The Second Sex mused: “But first we must ask: what is a woman? ‘Tota mulier in utero’, says one, ‘woman is a womb’. But in speaking of certain women, connoisseurs declare that they are not women, although they are equipped with a uterus like the rest. All agree in recognising the fact that females exist in the human species; today as always they make up about one half of humanity. And yet we are told that femininity is in danger; we are exhorted to be women, remain women, become women. It would appear, then, that every female human being is not necessarily a woman; to be so considered she must share in that mysterious and threatened reality known as femininity. Is this attribute something secreted by the ovaries? Or is it a Platonic essence, a product of the philosophic imagination? Is a rustling petticoat enough to bring it down to earth? Although some women try zealously to incarnate this essence, it is hardly patentable. It is frequently described in vague and dazzling terms that seem to have been borrowed from the vocabulary of the seers, and indeed in the times of St Thomas it was considered an essence as certainly defined as the somniferous virtue of the poppy”.
This brings to mind the odious and abhorrent practice of the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia, which is called genital mutilation. The World Health Organization has stated that female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. WHO goes on to say that this procedure has no health benefits for girls and women and can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths. More than 125 million girls and women alive today have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and Middle East where FGM is concentrated. FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15. FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
FGM is a social convention where a particular society traditionally calls for this atrocity to be committed against females. Similarly, the rape and abuse of women is a social construct that is seen in some quarters as the expression by man of his physical superiority over woman and that ipso facto, a man would not be a man if this is not demonstrated. UNICEF records that At least 200 million girls and women alive today living in 30 countries have undergone FGM.
One wonders…should there be an international criminal court to handle this matter before which leaders of States will be brought to answer for crimes against females in their countries? If responsibility does not devolve at the top, the miscreant will always get away.
This could be one way of ensuring accountability