Women’s quest for emancipation
June 15, 2002
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If one were to measure women’s advance by the definition articulated by Engels, then the female of the species in this post-modern era has indeed made remarkable strides. Yet, women professionals still take home less in pay and emoluments than their male counterparts. At several levels of the job market, women earn less per hour, per day, per week than men; women workers are less likely than men to be chosen for higher training for promotion; and the on-the-job perquisites that are routinely accorded men are often withheld from women. Employers, when confronted with evidence of inequities, tend to trot out the tired old excuses that women are more prone to report sick, or that they cannot be relied upon for certain jobs because of recurrent pregnancies.
Another vexing reality is the fact that women are woefully under-represented in community and national councils, and most importantly, in the international arena. There is male domination is almost every major decision-making citadel of power. And although over the last three decades the world has witnessed more female accession to offices of President and Prime Minister in various countries, these triumphs are but the proverbial ‘drop in the bucket’ when compared to the extensive college of statesmen. In the mid-1990s, the United Nations concluded in a study that at the current rate of social progress, it would take some 450 years for women to be proportionately represented as heads of state or government and as parliamentary officials. And since, by all standards, it would be manifestly unfair and unjust for women to wait that long for political emancipation, there is a concerted movement internationally to nominate more women for public offices beginning at the community and municipal levels.
Feminism could be termed the process of analysis by which one views the world with its myriad distinctions between male and female. It is also a tool whereby one seeks to redress the weight of discrimination against women in a world where social relations are determined by gender. Feminism is by its very nature political since it challenges any system of thought or practice that allows women to occupy a socially inferior position. Early feminist thought may have been influenced by the social and economic effects of the French revolution and the British industrial revolution. In the words of author Sheila Robowtham, the early feminists were bewildered when they discovered that liberty and equality were not to be theirs. As one group of women told the French Assembly in 1789: “You have destroyed all the prejudices of the past, but you allow the oldest and most pervasive to remain, which excludes from office, position and honour, and above all from the right of sitting amongst you, half of the inhabitants of the kingdom.”
In this the third millennium, the question of ‘What women want?’ could be answered very readily. Women want equity and parity in the world of work, politics and socioeconomic relations; they want access to sound nutrition, healthcare and education for themselves and their families; they want a safe and violence-free environment; they want ownership of land and the access to credit and finally, they want the freedom to make their own choices in lifestyle, skills training and professional goals.