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Violence Against Women – How much have we changed “culturally”? [Part 2]

Posted on July 22, 2010 in Society

Continued By Avani Bansal: Read part 1 here.

Natural Vocation theory –

When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1994, one of its first edicts removed girls from school, forbade women from employment outside the home, and required women to wear garments totally covering themselves when they appeared in public. This measure was a clear abrogation of the principles set forth in the Universal declaration of Human rights and the Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. It struck at the most basic of women’s human rights, depriving them of the economic, physical, and intellectual independence and overturned what women internationally had been struggling to achieve for more than five centuries. Though France seems to be doing something radically opposite, albeit with a different objective, I wonder would the victims not be women nonetheless.

As John Stuart Mill argued in 1869 in his essay  ‘The Subjection of Women’, the question arises whether women must be forced to follow what is perceived as their “natural vocation” that is home and family – often called the private sphere or should be seen in private and public as the equal partners of men. While the division of spheres, based on sex and known as patriarchy may have been justified in the early evolution of the human species, the system long ago outlived its functionality and hence the time to question this! But telling them that they have to be ‘like man’ is an oppression too though of a different nature.

Milton tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace. I cannot comprehend his meaning. Did he mean to deprive us of souls and insinuate that we were beings only designed by sweet attractive grace and docile blind obedience to gratify the senses of man when he can no longer soar on the wing of contemplation.

Rousseau declares that a woman should never for a moment feel herself independent. That she should be governed by fear to exercise her natural cunning and made a slave in order to render her a more alluring object of desire, a sweeter companion to man, whenever he chose to relax himself. He further insinuates that truth and fortitude, the corner-stones of all human virtue should be cultivated with restrictions, because with respect to female character, obedience is the grand lesson which ought to be impressed with unrelenting vigour.

A lot of water has rushed through the Ganges since the time these thinkers opined their views. However it appears to me that the modern man of the 21st century is still lurking in darkness as he does not seem to have moved even an inch from these outdated ideas on the role of women in society.

Liberty –

If asked to point one single factor that results in this difference in the status of men and women in the society, I would say that it is the superior advantage of liberty that enables the former to see more of life. In the words of  Mary Wallstonecraft - Liberty is the mother of virtue and if women be by their very constitution, slaves and not allowed to breathe the sharp invigorating air of freedom, they must ever languish like exotics and be reckoned as beautiful flaws in nature. It is a farce to call any being virtuous whose virtues do not result from the exercise of his or her own reason. So why should women be an exception?

Answers this simple question – Shouldn’t women be allowed to turn to the fountain of light rather than deciding their fate by the twinkling of  a mere satellite? The recent honour killings across states opens a Pandora’s box and forces one to question — Is woman merely a property of her father or have we reached a stage in civilization, where we can treat her as an adult above all, one who is capable of deciding her own fate.

Education –

This is not a new suggestion but still cannot be dispensed with. The history of the drive for women’s human rights indicates that only when women are literate, when they can articulate their view of life in publications and before audiences, when they can organize and demand equality, when girls are educated and socialized to think of themselves as citizens as well as wives and mothers, and when men take more responsibility for care of children and the home, can women be full and equal citizens able to enjoy human rights.

However we don’t just need education in academic terms. An emphasis should also be laid on women’s health, promoting exercise of body and mind. Women should be more active physically and more knowledgeable about health, anatomy and medicine. All round development of their personality and freedom to choose their life course is the rue ingredient of education.

Women’s Body-

Feminist thinkers, including Charlotte Bunch, have pointed out that the central debate on human rights seems to concern the body itself: a body that is coerced into obedience and veiled, that is raped as a trophy of war, that is mutilated and systematically violated and ultimately a body that disappears from the public sphere of life. It is always the body that is tortured, abused and punished in wars fought between countries, sects or partners. If women’s bodies rest at the centre of the complex debate over women’s rights, we must endorse and strive for the body’s preservation and protection. We must remake the world so that women and girls can be free and equal, so that the integrity of the female body is recognized in the national and cultural realms. Having witnessed that which is beyond language’s power to represent, women continue to search for the meaning of hope. Their resistance to silence bespeaks the desire to remain whole and human.

If we fail to challenge our cultural bias, and see through the ingrained image of women in the social construct, everything else that happens in the name of art and culture, for the portrayal of women’s miseries will fail to have any effect.

I hope that all of my readers will be led to reflect atleast once as to the discrimination that we unconsciously perpetuate in our daily lives.

Every time while writing on any topic, one question that continuously lingers in my mind is whether it will serve any purpose or is just another attempt to satisfy my praise hungry soul to get a few compliments…And everytime I am engulfed with feelings of futility of my attempt and helplessness to change things around, I am reminded of these lines of John F. Kennedy which he said while delivering the presidential address-

“All this will not be finished in the first hundred days, nor will it be finished in the first thousand  days, nor in the lifetime of this administration, nor perhaps during our lifetime on this planet Earth, but let us begin it…!!”