Updated: Jan 1, 2020
It's women's day! There will be a hundred articles on social media feeds about women and women empowerment. They mostly talk about the status quo and the future. What they fail to notice, is that, maybe, the answers to the questions we have now, might be in the past. The women need to be empowered, it's high time. But if they need to be empowered, who took the power away from them? The answer to this question is hidden in our history. Firstly, the whole society was named as mankind- which was not so kind to women. Secondly, there is a term called 'man and wife' but nothing like 'woman and husband'. Then, there were written laws preventing women from participating in the political process. For example, women in ancient Rome could not vote or hold political office. There were scholarly texts that indoctrinate children in female inferiority. An example of this is that the women in ancient China were taught the Confucian principles that a woman should obey her father in childhood, husband in marriage, and son in widowhood. Also, in early modern Europe, and in the European colonies in North America, claims were made that witches were a threat to Christendom. The misogyny of that period played a role in the persecution of these women. Until the 20th century, U.S. and English law observed the system of coverture. It is very disappointing that U.S. women were not legally defined as "persons" until 1875 (Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162). Coming a little bit closer to today's date, we find out that the French married women obtained the right to work without their husband's permission in 1965, and in West Germany, women obtained this right in 1977. Moving further up the timeline, a 2009 study found that being overweight harms women's career advancement, but presents no barrier for men.
India, on the other hand, has a rich culture that was not originally sexist. Women during the early Vedic period enjoyed equal status with men in all aspects of life. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period. Scriptures such as the Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers. On the other hand, the Rig Veda also mentions women lack discipline and intellect and have the hearts of hyenas. Initially, women were allowed to undergo initiation and study the Vedas. Everything was sunshine and rainbows until this time. It all went haywire in medieval times.
In medieval times, all good things were dismissed on the ground that this was only the case in a previous age. In approximately 500 BCE, the status of women began to decline. Although reform movements such as Jainism allowed women to be admitted to religious orders, by and large women in India faced confinement and restrictions. Some kingdoms in ancient India had traditions such as Nagarvadhu ("bride of the city"). Women competed to win the coveted title of Nagarvadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a Nagarvadhu. Child marriages and a ban on remarriage by widows became part of social life in some communities in India. The Muslim conquest in the Indian subcontinent brought purdah to Indian society. Among the Rajputs of Rajasthan, the Jauhar was practiced. In some parts of India, some of the Devadasis were sexually exploited. Polygamy was practiced among Hindu Kshatriya rulers for some political reasons. In many Muslim families, women were restricted to Zenana - the inner apartments of a house in which the women of the family live- areas of the house.
So, that is where things started going south for the females in India. From then on, they have become bad to worse. At every step, women were started to be considered inferior. Their self-confidence was crushed. The fault does not fully belong to the men in society. There are women who are at higher positions in families and the corporate world who are also responsible for this degradation of the status of women.
Making reservations for women is meant to empower women. But, it is just another way to tell them that they are weaker. India is a land of Goddesses. People worship them. But, in the same home where a goddess is worshipped, the women are ill-treated. Empowerment of women is not something that can be achieved by an organization or by a government. That is not something that can be obtained by candle marches or protests. It has to be founded within oneself. It has to start with an individual, then the family, then friends, and in the long run, the whole society. There has to be a sense of mutual respect between all genders in society. One needs to understand that every individual is entitled to choose for oneself.
Another step in empowering women is to stop the crimes against them. Women in India are subjected to various crimes like acid attacks, child marriage, domestic violence, dowry, female infanticide, and sex-selective abortion, honor killing, accusations of witchcraft, rape, sexual harassment (Eve-teasing) and trafficking. Crimes like these induce fear in their minds. That fear prevents them to do things that they would do if they were not scared of these. Even if a crime like this takes place, the victim is often gifted with derogatory remarks and judgments -as if the crime was not enough to ruin her self confidence. Instead of taking an action, women are told to keep shut. This further depletes their courage. Today, the society has evolved beyond two genders. The world is moving forward with their mentality. The open-mindedness of the people is welcomed by everyone. And here we stand, still not ready to accept that women deserve the same rights as men. We pretend to be modern and civilized, but we are missing out on a major aspect of civilization. If we cannot accept the two common genders to be equal, how can the people of other genders ever believe that they will get equal status in the society?