When one talks of women’s rights, what is meant is Feminism that is an ideology focusing on equality among different sexes. Rights refer to entitled freedom to individuals; such rights can either be institutionalized by the government or not. Even though rights are grouped, they are in turn differentiated from broader notions brought about by sexes (Hobby, p.16). Variable researches have continued to reveal that women have been denied many opportunities by their male counterparts with the oppressive laws that give women no breathing space.
Issues that women report to have been denied care, the right to vote, the right to hold public office, the right to education, the right to religion, the right to fair wages, and the right to serve in the military. The fight for equal rights begun during the 18th Century in the wake of the Enlightenment Era and the struggle has never ceased, but only gained pace.
The drive was mainly backed by various other women groups which argued that the move would see them enjoy equal opportunities and be treated like men. Critics of equal rights for women, drawn from a good percentage of men and die-hard conservative women explained that effecting such a move will deny men the right of financially supporting their wives (Hobby, pp.17-20).
Many traditional cultures opt to keep matters related to women’s rights within closed quarters and not open them to the discussion. Traditionally, the taboos accompanying reproduction and sexuality of women and children were so many and unfriendly that they were like prisons and barriers erected to infringe the women’s freedom. These are issues that need to be addressed at all costs and so long as a blanket of silence is cast over them, then the people who are subjected to such laws will continue to suffer. If the equality concept is affected by the letter, then every individual would live their full sexuality without coercion, force, or fear (Hosken, pp.1-2).
Supporters and critics of the matter have come up with reasons to substantiate their stand hence resulting in disagreements and differences. The matter has therefore continued to spark heated debate from every quarter so that the dwellers in this 21st Century can live in harmony where no one feels pressured in any way. All the steps that are being taken by the state, non-governmental organizations, and other interest groups to help acquire gender equality are sought to strengthen women both physically and mentally (Hosken, p.3).
This paper will look at the rights of women in the historical and modern concept, the moral issues that come by it, and its significance to the policies that are put in place by the United Nations. It will also look at the effectiveness of the UN policies in addressing the rights of women. The paper holds that women have for a long time been disadvantaged in many aspects of life as compared to their male counterparts; for that reason, many governments and international organizations have established policies geared to create a level playing ground for both parties by addressing the rights of women.
The need to have women enjoy equal rights as men is very vital, but achieving this has never been easy in many societies. Women are said to be the ones behind more than 50% of food production, while at the same time they are the limited beneficiaries of the benefits reaped from their sweat. Women have been dis-empowered throughout their lives for ages, which translates down to their children who grow up with difficulty and inherit bad attitudes from their parents.
Even though statistical data are not always perfect, it is a plain truth that women mostly find themselves linked to low-paying jobs compared to their men counterparts. And on top of this, they have to shoulder all the domestic burdens while men find themselves in relatively more lucrative jobs (Phillips, M. pp.31-32). This is no equality and is very unfair, especially after the realization by society that women can work as well as men.
Several factors facilitate gender inequality. For instance, for any nation where cultural and economic preferences are given to male children, the cases of female foeticide at pregnancy will rise. Parents will go for pregnancy diagnosis and upon the realization that they are expecting a female child, termination of the pregnancy will in most cases cross their minds. Phillip adds that “…in such a society, quite a good number of mothers will opt for abortion” (p.35).
In Third World countries, particularly in Africa, parents have so many children and their economic positions are pathetic. Coupling this poverty situation and the traditional view of the girl child, education preference will therefore definitely go to the male child. Girls and subsequently in most cases miss out on the list of individuals who take the educational advantage. The women are excluded from growing up to be professionals, therefore giving them no choice but to face difficult lives characterized by odd jobs and household activities. In such a male-dominated society, girls face abuse, violence of all kinds, and exploitation.
Since they even lack basic education, they become victims of sexual and reproductive health disasters like HIV/AIDS, child marriage and trafficking, and sexual abuse (Lockwood, pp.14-17). The problems do not come to an end even at old age. The disparity and discrimination acts follow these women into their homes and workplaces where they share the same platform by manipulative men who believe they should wholly enjoy all the privileges.
The inequality and poverty multiply their woes by making them more vulnerable to abuse. Therefore, when addressing women’s rights, issues on poverty, economy, and trade have to be touched as they are the ones which the women can cling to lift them off the despicable hook. Proper handling of gender issues will go a long way in ensuring a positive outcome of the fight (Lockwood, p.22).
Several groups have been pushing for equal rights among both genders; not even the church is left out in this fight. It is an issue that is causing a lot of instability in societies’ political and moral arena. Women have in turn formed organizations to push for what they believe are the best steps to achieving equality with their male counterparts. The church has always maintained that women as the “daughters of God” and deserve to enjoy full rights in terms of political, economic, and education dispensation, without any form of discrimination.
And because of their complex responsibility and nature as wives and mothers, women need protection and benefits by special laws which will safeguard their welfare. But the church is also expressing fear that enacting the equality policy may threaten family stability as it was meant to be by God (Lerner, pp.17-19).
The United Nations has never been left behind in the struggle to see that women get to the level of men. The UN established a CSW (Commission on the Status of Women) in 1946 as a support branch to aid the Human Rights Department and the Social Affairs Division on matters related to women. The CSW has grown into a major faction of the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council) which is a great international force pushing for women’s rights across the world. The organization has organized forums and conferences to discuss obstacles hindering women from wholly achieving equality. It has been made to the knowledge of all women that feminism is not a monolithic strategy, but a platform through which women can politically express themselves as well as address issues that concern their interests in every class, region, nationality or ethnic background (Phillips, P. p.41).
The chief objective of the United Nations is to create common stable positions, which counter discrimination against women. The policies that are put in place by the UN address not only issues related to equality but also equity issues. Through, CEDAW (Convention in the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women), the UN covers all sex-based restrictions reported in the areas of jurisdiction. Since it was instituted in 1979, CEDAW “which is mostly referred to as the Women’s Bill of Rights” has achieved a lot.
In a 30-page article document, the organization explains what is considered a discriminative act against women. It has established worldwide agendas to create awareness for every heart and soul. For three decades now, CEDAW has been lobbying for widespread membership drawn from all the countries that find their policies appealing. With the help of a convention that the UN adopted in 1979, CEDAW hopes to eliminate all forms of discrimination directed at women. About 168 nations have ratified and 97 of them signed.
Even the die-hard conservatives Islamic Nations have joined the camp. Out of the 56 nations, 44 nations have joined and 12 have promised to do the same. CEDAW has even made it possible for some states to join it without reservations, especially Islamic-dominated nations (Hosken, p.8). The organization describes the term discrimination as any act that administers restrictions based on sex, which has got an eventual effect of exclusion and a barrier to one’s enjoyment. Nations that have committed themselves to the UN-CEDAW policies have no choice but to put into practice the measures that protect the rights of women.
These measures include: first, incorporating equality principle among men and women in the legal system and practice strictly healthy laws which are not discriminative. Secondly, the nations need to establish tribunals to restrict any acts of discrimination against women. And finally, the countries must commit themselves to eliminate all the acts that discriminate against women in all sectors; the public and the private sector alike (Phillips, P. pp.42-43).
To understand global well-being, it is important to identify women’s rights issues as a vital indicator of a globalized world. Women’s issues go beyond religious laws or household responsibilities; they are deeply rooted in patriarchal societies, religious organizations, and traditional settings, which call for a combined force from all quarters, not a single person. To effectively deal with women issues, countries have therefore come together under a common umbrella to counter the opposition to acquiring equity.
Many Women Organizations like CEDAW, IWRP (International Women’s Rights Project), The African Woman (TAW), Alliance for International Women’s Rights (AIWR), and Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWRD) among others have been founded to help empower women and achieve gender equality by integrating women crucial programs like those linked to public education, litigation, advocacy, and other human rights activities (Lerner, p.27).
The organizations boost the bargaining power of disadvantaged women, like those that are poor, single, marginalized, and women of color. Their focus on equal employment strategies and equal educational opportunities has made a big difference in the lives of many women. The organizations do not stop the fight at securing employment for women but go-ahead to do away with welfare disparities and workplace discrimination.
The spirited battle has seen the 21st century Women achieve more and draw near to securing a leveled ground with men. Women have succeeded in joining men in high-level politics, higher administrative positions and single-handedly running households, and a lot many other fields that seemed just like a far-off dream only five decades ago.
But despite the push to get countries to commit themselves to this ratification that seeks to ensure women enjoy rights as well as men, some countries are still defiant to give in, and even some governments that signed the commitment form are not performing as would be expected. Women are still facing a lot of challenges coming in the form of; discrimination at work, rape, female genital mutilation, and domestic violence.
Challenges that face these women organizations in their struggle to achieve equality include coming up with what is unanimously agreed as a violation of woman right, having equality across the boarders, pursuing legal proceedings to bring perpetrators to book, overcoming biases that exist in chauvinist societies, and lack of political will to implement conventions and laws protecting women. Countries that have been left out on the ratification list include the United States of America, Somalia, Qatar, Sudan, and Iran.
There is however no problem with the US as the state of democracy that it upholds ensures that women enjoy rights almost to the full length. For the remaining countries, their defiance can be attributed to their religious stand which discriminates against women as well as political instability. Having all the countries sign and ratify women’s rights issues will go a long way in boosting the women’s rights issues awareness in the world (Flexner, pp.85-86).
Several principles have been laid out for adoption as women’s rights in the past three decades. Among them include the Maputo Protocol, Abortion Rights, Reproduction Rights, and Rape and sexual violence. The Maputo protocol sought to have a comprehensive women’s right to taking part in any political process (vying and voting included), a right to political and social equality, and a right over one’s reproductive health.
Though not recognized as an international human right, reproductive rights are vital in achieving equality. It is an umbrella term that encompasses the right to carry a legalized safe abortion, fully access quality health care, education and carry out reproductive actions at one’s own will without the fear of discrimination or coercion. Family planning falls under the reproductive right, and all the above-mentioned measures have been recognized as a subset of human rights that are geared to promote stability in society (Flexner, p.87).
The issue of abortion has sparked debate on whether it should even be accepted as a subset of human rights; countries have taken divergent positions as far as abortion is concerned, and a compromise point seems to be far from being achieved soon.
There is though a unanimous agreement that abortion should only be practiced if the mothers’ life is endangered by the pregnancy, or in a more complex note, abortion is also recommended in case of the following cases but not limited to pregnancy coming as a result of rape or incest. Anything beyond that which calls for one’s own choice of terminating a pregnancy just because she wants to get rid of the child is regarded as a baseless argument by most nations.
The human rights watch holds a reserved opinion regarding abortion. They explain that access to safe abortion is a human right and in regions where abortion is legalized, women abort at their own free will and are not forced into it; while in regions where the practice is illegal, women are forced to painfully carry the pregnancy either to the bitter end or they seek to illegally opt to terminate the pregnancy in a way that may jeopardize their lives.
As far as women’s rights are concerned, the international organizations on women’s legal matters hold that women should be left to carry out independent decisions on whether they want to keep the pregnancy or terminate it. The decision should be wholly left in the hands of the mother-to-be and not the state. Abortion opponents or popularly known as “pro-life” groups on their part argue that no one should be put in charge of another’s life. The pro-life groups say that the infant is a living innocent being, whose life should not be terminated and sacrificed for the comfort of the mother. She is only the custodian and the decision to take a life wholly rests with God. The “pro-choice” argues that every person has a right to chose what she does wither life; whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy (Randy, pp.139-146).
Women’s rights spread into the protection of women against violence which includes domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault. Rape and sexual assaults are commonly referred to as “the forceful sexual penetration of another person without his/her consent” (Hosken, p.3). The two are considered civil assaults and crime against humanity, a near genocide because of its association with damaging post psychological effects. “The ICC (International Criminal Court) considers rape, forced pregnancy, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, and enforced sterilization as criminal acts against humanity and fiercely punishable by law” (Badr, pp.167-169).
This contentious issue concerning the rights of women has been the subject of debate for more than a century now. the paper has established that A lot has been achieved in regards to equality and equity; though there is room for improvement. There is a gap that needs to be bridged before the battle is called off. Individuals and organizations have been reported to be in the fight to acquire this equity, but the top on the list is the United Nations.
Through the CEDAW, United Nations has helped women’s rights advocates a great deal. The self-styled international organization has made it possible for countries that were believed to be composed of die-hard conservatives to commit themselves to carry out measures that achieve human rights and the fundamental freedom to all. Women can now access equality, educational and political opportunities. Most of these commitments have been made official through legislation and state publication.
The advancement has never left behind the important role played by culture and tradition strong family ties that shape up morals. Even though equality is the center focus, morals have to be kept in check. A compromise point, therefore, has to be maintained by those seeking to have women rise to the same ranks as men. Since such a move will shake the structural fiber holding that makes a society, lots of redefinitions have to be done to avoid any mix-up.
If such cautious steps are not taken, then the outcome of attempts to achieve women’s rights may bring more harm than good. All the countries that have ratified to acquire full-scale policies of women’s rights are legally bound to go by the guiding principles. They are required to submit reports detailing their operations as far as women’s rights are concerned after every four years. The report contains the measures that the countries have taken for the given period in complying with the signed treaty.
Many actions have been taken by private and public organizations to achieve equal status in our societies. The steps are well spread in all sectors of life. This is so because of the existence of a sound linkage between gender equality, poverty, and development. Therefore mainstreaming gender roles is essential to development. Other strategies needed for effectively achieving development goals are reduction of infant mortality rate for both boys and girls, free quality education for both sexes, and reproductive rights. The most challenging factor in the art of campaigning for equality in asset ownership is the men letting women enjoy full right to ownership of land…it has remained a stumbling block to achieving equity. “Despite being the driving force of over 70 percent of agricultural activities, women have very limited control of land, infrastructure, credit and extension services” (Wright, p.70).
Badr, Gamal. Islamic Criminal Justice: The American Journal of Comparative Law. 32 (1): (1984). Pp.167–172.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States. The Belknap Press. (1996). pp.85-89.
Hobby, Elaine. Virtue of necessity: English women’s writing 1649-1688. University of Michigan (1989). Pp.16-22.
Hosken, Fran. Towards a Definition of Women’s Rights. Human Rights Quarterly. 3(2). (1981), pp.1-10.
Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to eighteen seventy. Oxford University Press. (1993). pp.17-29.
Lockwood, Bert. (Ed.). Women’s Rights. A Human Rights Quarterly. John Hopkins University Press. (2006). pp.14-34.
Phillips, Melanie. The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement. Abacus. (2004). pp.31-36.
Phillips, Patricia. The scientific lady: A social history of women’s scientific interests 1520-1918. St Martin’s, N.Y. (1990). pp.41-43.
Randy, Alcorn. Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments. Multnomah Publishers, Inc.: Oregon, USA. (2000). pp.139-146.
Wright, Hodgson. Women’s writings of the early modern period 1588-1688. Edinburgh University (2002). p.70.