It is an unpleasant fact of life that women today are still struggling for rights equal to those of their male counterparts, in the home, in business and as consumers.
Despite ample demonstrations of their capabilities, many societies still view females as chattels or property belonging to men – in many areas of the world they are seen as intellectual inferior, or simply not up to the task.
And while it is true as a general rule that women are not physically as strong as men, this does not necessarily mean they are less able or willing to undertake hard work or are less intelligent in any way.
In previous centuries, it may have been appropriate for women to stay at home and be provided for and looked after by their men folk, but in 21st century America, there are few, if any tasks that a woman cannot undertake as well or better than their male counterparts.
Statistics prove that girls now tend to do better than boys at school, and women have outnumbered men at US universities since the late 1980s, and now account for some 57% of the student population. But despite this, once they have left university, women earn on average 20% less than men.
One possible reason for this inequality is that women, who are naturally equipped to bear children, tend to leave work to start a family, while their husband or partner carries on with their career and is in a position to advance it without having to take a break. If they return to work after bearing children, many women choose to do so part-time.
But to work, even part-time would be unthinkable for women in some parts of the world. In Saudi Arabia and some of the Emirates for instance, there are very definite limits on the type of work a woman can do. She cannot be employed in any job which would leave her alone with a man, for fear of them both being arrested for either fornication or adultery. Even among Saudi women, around 40% believe that their own place is in the home and believe it inappropriate to be working at all.
Along with the Burqa, prohibition on driving, laws governing fornication and rape as well as limited availability of contraception, Saudi Arabia would deserve a book in its own right.
Slightly further east in India, activists in are currently lobbying the government to take action over so-called “honour killings.” A common attitude in the country is that daughters are assets. They cost money to rear, and when they are to be married, a bride price is paid to the parents by the future spouse’s family.
But in situations where the daughter marries someone else against her family’s wishes, it is not uncommon for her father and brothers to seek revenge – not only because of the lost bride price, but also for the lack of respect shown to them. Acid attacks mutilations and murders common, but are general ignored by the government and police forces.
Closer to home, legislation is constantly being put into place to try to ensure equal pay and opportunities for women, but occasionally the consequences have led to further inequality. Under the recent administration in Britain, laws were introduced which give women a statutory right to nine months paid maternity leave, but rather than assure women that they could afford to both start a family and work, anecdotal evidence has emerged of private sector employers failing to offer jobs to women of childbearing age in order to avoid paying for their time off – in effect relegating them to the status of second class employees.