On the occasion of International Women's Day on March 8, Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women said that women are the primary victims of wars and conflicts, but they remain grossly underrepresented at diplomatic negotiations. Concurrently, she called on the international community to do more to protect the lives, health and rights of women around the world. In fact, women’s predicament remains a concern for the world for centuries which is intensified during wars. In fact, their sorrows know no bounds during wars and conflicts.
Meanwhile, by Sima Bahous, the current Afghanistan situation has been termed as “gender apartheid” where women have literally been pulled out of public life banning women from attending universities, going to parks and removing them from many jobs. Initially, the Taliban government assured of protecting women’s rights to education and jobs. However, its reverse standpoint has shocked the world. By doing so, the Talibans have undermined true Islamic values as well.
However, these advancements have hardly reduced the oppression of women. On an average, women make about 30 percent less than what men make for the same job, hours and skill level. According to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report, around 2.4 billion women of working age are not given equal economic opportunity and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that preclude their full economic participation.
In 86 countries, women face some form of job restriction and 95 countries do not ensure equal pay for equal work. Globally, women still have only three quarters of the legal rights afforded to men. In fact, the economic disparity is only one part of the systematic exploitation of women. The labor of women has been devalued and exploited for centuries through lesser or no wages. This exploitation is flagrant in our context as well.
The ranges of exploitation also include unsafe and unhygienic working conditions; the nonpayment for extensive and valuable domestic work; and the compulsion to hand over all wages to one’s father or male spouse in many cases. As implied earlier, women are not only paid less than men, women perform most of the domestic work at home without any compensation whatsoever.
Women’s oppression was obvious in the political arena as well. For centuries, women did not have rights to vote and hold public office. They got these rights only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, women’s roles in politics are still limited to the function of appearance rather than performance. When dwelling on women’s oppression, there is a tendency to undermine the social and cultural manifestations of women’s oppression. In fact, objectivity has to be in place in getting the real perspectives.
The cultural manifestations include the sexual degradation and overall sexualization of women in popular culture and the association of women with products. These aspects of women’s cultural oppression are being increasingly reinforced through popular television programs and commercials; popular music and music videos; pornography; magazines; and other forms of advertisements. In fact, commodification of women has become a global trend.
Notably, in those societies, men were not oppressed by women. At that time, women held a certain social and cultural importance to the family and community that was not founded on the exploitation of men. While the division of labor was different, there was no system of inferiority or superiority based on the division of labor. As per the Marxists, with the emergence of private property, and the class society, the oppression of women has emerged.
Ever since, women have been oppressed in all forms of class society, including slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. Women’s oppression is, thus, historically rooted in class oppression. Marxists also argue that the absence of women’s oppression in pre-private-property societies proves that women’s oppression is grounded on the system of private property and not a natural offshoot of male dominance over women.
Consequently, as per the Marxists, the abolition of private property may pave the way for liberation of women. It is, however, difficult to materialize in the present world. In fact, there is a long-standing propensity to deprive the women of properties showing various pretexts.
In Bangladesh, a sizable portion of women are holding very high positions in the government. The number of women is increasing in the civil service, police and other services as well. Thus, the rate of women empowerment is appreciable in our country. However, oppression and exploitation of women are not showing any downward trend which is both paradoxical and unacceptable. On the contrary, this is always on the increase.
It does allude to sort of insensitivity on the parts of powerful women. Sensitization of women’s issues has to be given due attention by the women holding key positions in various sectors. They need to steer their strengths in smoothening up the landscape for the oppressed women and girls. This will definitely create an aura of confidence among the women at large.
It will also work as a warning signal for the ones who oppress women with a presumed sense of impunity. Only then can the spade of women’s predicament ebb significantly. At the same time, women have to be aware of not resorting to unfair means to which men are more prone. Loss of integrity on their parts will only weaken their image and positions. Men must be proactive facilitators by contributing meaningfully to elimination of women’s oppression.
(The writer is Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong.)
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Source: Sun Editorial