When men leave their villages for better-paid jobs in cities or abroad, women get saddled with the farm work as well as their domestic chores. When newly rich men dabble in vice, village girls get dragooned into prostitution and middle-aged matrons wind up divorced. Yet when fast-changing lifestyles provoke a traditionalist backlash, patriarchy reasserts itself with a vengeance. When inflation bids up dowries and social pressures depress birth rates, girl babies get aborted or murdered in their cribs to make way for male heirs.
Many of these changes have been positive. Some, however, have strengthened the bonds of subordination and discrimination against women, restricting them from enjoyment of their economic and social rights.
Internal conflicts and wars have led to displacement and destruction of property and livelihoods, which place women in an ever more vulnerable position. Military conflict also in an increase in violence and crime, and women and girls become particular targets. Statistics show that the female labor force is the most affected. This decrease has had a disastrous impact on the quality of life of populations in general, and on disadvantaged communities, such as women, in particular. See Module 26 for more on this issue. Even in industrial countries, women are very poorly represented in scientific and technical study.
Women who are not in paid employment are, of course, far from idle. Indeed, they tend to work much longer hours than men. The question of gender is normally ignored in the development of policies or programs for dealing with economic, social and cultural issues.
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Experience teaches otherwise. Differentiation based on gender male-female forms the core of gender ideology. Biological differences are real e. On the basis of sex differences, a superordinate-subordinate hierarchy is established, through which males have access to land holdings, inheritance, skills, productive employment and the associated high status.
Women, on the other hand, receive poor nutrition and medical care, and inferior education; they suffer violence and are even denied life female infanticide.
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Tanning of animal hides is a major export earning industry in the State of Tamil Nadu, India. Tanning is listed as one of the most hazardous industries in the state's Factories Act; it is considered seven times more hazardous than the next industry on the list.
Employment of children and women in this industry is banned. A study on the tanning industry in the state found, however, that a large of women are employed in contravention of the law. They are also involved in the most hazardous stage of production. Since their employment is illegal, it is hidden. They are never recorded as workers, so they have no rights or any form of protection under the existing industrial laws.
Applying a gender perspective would change the manner in which we articulate ESC rights. The following are some examples:.
From a gender perspective, the meaning of work would be changed to include unpaid work at home, on the family farm, and elsewhere, work that is currently not valued by society. Women are currently relegated to low-paid and low-skilled jobs; this needs to be rectified. Rights at work would include protection from sexual harassment in the work place, trade unions and labor organizations.
See Module 10 for more on the right to work and rights at work. See Module In a case involving inheritance rights, the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe issued a landmark decision in Aprilgiving precedence to customary law over the Constitution. In this case, Venia Magaya, a year-old seamstress, sued her half brother for ownership of her deceased father's land after her brother evicted her from the home. Under the Zimbabwean constitution, Magaya had a right to the land. However, the court ruled unanimously that women should not be able to inherit land, " because of the consideration in the African society which, amongst other factors, was to the effect that women were not able to look after their original family of birth because of their commitment to the new family through marriage.
The court backed up its decision by referring to Section 23 of the constitution of Zimbabwe.
This section recognizes exceptions to the general rule against discrimination when it involves adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death or other matters of personal law and in applying African customary law. Essentially, by making this judgment, the Supreme Court elevated customary law beyond constitutional scrutiny. The following passage provides a useful summary of key issues:.
The heaviest burden of ill-health is borne by those who are most deprived, not just economically, but also in terms of capabilities, such as literacy levels and access to information. It therefore follows that gender is an important social determinant of health. Gender differences are observed in every stratum of society, and within every social group, across different castes, races, ethnic or religious groups.
The sexual division of labour within the household, and labour market segregation by sex into predominantly male and female jobs, expose men and women to varying health risks. For example, their responsibility for cooking exposes poor women and girls to smoke from cooking fuels.
Differences in the way society values males and females, and accepted norms of male and female behaviour, influence the risk of developing specific health problems as well as health outcomes. Studies have indicated that son preference and the under-valuation of daughters skew the investment in feeding and in health care made for boys and girls. This has potentially serious negative health consequences for girls, including avoidable mortality. Women may not recognise the symptoms of a health problem, not treat them as serious or warranting medical help, and more commonly, not perceive themselves as entitled to invest in their wellbeing.
Research, policy and services aiming to improve the health status of a population will have to examine, understand and address these differences. Some of the major questions to be asked include. Women have struggled in every historical epoch and in every part of the world for equal treatment. In the early part of this century, the right of women to receive an education, to obtain paid employment, to enter professions, to vote and to stand for elections were all highly contested issues. However, women in many parts of the world still face multiple obstacles in enjoying these rights.
Discrimination based on gender ideology and patriarchy was not initially considered as part of the human rights agenda. Excluding sex discrimination and violence against women from the human rights agenda also from a failure to see the oppression of women as political.
Female subordination runs so deep that it is still viewed as inevitable or natural rather than as a politically constructed reality maintained by patriarchal interests, ideology, and institutions. The history of women's rights can in a brutal simplification be described as circular. A very early period of sex equality seems to have been followed by a long period of retrogression, then by efforts to regain some of the lost equality.
Descriptions of a general downward trend in societal recognition of women's equality hide their efforts to challenge inequality. Women martyrs are rarely known, but in every society, in every generation, there were women who led the way. For example, Fatimih Umm Salamih lived in Persia in the nineteenth century.
She was born in and became known as Tahirih The Pure One. She challenged the rules of the time, which relegated women to inferiority, and championed equality between men and women. She was murdered in and her body was thrown into a well which was then filled with stones.
Womens rightsnorms and standards
She was killed but not silenced; her last words were recorded: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women. The Rice Riots in Japan were triggered off when women port workers refused to load rice and were ed by other workers; this led to a long struggle and a political crisis.
In China in many thousands of workers in 70 Shanghai silk factories went on strike, calling for increased wages and a ten hour working day; this was the first important strike by Chinese women workers. In India and Sri Lanka, in the years after World War I, women workers were active participants in militant industrial agitation and strikes.
To give only one example from the region, the most militant activists of the Ceylon Labour Union, which led strikes in Sri Lanka in the s, were women factory workers in Colombo; they used to dress in red, were the most vociferous of the strikers and picketers, and formed a bodyguard for male trade union leaders during demonstrations.
In Iran, Egypt and Turkey women were to with men in the formation of left-wing political groups and trade unions, in spite of repression and adverse conditions for mobilizing the people. In the so-called private arena, the equal treatment of women remains extremely controversial. See Module 9 for further discussion on this point.
Many customary practices, traditions and religious beliefs relegate women to a secondary status and sometimes even deny adult women their legal majority. In a world where conflicts based on differences and identities are rampant, the issue of cultural rights remains one of the most controversial and divisive. See Module 17 for a more in-depth discussion of cultural rights. The extreme extent to which culture and tradition can be used by those supporting patriarchical interests came to light in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India.
A women's group, Vanangana, rescued an year old girl who was being abused by her father. The organization helped the child and her mother seek protection and also took legal action against the father. The accused and his supporters in turn filed several false charges against, and published pamphlets attacking, the members of the women's organization. They charged that the organization was destroying the institution of the family and attacking Indian culture.