It’s never been easy being a woman, and perhaps this is a good time to reflect on that, and the attitudes to women and their rights in general today.
It is the week in which Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was deposed. She had crashed through the glass ceiling to become the first woman in Australia to reach the highest post in the land, but its shattering must have left her with cuts that will take a long time to heal.
Gracious in defeat she thanked her supporters, but added, ‘I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past.’ I would like to think that her following words are correct –‘What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that.’ But how long will it take?
I have no intention of going into the politics involved here but, given that she made mistakes, I believe she received more bad press than previous PM’s had for their mistakes. Take, for instance, this photo reporting of Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition, as he addressed a rally, standing beneath a placard saying ‘Ditch the Witch’.
Of course these are not the most pressing issues women are facing today.
Amnesty USA recently reported, following results of their current research, that, compared to her male counterpart, a girl growing up in the developing world is more likely to die before her fifth birthday and less likely to go to school. She is less likely to receive adequate food or health care, less likely to receive economic opportunities, more likely to be forced to marry before the age of 16, and more likely to be the victim of sexual and domestic abuse.
Do you know that women account for 70 percent of the world population living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.00 a day), and that women make up 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people. Instruments of genocide such as sexual violence and rape are often directed at women and girls, and the majority of persons smuggled illegally across country borders are women. Many of them have been kidnapped or sold by their own families into the sex industry.
Five hundred thousand women die every year from childbirth complications— that’s one woman every minute. Girl babies have even been killed in countries where males are considered more valuable.
Women are denied property rights and inheritance in many countries. Worldwide, women own only 1 percent of the world’s property.They work two-thirds of all the world’s labour hours but earn just 10 percent of the world’s wages.
In the developed world we are more fortunate, but even here gender inequality abounds. Domestic violence is all too frequent, as men use their superior physical strength to quell opposition to their wishes or vent their anger. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape are all too common. The recent rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne, which brought thousands of that city’s citizens to the streets in protest at violence against women, received much publicity but for that one atrocity, that touched so many hearts, there are many more that do not receive much publicity.
We have come a long way, however, from the universal conditions that were standard treatment of women in recent centuries, here in Australia and Britain and the USA as well as other developed countries. Then the laws of the day stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse. Under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had no redress. Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right.
Rose Scott, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Australia, wrote: “Men have come to look upon women as a sort of appendage to themselves, a sort of tail that can only wag when man – the dog – is pleased!’ This meant that a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bed-warmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself! For the average woman, life was not easy. It was these findings that led me to write An Independent Woman the first book in a fictional series based on my research.
Where did it all start, this supremacy of men over women that so many men seem to believe is their right? Back in the days of the caveman, I suppose, when his sheer physical strength meant that the man went out hunting to catch the food and the woman’s part was to serve her master, to cook his food, to share his bed and to bear him children to increase the population. It was the survival of the fittest, and he took what he wanted by sheer brute strength.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since then, but it’s taken thousands of years. Fortunately changes have happened more rapidly in the last century. We must thank the suffragettes for gaining women the right to vote, for that gave us the the power to influence the laws of the day. And today the power of the media in all its forms means that what happens today is known worldwide in a matter of moments.
So where are women’s rights going today? I think this quote from World Vision Magazine – Spring 2007 says most of it:-According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “No tool for development is more effective than education for the empowerment of women.”
This one thing can do more to address extreme poverty than food, shelter, health care, economic development, or increased foreign assistance. There is a saying in Ghana: “If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” When a girl is educated, her income potential increases, maternal and infant mortality is reduced, her children are more likely to be immunized, the birth rate decreases, and HIV infection rates (especially in Africa) are lowered. She is more likely to acquire skills to improve her family’s economic stability, and she is more likely to ensure that her daughters also receive an education. Educating girls pays dividend after dividend to the whole community.
Many of us women in developed nations already have these advantages, but we still have many issues to address. There are still individuals in the male population, here and worldwide, who think that the advantage of their physical strength gives them the right to take what they want, when they want it. And here in Australia, in our enlightened society, some males will do whatever they can to bring down the woman who achieves greatness, believing she is not worthy.
When will another woman be brave enough to aspire to be Prime Minister of our country?