Showing posts sorted by relevance for query women. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query women. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Women in Politics - Beyond numbers

By Saleha Fatima

Recent reports in India indicating that many women politicians are finding it difficult to participate in politics, let alone equalize the gender gap that exists, point to an increasing need to analyse the role that women play in Indian politics. The latest elections, with its saga of violence and conflicting rhetoric, further support this need.

A recent "Times of India" report corroborates much of what has been discussed in this handbook: namely that "domestic responsibilities, lack of financial clout, rising criminalization of politics and the threat of character assassination" are making it increasingly difficult for women to be part of the political framework. Moreover, women politicians point out that even within the political parties, women are rarely found in leadership positions. In fact, "women candidates are usually fielded from 'losing' constituencies where the party does not want to 'waste' a male candidate".

In this section we examine the results of a study of women parliamentarians in India during the Twevlth Parliament. The discussion focuses on three main areas: the social profile of women parliamentarians; the routes they have taken to get to their political position; and the public policy areas in which they were involved.

The Indian Political System - Party System and Women's Representation
India is a bicameral parliamentary democracy, with a strong multi-party political system. The lower house is called the Lok Sabha (Peoples' Assembly) and has 545 members. The upper house is called the Rajya Sabha (States' Assembly) with 250 members. In 1991, women constituted 5.2 per cent of the membership of the Lok Sabha and 9.8 per cent of the membership of the Rajya Sabha.1 This was lower than the preceding 1989 parliament. The election results in 1996 showed a further decline in women's representation. This trend is worrying given the recent state-led initiatives to ensure women's representation in political institutions.

One of the reasons for this decline may be the strength of the party system itself, which can lead to the marginalization of issue-based politics, or to an expropriation of movements that are based on single issues. The women's movement in India has had to confront this issue. Indian political parties are, however, organizationally weak and dependant on local elites. This might be a second factor for the resistance to implementation of gender-sensitive political initiatives.

Women's Movement and the Issue of Representation
The demand for greater representation of women in political institutions in India was not taken up in a systematic way until the setting up of the Committee on the Status of Women in India (CSWI) which published its report in 1976. Before this the focus of the growing women's movement had been on improving women's socio-economic position. The CSWI report suggested that women's representation in political institutions, especially at the grass-roots level, needed to be increased through a policy of reservation of seats for women. In 1988, the National Perspective Plan for Women suggested that a 30 per cent quota for women be introduced at all levels of elective bodies. Women's groups insisted that reservation be restricted to the panchayat (village council) level to encourage grass-roots participation in politics. The consensus around this demand resulted in the adoption of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Indian Constitution in 1993.

In 1995, the question of quotas was raised again, but this time the focus was women in parliament. Initially, most political parties agreed to this proposition. But soon doubts surfaced. When the bill addressing this issue was introduced in the Eleventh Parliament in 1997, several parties and groups raised objections. The objections focused around two main issues: first, the issue of overlapping quotas for women in general and those for women of the lower castes; second, the issue of elitism.

Most women's groups felt that the caste issue was a divisive one for women. Also, many felt uneasy about giving special privileges to elite women by ensuring seats for them in the parliament, while they had previously supported quotas for women at the grass-roots level of the panchayats. To date, the amendment has not been passed by parliament. However, the current government of the Hindu nationalist BJP has committed itself to introducing another quota bill for women in parliament.

The 39 women representatives in the 1991­1996 Indian Parliament were mostly middle-class, professional women, with little or no links to the women's movement. A significant number of them accessed politics through their families, some through student and civil rights movements, and some as a result of state initiatives aimed at increasing representation from the lower castes.

Gender and Caste in Parliament
Caste has been an important feature of Indian public and political life. Most of the women MPs in the Tenth Parliament were members of the higher castes. For example, there were six women from the Brahmin caste. This represents a sizeable 17.14 per cent of the women MPs, while Brahmins comprise only 5.52 per cent of the population. However, it is important to guard against making an easy correlation between caste and political representation. For example, of the six women who are Brahmins, two are MPs from the Communist Party of India. In both cases the caste factor is less important than their privileged class backgrounds. Further, both were products of political movements, the nationalist struggle and the anti-emergency movement.

The number of women who are able to avail of India's caste-based reservation system remains small. While 22 per cent of the parliamentary seats were reserved for the Scheduled Castes, women occupied only 4.1 per cent of the reserved seats. Two women MPs were from what are called the Scheduled Tribes. However, out of 39 women MPs in the Tenth Lok Sabha (representing seven per cent of the total), 14 per cent were from the Scheduled Castes. Two women MPs belonged to the "backward" castes and represented open constituencies. Caste, therefore, affects the profile, loyalties, and work of representatives in the Indian Parliament.

Out of the 39 women MPs in the 1991­1996 Lok Sabha, 32 had postgraduate qualifications; in the Rajya Sabha 14 out of the 17 women were graduates. The class position of these women is obviously more important to their educational levels than caste. Only one out of the seven lower caste women MPs was not a graduate, and the one Scheduled Caste woman MP in the Rajya Sabha had postgraduate education. The levels of education are also reflected in the professional profiles of these women. Thirty per cent of women MPs in the Rajya Sabha for example were lawyers, and 25 per cent in the Lok Sabha were either teachers or lecturers.

Most of the women MPs (about 65 per cent) were between their late 30s and 60s, and therefore did not have the responsibility of bringing up a young family. Given the almost universal marriage pattern that exists in India, the figure for unmarried MPs is extraordinarily high, and indicates the social pressures on women who join public life. For those who are married, the pressures of public life are eased a bit by their class situation. Most MPs are able to afford paid help in the home. In many cases the joint family system, or at least strong family support also helps. However, the constraints of family life continue to be real concerns even for privileged women.

Women have different strategies to cope with these constraints. If the family has accepted a woman's career in politics, she can negotiate with her family. This is more likely if the family is an elite political family with more than one member participating in politics. If the woman was already active in political life before she married, she can face tremendous pressures from her husband's family to conform to a traditional role that allows little scope for pursuing an active political career. A woman politician's options in this case are either to conform to the expectations of the family and retreat from public life, or to leave the family in pursuit of an uncertain future in party politics. In the latter case, the lack of family support and the stigma of divorce are a clear disadvantage for a woman in politics.

Class also mediates the influence of religion. With only one woman Muslim MP in the Rajya Sabha and one in the Lok Sabha, Muslim women are significantly under-represented. Dr. Najma Heptullah, who was also the Deputy Speaker of the Rajya Sabha, is from an elite class and educational background, and enjoys support for her work from both her natal and marital family. Margaret Alva, a Christian, and then Minister of State, and Founder Chair of the National Commission for Women of India, is from a similar background. In both cases the families were involved in the national movement, were influenced by liberal ideology, and were highly educated.

Thus, the majority of women in the Indian Parliament are elite women. While their public role challenges some stereotypes, their class position often allows them far greater range of options than are available to poorer women.

Surprisingly, active participation in the women's movement has not been one of the entry routes into formal party politics for women MPs.

Kinship or more?
"Male equivalence" has been a dominant explanation for how women access political life. The assumption here is that women access political life with the support, backing and contacts of the family, in particular that of the husband. In the sample of 15 women surveyed, 1/3 of the women MPs, for example, have "family support" in the background. However, in a well-argued critique of this theory, Carol Wolkowitz points out that "male equivalence" is an inadequate conceptual framework. First, because it is the public sphere (e.g. state institutions, press, and political discourse) that has to be negotiated if the family decision to put forward a woman in politics is to succeed; it is not a private, but a public matter.

Second, in many cases the husbands do not support the candidature of the wife at all. It is the pressure of party political bosses that forces the issue in many cases. The centralized system of distribution of seats in mass political parties helps in this context. A party's concern with levels of representation of certain groups within its ranks, and consequences for legitimacy of the party among the under-represented groups might be the motive for including women.

Social and Political Movements
Together with "kinship link" and state initiatives, an important factor impacting on women's access to political life seems to be social and political movements. These movements have created windows of opportunity and some women have been able to take advantage of these opportunities to access political life.

For example, the national movement was an important mobilizer of women. Gandhi's contribution to bringing women into politics is well-documented; the left movement also mobilized women. Women's organizations were constituted under the umbrella and control of the party ­ the Mahila Congress and the All India Women's Federation (CPI). However, none of the women interviewed in this survey had strong links with the women's wing of their party prior to their entry into parliamentary politics.

The civil rights and anti-emergency movement led by Jaiprakash Narayan (JP) in 1975­1977 was an important political movement that brought students to the forefront of national politics. Many women, both on the right and on the left wing, joined this movement and continued on in politics. Finally, in the context of current politics in India, fundamentalist and communal parties are mobilizing women. One of the most charismatic woman MP's is Uma Bharti, the product of the rise of Hindu militancy in Indian politics. She is the member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a mobilizational wing of the BJP and a "preacher" of Hindu texts by profession. She was in the forefront of the movement that brought down the Babri Mosque in Ayodhyaya.

The influence of individual national leaders is also an important factor that militates against the "male equivalence" theory. While Indira Gandhi, for example, did little to promote women's representation in politics, Rajiv Gandhi accepted the principle of reservation of seats for women. He initiated measures that had a direct impact on the inclusion of women in politics, e.g., the 1993 provision for reservation of 33 per cent of elected seats on village panchayats for women. As we have mentioned, who is able to take advantage of such reservations is mediated by class, ethnicity and caste.

However, the support of the state and state / political leaders can be important to women who want to access the political system. Quotas for women as a strategy for accessing the political arena has growing support among women MPs, despite the fact that very few have accessed the system through that route, and are firm believers in the meritocratic argument. Most women MPs have supported the 81st Amendment, which would ensure a 33 per cent quota for women in parliament, even though party discipline has not allowed them to vote for this. This issue highlights the constraints that the party system poses for women politicians.

Gender and Public Power: What do Women MPs do ?
Out of the 20 Congress women MPs in the 1991­1996 Lok Sabha, none was a Cabinet minister; two were Ministers of State; and two were Deputy Ministers of State. In the Rajya Sabha, out of seven Congress women MPs, one is a Minister of State. The portfolios of these Ministers included, Human Resource Development, Civil Aviation and Tourism, Health and Family Welfare, and Personnel and Public Grievances. All these are generally regarded as "soft portfolios"; this does not, however, take away from the responsibility that these women ministers have. One Congress woman MP is the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. At the level of the party, one MP was on the disciplinary committee of the party, and one was the President of the Mahila Congress. Among BJP women, the one Rajya Sabha member was the spokesperson on the economy and general political line of the party. Of the 10 members of the Lok Sabha, one was one of the vice-presidents of the party, and two were on the National Executive Committee of their party.

The system of institutional incentives and disincentives at the level of the party and parliament impact on the issues that women espouse in parliament. Most women MPs interviewed did not have women's issues high on their list of interests. Rather, they wanted to be on committees relating to economy, international relations, and trade. As ambitious women these MPs want to be where power and influence converge.

The Accountability Question
One of the important issues for any discussion on gender and representation has to deal with the constituency that women represent. As there are no "women's only" constituencies, women MPs are not accountable to women as women. And yet, when issues regarding women are raised in the parliament, these women are expected to, and do participate in the debates. Issues such as the welfare of women and violence against women are particularly important in uniting women MPs.

These issues are discussed in the "ladies room" in the parliament. However, as all the MPs questioned made clear, they are "party women first"; party whip is rarely flouted.

Some women MPs are also asked by the party leadership to get involved in the women's wing of the party. While the women MPs do not necessarily see this role as an enhancement of their status within the party, some have made a success of this role and as a result gained influence with the leadership of the party.

As "party women" with political ambitions, women MPs respond to the institutional incentives and disincentives that are placed on them. All these factors limit the potential of these women MPs representing the interests of Indian women across a range of issues. As a result there seems to be little regular contact between women's groups and women MPs. The exception here is of course the women's wing of political parties that do liaise with women MPs. This does allow the possibility of women MPs becoming conduits between the party's leadership and its women members. They are also consulted from time to time by the party leadership on issues regarding the family, and women's rights. But non-party women's groups do not seem to approach women MPs.

Women's representation in the parliament, while important on the grounds of social justice and legitimacy of the political system, does not easily translate into improved representation of women's various interests.

While we cannot assume that more women in public offices would mean a better deal for women in general, there are important reasons for demanding greater representation of women in political life. First is the intuitive one ­ the greater the number of women in public office, articulating interests, and seen to be wielding power, the more the gender hierarchy in public life could become disrupted. Without sufficiently visible, if not proportionate, presence in the political system ­ "threshold representation"11 ­ a group's ability to influence either policy-making, or indeed the political culture framing the representative system, is limited. This fact is confirmed by the various other contributions in this volume. Further, the fact that these women are largely elite women might mean that the impact that they have on public consciousness might be disproportionately larger than their numbers would suggest.

Second, and more important, we could explore the strategies that women employ to access the public sphere in the context of a patriarchal socio-political system. These women have been successful in subverting the boundaries of gender, and in operating in a very aggressive male-dominated sphere. Could other women learn from this example? The problem here is, of course, precisely that these women are an elite. The class from which most of these women come is perhaps the most important factor in their successful inclusion into the political system. We can, however, examine whether socio-political movements provide opportunities for women to use certain strategies that might be able to subvert the gender hierarchy in politics. Finally, we can explore the dynamics between institutional and grass-roots politics. As this study demonstrates, the "politicization of gender" in the Indian political system is due largely to the success of the women's movement.

Women representatives have thus benefited from this success of the women's movement. However, there has been limited interaction between women representatives and the women's movement ­ one of the important areas of weakness behind both the effectiveness of women MPs as well as that of the women's movement. This is, perhaps, the issue that the women's movement needs to address as part of its expanding agenda for the 1990s.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Can We Live Our Lives? Being Women In A Society…

By Sameena Taskeen / Jeddah

Muslim women are a diverse community, coming from many different cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, not to mention having various levels of religiosity. However they are united by their identification with a faith that many assert is contrary to women’s rights. The two rights of freedom of religion and gender equality are well established principles within the international human rights framework, and the perceived tension between them becomes magnified in a multicultural context like Saudi Arabia and any other progressive country.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Redefining Domestic Violence - Experiences of Dalit Women

Domestic violence against dalit women has not caught the attention of social science researchers. 

The National Family Health Survey 2006 showed that the prevalence of violence is much higher against women belonging to the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes as compared to women outside these categories. 

This article is based on fieldwork done in parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Among the causes for domestic violence against dalit women were male alcoholism, the man's suspicious nature, dowry demands, husband's extramarital relations and the complex social situations related to inter-caste marriages. Dalit and tribal women, thus, end up facing caste discrimination and harassment outside the home and domestic violence inside.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

THE BIG VOTE 2009 - 'Bharat ki Aam Aurat'

By M H Ahssan

From Kalawati to Shakuntala, politicians are wooing the aam aurat, but activists say that much needs to be done for women's emancipation

Kalawati, a hapless housewife in a remote village of Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, became a household name when the Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi used her story to make a passionate plea for the Indo-American nuclear deal in Parliament last year. For Kalawati and millions like her, nuclear energy will revolutionise life, he said. More recently, Omprakash Baburao Kadu, an independent legislator from Achalpur, chose a woman named Shakuntala of Rai Ka Purva village in Amethi as his mascot to take on the Gandhi scion.

Almost confined to their kitchens till now, Kalawati and Shakuntala have suddenly become the poster women of political parties. And the run up to the elections will see stories of many more women like them, as candidates highlight their development needs.

They represent the aam aurat (the common woman), a substantial chunk of active voters. Though the participation of women is less than men's in the elections, the gap is narrowing. In the last Lok Sabha elections, more than 300 million women exercised their franchise. This has prompted political parties to include the aam aurat in their election manifestos. But feminists doubt whether anything will come of it.

"It is all a dikhawa (show), it is a betra-yal. What they are trying to do is exploit the women and steal their votes. Unfortunately, women are falling in their trap," says septuagenarian Suman Krishan Kant, national president of the United Women's Front. Her father-in-law, Lala Achint Ram, was member of the Constituent Assembly and the first Lok Sabha.

The pressure of the women's movement and the fact that they are a huge constituency ensure that no party can afford to ignore women or openly make sexist statements, says Dr Indu Agnihotri of the Centre for Women Development Studies, Delhi. But she sees most of the "women's issues" in political manifestos as an "attempt to hijack the women's movement through symbolic gestures."

According to Dr Ranjana Kumari, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, "Rahul Gandhi may really be considerate towards women, or he is simply smart to have spoken of Kalawati. But at the end of the day, all major political parties have been promising women more or less the same things. But nothing has happened."

Veteran politician Najma Heptullah is "angry with those who could do a lot for women, but did not". In the list of unfulfilled promises compiled by women's activists, the Women's Reservation Bill has top priority. Says senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj: "Last year, when we had a rally for the Women's Reservation Bill, there were over one lakh women participants. We have fully supported the bill, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha twice when Atalji was Prime Minister. But some parties, particularly the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, were hell-bent on thwarting it. They tore it up, and we could not get the bill passed." She says that the BJP is committed to the bill and would support the UPA if it introduces it. "For the first four years of this Lok Sabha, they did nothing about it. And at the end of the fourth year, they introduced the draft bill. But nothing happened thereafter. That was the first betrayal of women by the UPA government."

CPI(M) leader Hannan Moullah, MP, says women should not vote for a party that cannot give a written commitment in favour of the Women's Reservation Bill. Heptullah feels that since the BJP, the Congress and the Left are ready to see the bill through, it should be put to vote so that the opponents can be unmasked. She regrets that when India got its first woman President, there was no mention of women in her maiden speech.
Pointing at the growing intolerance towards women in society, Agnihotri says it is high time Parlia-ment was packed with women. "The growing intolerance affects women most. That's how incidents in Bangalore and Mangalore happened."

But the million-dollar question is whether a greater presence of women in Parliament can redress the woes of the fair sex. Perhaps not, but things will improve substantially for them. Swaraj recalls how she was invited to the wedding of a party worker's daughter. "She asked me to come, saying the bridegroom's people would realise that her daughter has the support of a political leader. She introduced me to all of them, and was confident that her daughter's in-laws wouldn't dare ill-treat her," she says.

According to Swaraj, reservation for women in the BJP has had a tremendous impact. "There are 27 women in the national executive of the BJP, and nine are central office bearers in the party. Such a huge presence of women is not there in any other political party. Every empowered woman has hundreds of followers, their authority empowers the followers as well." While the BJP plans to include a full chapter on women in its manifesto, Swaraj admits the status of women is pathetic. She is concerned about the growing number of atrocities against women. "Even in the national capital, two or three cases of molestation and rape are reported daily. In the Soumya Viswanathan murder case, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit had suggested that women should stay indoors to be safe and secure," she says.

According to Agnihotri, economic hardships have not been addressed by the political parties, and women have gone to the extreme by becoming surrogate mothers. The UPA's claim that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has empowered many women has come in for flak. The reality is different, says Bidyut Mohanty of the Delhi-based Institute of Social Sciences. "The implementation of the act suffers from various shortcomings. Women of Madhya Pradesh, for example, complained that there were no crèche facilities and children were either left with family members or were brought to the work site, where they remained unattended," he says.

The ISS found that in Orissa, the work was too arduous for women because of which they could not get minimum wages. In some places, women did not get employment because of gender discrimination. Despite the presence of a woman in Rashtrapati Bhavan, and women heading major political parties like the Congress, the BSP, the AIADMK and the Trinamool Congress, women are largely invisible in the political arena. "How many parties have involved women in leadership? Even parties led by women have done nothing. Do Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Mamata Bannerjee have a woman as second in command? They have simply played by the rules to keep themselves going. All the prominent parties led by women have sidelined prominent women leaders. So the aam aurat is only a political need," explains Ranjana.

Apart from women activists, NGOs working for women's empowerment say that women's issues are largely seen only in manifestos. Summing up the general feeling, Arpita Das, programme associate of Delhi-based NGO Tarshi, has lots of questions to ask politicians who seek women's votes. Says Das: "Although there are laws to curb violence against women, how far are they implemented? Why do most police officers treat domestic violence as a personal issue? Does the aam aurat have the legal knowhow to lodge a case against the perpetrators of violence? I don't think so. On the other hand, we have politicians such as Muthalik, who have their own narrow-minded notions of how a woman should behave."

Das says many women become sex workers for lack of employment opportunities. According to her, "Politicians feel the best way to cater to these women is by eliminating sex work altogether. And for this there is a push to get the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act amendment passed so that the client, too, is convicted. It also doesn't allow a sex worker's 18-year-old child to live off her earnings. Politicians should spend more time understanding the nuances of sex workers' lives to make laws for their benefit. Sex workers do not want the ITPA amendments!"

Dr George Mathew, director of the ISS, says women have become a big political force, which a political party can ignore only at its own peril. "So they do make programmes targeted at women, and also try to implement them. But they fail to do it in more than a symbolic manner, by touching the periphery," says the social scientist.

Mathew says it is the combination of their issues, along with the fact that they are increasingly taking their own decision on whom or which party to vote for, that makes them a potent force as an electorate. "The women of India want a commitment from political parties to play a proactive role in giving the highest priority to their safety, health, nutrition, work, education and equal participation in every sphere. Recognising the cultural constraints and inequities among women in India, special attention and provisions need to be made for the marginalised and vulnerable women," says Women Power Connect, an umbrella organisation of a number of NGOs and activists.

They have drafted a 13-point agenda of women's concerns, and have recommended it for inclusion in the Congress manifesto. Kant is trying to field as many women as possible to contest the Lok Sabha elections. "The solution lies in all educated women getting into politics. Unfortunately, that is not happening," she says.

While all this is true, the aam aurat can no longer be taken for granted. "The Panchayati Raj Act has raised their political aspirations, and also has been driving home the point that their issues have to be addressed by the government," says Kumari. "Political parties must not take women's votes for granted."

Also Read:
  • The Cultural Designation of Feminism

  • Being a Woman

  • A New Indian Woman?

  • Wailing Womb, Weeping Heart

  • The Fallen Womb

  • Feminism as a Global Epidemic

  • In Defense of Dupatta

  • Women in Metro India

  • Women in Politics

  • Women Psyche
  • Wednesday, April 30, 2014

    Spotlight: Women Can Build A New Politics In New India

    By Sumera Shahnaz | INNLIVE

    Engaging in formal politics is basically about engaging in making a claim for power or for access to it. This power can, of course, be used in ways that are enabling to the groups that the elected politician represents. Given this, we could ask how far reservation of seats in legislative councils for women would enable them to gain the power to negotiate the issues and concerns that impact their lives and affirm the rights demanded by the women’s movement.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    The Cultural Designation of Feminism: Theory and Praxis

    By M H Ahssan

    Feminism is a vital area in contemporary intellectual literary discourse. This paper aims at an analysis of the impact of this theory that has given rise to issues like ‘men in feminism’, ‘feminism without women’, ‘the origin and the types of feminism’, keeping in view its fundamental significance and impact on literary studies during the second half of the twentieth century. Also, the paper discusses several major theories related to feminism as a whole, their origin and development across the years. Feminist theory can be compared with some major conceptual developments like Marxism and psychoanalysis. This theory helps one analyze and understand the major factors through which the two genders – male and female – have been constructed with specific languages and ideas in literature.

    Chronologically, 1960s and 1970s helped theorize a woman’s discourse; in 1980s, feminism concentrated on changing the intellectual fields for women; and in 1990s it began and reached its culmination in playing a major role in directing women’s feeling of themselves as the other sex.

    The word ‘feminism’ has so many meanings and directions in the current century that it is hardly possible to attribute it some precise definition. Janet Radcliff Richards observes: “women suffer from systematic social injustice because of their sex,”1 and a voice against this social injustice is the ideal of feminism. It is a common belief that feminism is a movement of women and men are not allowed into it which is rather a narrow definition. In fact, feminism is not concerned with a limited group of people to benefit their demands, rather it wants to eliminate social injustice, works in favor of the oppressed. Lisa Tuttle defines feminism thus: “the term feminism, taken from the Latin word ‘femina’ (woman), originally meant having the qualities of females. It originated in the perception that there is something wrong with the treatment of the females by the society.”2 The feminists attempt to analyze the reasons, dimensions of women’s oppression, and the remedies. Feminism incorporates both a principle of equal rights for woman (the organized movement to attain women’s rights) and philosophy of social renovation aiming to create a world for women beyond uncomplicated social equality. But feminism must distinguish for itself between women’s rights and women’s emancipation. Coming to the Feminist ,like feminism, there is not a single definition of feminist since feminists have many differing affinities – of sexual preference, class and race. In short a feminist is a woman who recognizes herself, and is recognized by others, as a feminist, as the one who has the awareness and knowledge of women’s oppression, and has a recognition of women’s differences and commonalities. Some feminists argue for a classification that is future oriented – that a feminist must have a notion of social change.

    Some sources say that Viking women were the first feminists. Broka Aubur, one of Iceland’s legendary Viking heroines, attacked her unfaithful husband with a sword 10 centuries ago and defied social tradition by wearing trousers. Another Icelandic woman, Gudrid Porbjamadottir, helped lead the third Viking expedition to America early in the 11th century and gave birth to the first European child on the new continent. Since the origin of the American civilization, women were assigned a subordinate role within the family irrespective of wealth or talent and were denied the political and civil rights enjoyed by men; the feminine world was basically alienated from the masculine world. By 1870, American women challenged this restrictive view of family. Higher education gave women their most important opportunity to reject the traditional claims of male-female distinctions. During 1870s, Mrion Talbot and her mother Emily Talbot persuaded the Harvard University premises to open the doors for women. Dr. Edward Clarke, a former medical school professor and a Harvard overseer, opined that higher education would destroy women’s health, beauty and reproductive ability which the Talbot mother and daughter proved false with research and survey. This seems to be the first recorded attempts of the feminists to challenge male supremacy. Sam Shephard has said “The real mystery of American life lies between men, not between men and women.” 3 “Women’s movement and thinking has emanated from the urgency of the age,”3 says Helen Cixous, one of the pioneering feminists in France. Her writings challenge the male hegemony that exists in opposition to the prevailing ideology. She says, “When I started writing I instinctively felt an ethical obligation towards women and decided to take up cudgels on behalf of them. When I say ‘women’ I’m speaking of women in their inevitable struggle against conventional man; and of a universal women subject who must bring women to their senses and to their meaning in history… we don’t need to be apart of men, we stand as entities by ourselves.” 3 She warns against the danger of confusing the sex of the author with the sex of the writing a man or a woman produces.

    In an essay entitled ‘Women and Fiction’ (1929), Virginia Woolf speculated on the new colors and shadows in women’s writing after the English woman was transformed from a weak, fluctuating, vague character to a voter, wage-earner, a responsible citizen. Woolf considered that the relations of the new woman with the society will not only be emotional, but also intellectual and political. She described the woman’s world of cooking, child bearing as intangible, vague, anonymous, as if that were a dark country, which could be compared to Mary Wollstonecraft’s view in a ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (1722) that women were immured in their families, groping in the dark. The second wave feminists were just the followers defining women’s oppression as her imprisonment in the bourgeois household as a mother and unpaid servant. First-wave/second-wave feminism has been a long tradition of writers and thinkers who have criticized the position of women in western societies, but not until the nineteenth century did that critique inspire a mass movement. Between approximately 1880 and 1920, and beginning again in the 1960s, questions of women’s social, economic and political rights generated substantial popular support and public discussion, initially in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand and then, in the twentieth century on all continents .

    Although the term feminism did not come into popular use until the 1910s, commentators since have termed the two movements ‘first’ and ‘second-wave’ feminism, likening the ebb and flow of the movements’ mass appeal to that of a cresting wave. The origins of nineteenth-century feminism lie in the changes that altered western societies in the early part of the twentieth century. Foremost was industrialization which undermined household production and established a hierarchy between the male-dominated public sphere and the female-dominated private one. At the same time, liberal-democratic ideologies, socialism, evangelical Protestant Christianity, and social reform movements, especially abolitionism and temperance, propelled a wide spectrum of women to challenge their exclusion from the public realm. The relative importance of each factor depended on the specific national or even regional circumstances, as historian Chiristine Bolt has observed, the story of first-wave feminism ‘is one of national distinctiveness within an international cause’. Feminist criticism is just one aspect of the cultural revolution in America in 1960s. In 1970s that was categorized as Black feminist criticism, Lesbian feminist criticism with women as the reader as well as woman as the writer. Some such books are Alice Jordine’s Gynesis: Configurations of Woman and Modernity (1985), Noami Schor’s Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine (1987), Tania Modeleski’s Study of Hitchcock: The Women Who Knew Too Much (1988) and Elaine Showalter’s Towards a Feminist Poetics (1979), where she coins a new world, ‘gynocritics’, making women conscious of “only what men have thought women should be”.4

    Feminism has been classified under certain categories keeping in view its characteristics and dimensions. Liberal feminism refers to the tradition defined by John Stuart Mill in his book, The Subjugation of Women. It argues in favor of the basic liberty of women to determine their social role and to walk equal to man. Liberal Feminism confers upon the state the duty to ensure that every individual, both man and woman, has got the right to engage himself/herself in the competition to gain his/her self-interest. The state must ensure and enforce equality of opportunity. Liberal Feminism is the theory of individual freedom for women. Liberal feminism is one of the main streams of feminist political and social theory and has the most long-term history. Liberal feminism argues for individual fulfillment free from the strictures of highly defined sex roles. It limits itself to reformism, seeking to improve the status of women within the system but not fundamentally contesting either the system’s operation or its authenticity.

    Contemporary liberal feminists espouse women’s rights in terms of welfare needs, worldwide education, and health services. For example, liberal critics point to unfair employment practices rather than attacking the society as a whole. The Classical Marxist Feminism states that women’s oppression is a result of our larger socioeconomic system. Man’s traditional responsibility to provide woman with the means of living makes him look down upon her. Women’s traditional position excludes her from participating in public production, confines her only to domestic works in the private world of the family. Thus, even if she takes maximum responsibility of the family, still she is not recognized by the society. This domestic slavery of the wife can come to an end only under socialism, in the Marxist feminists’ view. Because now the state will undertake food preparation, childcare, nursery and other major female activities within the sphere of public production by providing public sector services like childcare centers, hotels, hospitals etc. specially for women. After this man will no longer be the bourgeois and woman the proletariat. To the feminists, a woman should be provided with her basic rights in her own individual world. Elizabeth Cady Stanton has written, “In discussing the rights of woman, we are to consider first what belongs to her as an individual is a world of her own, the arbiter of her own destiny, an imaginary Robinson Crusoe, with his woman… on a solitary island.”5

    Radical Feminism is a rather recent concept that argues in favor of the sexual liberty of women. The different forms of social oppression upon women are basically the outcome of the sexual oppression. Woman is generally accepted as the weaker sex, the second sex. It is a neo-Freudian theory; Fred believed that “The crucial problem of modern life is sexuality.”6 The heart of women’s oppression is her role as a child bearer and rearer. Writers as Ti Grace and Alkinson and Shulamith Firestone do not believe that woman’s oppression consists in her lack of political or civil rights. Neither do they support Marxists who classify women in the society in a lower class. Rather the radical feminists require a biological revolution for women, a liberation form fundamental inequalities in sex through developed technology and artificial reproduction. The prototype role of woman as a child production machine should be challenged, renovated by the state making her equal with the male. “The situation of a woman is that she – a free and autonomous being like all creatures – nevertheless finds herself living in a world, where men compel her to assume the status of the other.”7

    Radical feminism argues that woman’s oppression comes from her categorization as an inferior class. Radical feminism aims to destroy this sex-class system. What makes this feminism radical is that it focuses on the roots of male domination and claims this all forms of oppression are extensions of male superiority. Radical feminism argues that patriarchy is the defining characteristic of our society. The other central hypothesis of radical feminism is the belief that the personal is political and that woman-centeredness can be the basis of an upcoming society. Cultural feminism is an approach to feminism thinking and action which claims that either by nature and/or through nurture, women have developed what society refers to as ‘feminine’ or ‘female’ characteristics. This set of characteristics, say cultural feminists, is to be compared and contrasted with the set of ‘masculine’ or ‘male’ characteristics which men have developed, also through nature and/or nurture. Cultural feminists fault western thought for its tendency to privilege ‘male’ ways of being, thinking, and doing over ‘female’ ones. Specifically, they argue that the traits typically associated with men – ‘independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war and death, - are no better, and perhaps worse, than the traits typically associated with women – ‘interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace and life’. Existentialist feminism draws inspiration from existentialists including Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. They see women’s and men’s lives as concretely situated and highlight concepts like freedom, interpersonal relations, and experience of lived body. They value the competence for fundamental change, but recognize that various factors limit it, such as self-deception, and anxiety raised by change and self-responsibility.

    Feminism as a theory has very recently given rise to a new area in criticism, known as Feminist Literary Criticism. The motto of this literary criticism is to search for underlying, powerful female tradition in literature. The feminist literary critics attempt to uncover and interpret women’s writing from a symbolic point of view and to rediscover the lost works of women in the past. They aim at interpreting the works of the male writers from a feminist standpoint and to distinguish between the politics, style and language of the male and female writers. Feminist theory is a locale of writing which represents a critical and original contribution to current thinking. With increasing acts of physical belligerence towards women, there is an even greater need for feminist psychoanalytic theory which investigates sexual distinctiveness. Unique to feminist hypothesis is its insistence on the inextricable link between theory and practice and between the communal and private. Theory and experience have a very singular relationship within feminism encapsulated in its slogan ‘the personal in political’. Certain terms in contemporary theory are used to sum up what appear to be the key experiences of women. Among these are ‘work’, ‘family’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘sexuality’. These concepts reflect feminism’s effort to reveal nucleus social processes and to find what constantly reappears in various guises in the itinerary of women’s account. An elementary goal of feminist theory is to comprehend women’s oppression in terms of race, sex, class and sexual preference and how to revolutionize it. Feminist theory reveals the magnitude of women’s individual and collective experiences and their struggles. It analyses how sexual divergence is constructed within any intellectual and common word and builds accounts of experiences from these differences.

    Feminism will always need an agenda within which it can travel around diversity. Feminist theory represents that prospective for a broader politics. Its vision and forms of practice constitute a major break with traditional definitions. The issues of feminist theory – ecological feminism, pacifism, anti-pornography, Third World affairs, sexuality debates – all focus on women’s specificity grounded in the sexual division of labor and reproduction. Most reservations are really misgivings about traditional theory and not about feminism. As Edward Said and others argue, the cult of this theory reduces continuation to elements in a self-confirming, intellectual maneuver. Feminist theory, on the other hand, enables women to recognize their interests and standing as historical agents. Feminism actively refuses the arrogant mystification involved in traditional theory which is often incomprehensible or abstract and has a inclination for losing contact with the world. Traditional theories have been applied in ways that make it complicated to understand women’s involvement in social life. Feminist theory is instantaneous, and urgently about the world of women.

    As the goals of the women’s movement diversified, so too did its ideological underpinnings. Liberal ideals of political and educational equality, along with socialist principles of redistributing economic wealth, remained influential, but by the end of the nineteenth century, the rhetoric of maternalism was being deployed with increasing frequency. Maternal, also called domestic or social, feminism celebrated women’s superior morality as the justification for female participation in public affairs and for improved state services for mothers and children. Although some non-European women used similar rhetoric, maternalism often relied upon radicalized images and arguments to marshal support and to legitimate white women’s special ‘civilizing’ role in reform and missionary work. The fledging women’s right movement that emerged in the 1850s through 1870s advocated a single sexual standard for men and women, (primarily within marriage), dress reform, equal property and other legal rights, and higher education for women, especially in professions such as medicine and law. With the movement’s dramatic growth after 1880, concerns over the conditions and wages of working-class women gained prominence, as did a revitalized interest in temperance and a new commitment to social purity – protecting women from sexual ‘vice’. In the process, feminism became allied with numerous other social reform movements. By 1900, ideological differences were over-shadowed by the growing agreement amongst activities that success on key legal, educational and economic issues could not be gained without grater political leverage, and thus the vote emerged as a unifying objective for feminists of all persuasions and in many nations.

    Adrienne Rich is an American poet and critic who, in Of Woman Born (1976), On Lies, Secrets and Silence (1980), creates a feminist theory which she calls her ‘Re-vision’ or rewriting of patriarchal customs. The term refers to a new feminist perspective which could link women’s culture to the realities of our past and existing history. Rich uses the technique in her own work to mix study and personal experience. Making a major contribution to feminism with her accounts of education, sexual politics, reproduction and ethnic identity, Rich argues that the English language and the intellectual tradition have been used as weapons of colonialisation and describes how a woman’s university and female-identified education could provide a substitute to this tradition. Rich rediscovers the concept of motherhood by distinguishing between a patriarchal institutionalization of motherhood and the joy and experience of motherhood. Similarly Rich redefined the concept of ‘lesbian’ and greatly expanded the boundaries of lesbian history and experience by distinguishing the historical existence of lesbian from lesbian ethnicity and Jewish identity. In all her writings, and in her gynocentric view of world history, Rich creates a new tradition of feminist scholarship. In this regard, some typical and very important phrases related to feminism, coined by Rich and other feminists, may be discussed in detail.

    If we go on to give a historical sketch of Feminist theories, we have to discuss the origins of the ‘second wave.’ British feminist Juliet Mitchell characterizes feminism as “an ideological offspring of certain economic and social conditions”.8 Its radicalism reflects the fact that it comes to prominence at points of decisive change and envisages it with an imagination that goes beyond it. One of Freud’s most articulate pre-second wave feminist critics is Simone de Beauvoir, whose observation, “one is not born, but rather becomes a woman”,8 gives subsequent analyses of patriarchally constituted psychological and sexual femininity. Feminism itself, feminist film theory, feminist epistemology, the body, gender, feminist history, queer theory, women’s studies, black feminism, Chicano feminism, feminist theology--these are just some of the entries whose very headwords give evidence to the mark that feminist theory and practice have made on the shape and content of academic curricula.

    Anarchist feminism is a theory that female subordination is determined as much by a system of sexual and familial relationships as by State controls, and that legal change cannot in itself provide equality without full psychological autonomy. Anarchist feminism would eliminate all social restraints and replace these with decentralized, organic communities of women. Early feminist anarchists, for example Emma Gldman and Voltarinine de Cleyre, believed that communal attitudes would grow organically into sexual and psychological freedom. Anarchist feminists argue that the State and patriarchy are twin irregularities. To obliterate the State is to destroy the major instrument of institutionalized patriarchy; to abolish patriarchy is to put an end to the State.

    This theory is more avant-garde than radical feminism because it believes that any State is always illicit. Perhaps for this rationale, many feminist science fiction writers are anarchists. Anarchist feminists also believe that the means used to revolutionize the society must be the models of the future society in themselves. Therefore, women’s cooperatives and consciousness-raising groups can make a more momentous social and ideological input than their numbers or financial status might entail. Anarchist feminism refers to the inspiration feminists have gained from the concept of anarchy from the Greek word , literally, non-rule.

    The foremother of anarchist feminism, Emma Goldman (1869-1940), opined that political ideas were meaningless unless they were acted on, and she was arrested numerous times for speaking out and advocating such action. As a nihilist, she knew that men and women are oppressed by authoritarian social structures, but she also saw that women are oppressed specifically as women. The convergence of feminist concerns with anarchism meant that no mere reform of hierarchical institutions would be adequate to the task of allowing women to live full lives. Thus, she spoke out against women’s suffrage because she saw it as merely a way to gain women’s cooperation in the maintenance of an essentially unchanged organization. Goldman was outstanding because she was able to draw one theory without being lured by it; while inspired by communism and anarchism, she insisted that their appliance should be elastic and adaptable, resisting any urge toward rigidity, uniformity, or essentialism.

    Abolitionist Feminism is one of the main theories of nineteenth-century feminism. It takes the view that woman’s subjugation and liberation paralleled the struggle for Black liberation from slavery. The nineteenth-century faction to eliminate slavery in the USA preceded, and provided strategies for the development of feminism. The notion of alienation is vital to feminist theory. Women’s alienation has so many different elements and the feminists argue that a new theoretical framework can be used, but it must go past Marxism. It must connect women’s intimidation in the home, in culture and in sexuality, with our knowledge in wage labor. Even within wage labor, the sexualisation of women’s work and the sexual persecution of women generate a gender-specific form of women’s isolation. Socialist and Marxist feminists consent that the first stride is to eliminate the sexual allotment of labor in every area of life because while alienation reduces the woman to an appliance of labor within industry, it reduces the woman to an instrument for man’s sexual contentment within the family. Women are alienated from skill and scholarship, which presents a male-biased model of human nature and collective reality. These forms are interrelated. For example, the form taken by woman’s sexual estrangement results in an even more damaging alienation from her intellectual capacities. In addition, women’s participation in male-dominated opinionated activity might also be described as alienated.

    The term Body Politics refers both to physical power relations and to the resistance against all forms of tortuous violence against women. Nancy M. Henley argues that the body language of existing culture is inherently sexist. Other feminists use the commencement of body politics to illustrate aggression against women embedded in other controlling and domineering relations like class and imperialism, as well as in the patriarchal institutions of family, medicine or education. Feminists writing about body politics share one main theme that there is the doggedness on the human essence of women, on our dignity, integrity and purity as human beings and a denunciation of women’s objectification.

    Under Christian feminism, the Feminist theories of Christianity fall into three categories: those that challenge the theological view of women and the androcentricity of customary theology; those that challenge the theological laws that that bar women from ordination; those that weigh up the church as an organization and aim to promote the certified status of woman in the church. Feminist theologians clash the recurrent use of masculine terms to refer to God or the Holy Ghost. In research about the descriptions of women in the church and in Christian history, theologians reveal that there are only two images of women – the transgressor (Eve) or the virgin (Mary), which includes motherhood and obedience. They argue that this dualism, by creating a sense of the other, is inherently racist, sexist and could lead to the destruction of the planet. Feminist Christians are not antichristian but argue instead that Christianity has excluded transcendental biblical themes in favor of anti-women images.

    Domestic labor is the way in which women regenerate labor power for capitalism by servicing the domicile and socializing their families. The scrutiny of domestic labor is a central hub of feminist theory has been the domestic labor dispute, in which feminist ideas confront the political concepts and theoretical positions of the traditional left. The domestic labor debate was initiated in 1969 by Margaret Benston in ‘The Political Economy of Women’. She drew awareness to the fact that housework must be taken seriously in many analysis of the workings of the economy, and not relegated to a marginal or non-existent status . Housework could be recognized both as productive labor and, simultaneously, as a locale of exploitation and a source for capital growth. At the centre of the debate is the issue of whether Marx’s theory of value could be applied to domestic labor or not. It is only within capitalism that men are able to exclude and marginalize household labor.

    Escritoire feminine is the term for women’s writing in French feminist theory. It describes how women’s writing is a specific dissertation closer to the body and to emotions both of which are repressed by the social treaty. Writing and literature are crucial areas because literature reveals the introverted, the clandestine and unsaid and, in a force of the imagination, can be a space of aspiration and pleasure. Most feminists are actively creating a new women’s language while concurrently critiquing the old one. Black feminism is related to the theory of Black-defined women’s struggles. Black feminism has built on a tradition of leftist activism, adapting models of socialist feminism. Initially, Black feminism argued that meaningful change in a social order which represses both men and women could be accomplished by building a federation between women of color and progressive movements. Black feminists like Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Gloria I. Joseph, Gloria Hull or Alice Walker have created theories which meet the needs of Black women by helping Black women to stimulate issues that they perceive to have direct impact on the overall value of life. Black feminist theory examines the margin of sisterhood with white feminists in order to transact fully with the contradictions intrinsic in gender, race and class within the context of a racist society. Black feminists argue that all feminist theories must grasp imperialism and challenge it.

    Essentialism refers to the succinct in unique female nature. Feminists defy assumptions that women are essentially weaker, whether biologically, emotionally, than men since these assumptions underline misogyny and favoritism against women. For example feminist historians show how discrimination against women in medicine and science is often based on a mythical essentialism. Alternatively, radical feminism believes that there are essential feminine modes of perception which can communicate female creativity and culture. This sometimes leads radical feminism to idealization which often underlies essentialist views of women. For example women are described as “finer pacifist beings”8 by some peace groups. But it is impossible to distinguish between ‘authentic’ and ‘obligatory’ feminine essentials. All feminists recognize that this theory should be thoroughly genderized and that women do have preoccupations which are essentially female ─ for example motherhood and female bonding ─ even if all women do not wish to mother or to affiliate with other women.

    Female consciousness defines women’s recognition of how a particular class, culture and historical period create definitions of female. Female consciousness is not necessarily feminist but is an unconscious feminism, particularly when it occurs in women’s groups. Female consciousness promotes a shared vision embodying fundamental opinionated implications that feminist theory needs to address. Female ethic has three main features. It includes a critique of notion and a principle that female thinking is more tangible. It stresses that the values of compassion, nurturance and care are values of women. It stresses too that choices are in reality the hassle of situations. Female eunuch is a phrase coined by Germaine Greer in her book of the same name to describe the ‘castration’ of women by aspects of patriarchy such as ‘romantic love’ and by male antagonism. Greer used de Beauvoir’s concept of woman in order to squabble that women’s providence is to befall deformed and incapacitated by the disparaging action of male domination in existing society which deprives women of getting in touch with peripheral reality. Greer suggests that its significance is to make women inner-directed. Sexism is a phrase to define a social relationship in which males denigrate females. Contemporary feminism argues that sexist social beliefs and practices not only limit the activities of women, but are an impertinent way of making distinctions between the sexes, because they are not founded on evidence. A sizeable body of feminist research has documented sexism in the media. For example, it criticizes the use of sex-role stereotyping where women are always mothers and household workers. Feminist psychoanalysis argues that sexism stems from the configuration of gender identity as well as from contemporary culture.

    Sisterhood, sometimes called sorority, includes the idea and experience of female bonding, and the self-affirmation and identity discovered in a woman-centered vision and definition of womanhood. Because sisterhood is based on a clear awareness that all women, irrespective of class, race, or nation have a common problem – patriarchy-- the term which is an important part of contemporary feminism. Radical feminism argues sisterhood is not at all symmetrical with brotherhood or male comradeship. Sisterhood has at its core the affirmation of freedom and is radically self-affirming. There are other definitions of sisterhood, for example Catherine Beecher’s idea of separate spheres for women. Sisterhood is also implied in the maternalists’ affirmation and celebration of the unique qualities of female experience as well as in Mary Daly’s vision of women-centered separatism. Bell Hooks and other Black feminists prefer the term ‘solidarity’ to sisterhood because sisterhood implies the erasing of difference. They argue that political solidarity must be the main feminist agenda.

    Spiritual feminism, sometimes called myth feminism, is a growing area of feminist theory. The ecology of myth described by critics such as Carol Christ, Mary Daly and Charlene Spretnak involves the construction of cultural archetypes of power useful to women and psychological tools which can facilitate women to articulate desire through symbols and rituals. Defining Jewish feminism is difficult for feminists both because the language available to describe Jews as a racial group is insufficient. Characterizing Jewish feminism as a narrow version of identity politics has margins because anti-Semitism is not only an attack on identity, nor does it only affect Jewish women. Women stand in a particular relationship to Jewish culture. Adrienne Rich points out how Jewish women suffer a double disadvantage by being both a target of biological determinism and also invisible in Jewish history.

    Gay liberation is a movement (which began in America in the late 1960s) for political, social and cultural rights for homosexual men and women. Critics argue that the women’s movement shares with gay liberation a common goal: a society free from defining and categorizing people by virtue of gender and/or sexual inclination. Lesbian feminism is rather epigrammatic that women-identified women, committed together for political, sexual and economic support, provide an alternative model to male/female relations which lesbians see as tyrannical. The theorists Charlotte Bunch, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Adrienne Rich argue that lesbian feminism involves both a sexual preference and a political preference because it rejects male definitions of women’s lives. In statements like “feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice”9 the Furies and others made lesbian feminism a primary force in a radical women’s culture. Lesbian feminism attacks both the institution and the ideology of heterosexuality as being the centre of patriarchy. Radical lesbians were the first lesbian feminists to suggest that the concept lesbian should be reconstructed, but theories of lesbian feminism differ in their prominence on sexual or on political goals.

    Feminist theory defines rape as an act and a social institution which perpetuates patriarchal domination and which is based on sadism, rather than specifically as a crime of violence. This definition is a major contribution to social theory. Feminist analysis proves that rape is the consistent conclusion of sexism. It is one of the most alarming forms of social duress because rape is a steady reminder to all women of their susceptible and vulnerable condition. Radical feminists like Susan Brownmiller, Susan Griffin and Andrea Dworkin, argue that patriarchy legitimizes rape by defining rape as ‘normal’. Under patriarchy, not only are women defined as sexual objects but men are thought to have ‘drives’ towards heterosexual intercourse. Because patriarchal culture defines women as being sexually passive and receptive. Adrienne Rich suggests that rape is one of the main means of reinforcing enforced heterosexuality. Consciousness raising groups reveal that women’s understanding of rape is not an isolated individual event but a symptom of a society-wide structure of power and powerlessness. Currently, feminist theory takes the observation that rape is a political act of terror against an exploited group.

    Since the origin of humanity, male domination has been an accepted fact. Genesis symbolizes this by depicting Eve as made from a “Supernumerary bone of Adam”.10 Aristole believed “a female is a female by virtue of certain lack of qualities: We should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness.”9 Plato thanked god that he was created a man, not a woman. St. Thomas considered a woman to be an “imperfect man”, an “incidental being.”9 St. Augustine declared, “Woman is a creature neither decisive nor constant.” The morning prayers of the Jews, “Blessed be God… that He did not make me a woman, “reflect the status of a woman as compared to a man. In the Bible it has been written that both Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, both faced the fall. But God distinguished between their punishments. Adam was condemned to labor, and it is the male toil that results in the building of the civilization. Eve was relegated to the inferior, vulnerable, sexual status, as God said to her, “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children. And thy desire shall be to the husband. And he shall rule over thee.”10

    Femmenism which means men in feminism was introduced in a ground-breaking compilation edited by Alice Jardine and Paul Smith (1987) and refers to the rethinking of masculinity by male academics who have begun to absorb aspects of feminist politics and theory into their thinking, sometimes to the extent that they assert themselves feminists. While some of these male feminists have limited themselves to an admission of the complicity of men in perpetuating patriarchy and beg women to understand that not all men are oppressors, others explore what it means to be a man and the practices and discourses which shape masculinity in various social, cultural and historical contexts. At its best, ‘femmenism’ situates the study of masculinity in a gender/power framework, linking it to relations of power between men and women as well as among men.

    Androcentrism means male centeredness, which is the assessment set of our prevailing customs based on male norms. Charlotte Perkins Gilman first used this term to draw attention to male favoritism . Any explanation which characterizes aspects of women’s lives as nonstandard is andocentric. Androcentrism affects the hypothesis, not only because universities and research institutions are largely male domains but more subtly in the preference of areas of research, research policies, theoretical concepts and research methods. Feminist literature establishes the idea that artistic creativity is a masculine quality.

    Phallocentric is a term in feminist theory used to describe the way the society regards the phallus or penis as a symbol of power, and believes that attributes of masculinity are the norm for cultural definitions. The phallocentric fallacy in disciplines is the assumption that the term ‘person’ stands for male and therefore women’s experience has made no contribution to disciplinary methods or content. This perspective –also sometimes known as androcentric-- makes women unknowable. Some feminists argue that phallocentricism is a source of women’s oppression in education.

    The main goal of feminism is to redefine, and change this age old dogma by discovering the subtle causes of woman’s subjugation. It is a way to making the entire culture conscious of the natural rights of women relating to unequal labor, unequal pay for equal work, marriage and divorce laws that make man the supreme authority, economic independence, division of labor inside the family, to think a woman’s income as extra rather than a support, and then to introduce reforms in the traditional social structures. Feminism conceives of a utopian world free of male privilege, chauvinism, hierarchy, authority. It is a movement to bring about a sociopolitical change to condemn the subordination of any sex, to rebalance the social, economic, political power between man and woman. It raises a voice against man’s claim to define what is good for a woman and what is not keeping in view his own selfish motives.

    Feminists believe woman to be a mature decision maker. Protesting against the social institutions that denied women any other identity except that which they acquired through their men – that of a daughter, sister, wife, mother. Feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton dreamt of a world which guaranteed individual identity to a woman. In India there are many female writers/poets like Amirita Pritam, Meena Alexander, Mamata Kalia, Kamala Das, Anita Desai, Sashi Despande, Mrinal Pandey, Deepti Khandelwal and many more in whose writings a voice for woman’s identity can be assessed. Feminists intend to deconstruct all the indefinite identities of women opposing the binary oppositions between the male and the female. The society has cut a straight line between good and bad, black and white, dark and light, man and woman – feminism is a movement against this distinction, this binary opposition.

    Friday, March 08, 2013

    All Indians Are Patronising Women Today

    Women should not be equal to men, says a Tata Tea ad featuring Shah Rukh Khan. “In fact, they should always be ahead of them.” The Bollywood star then goes on to say that he will always put the names of his women stars ahead of himself in future movies.

    Sure, who’s stopping him? But was this necessary to proclaim from the front page of the Hindustan Times? And does it help his women co-stars to shine better or is this merely intended to let SRK show how benevolent he is towards women?

    “She sows values that reap respect”, reads a woman’s day ad of the Life Insurance Corporation. Almost every major nationalised bank has an advertisement out for Women’s Day. It is good to discover such values in women, but it is necessary to tom-tom it in an ad?

    Not to be left out, some real estate firms who are unable to sell their properties at high prices have hopped on to the bandwagon. “Woman, you’ve always had your feet firmly on the ground”, claims an Indiabulls ad for Golf City in a distant-distant suburb Mumbai called Savrolli. What better way to banish women to the boondocks than by trying to sell them overpriced flats some 40-45 km away from Mumbai? In any case, why target women with this ad when every builder knows their earning power is nowhere near men as of now?

    Advertisers, from Hero to Ranbaxy have clambered on to Women’s Day to sell their wares, from scooters to even pain relief sprays. They are entitled to use every opportunity to sell, but one needs to understand that this is not about women.

    As for newspapers, the less said the better. “India Inc gets more women in top management” reads a Times of India headline today. “She is the one, Raise a toast to her”, reads an eight-column headline in the Hindustan Times. Going one better, it has even composed a musical ode to women. DNA in Mumbai has “eight pages of articles, interviews, special offers and more for women”. And it’s not about these publications alone. Every newspaper or TV channel is into this game for revenues and a degree of self-glorification.

    For example, it has become mandatory for newspapers to talk about women entrepreneurs, women CEOs or women who are doing good deeds on 8 March. Not that this shouldn’t be done, but the outpourings on one day leave one unconvinced that change is underway.

    And, of course, the ministry of women and child development has to put out its usual ads with Sonia Gandhi and others to celebrate Stree Shakti. Last week, the Union budget added a dash of further tokenism by announcing the creation of a public sector women’s bank and a ‘Nirbhaya’ fund.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am no misogynist, trying to run down everyone’s efforts to give women a leg up.

    But what all these ads and editorials signify is not the decline of patriarchy, but its strengthening. Women themselves don’t realise how they are being taken for a ride. Most of these ads are about the people, companies or organisations behind the ads, not the women they claim to celebrate.

    When unctuous ads are created and copies written to glorify women, one can be sure that it is meant to con women into a false sense of comfort rather than really empowering them. In fact, one wonders why men have to go around trying to be so gooey on one day when they are going to be beastly for the remaining 364 days to some or all of the women and girls in their lives.

    I have no objection to celebrating Women’s Day, but can one ask for something more sincere and more enduring? It seems the day is about loud praise of mythical women, even while we disrespect the real women we encounter in our personal and official days.

    Women’s Day is currently more about symbolism than real content. It is about offering crutches and creating a sense of victimhood among women instead of letting them find their own destiny free from the shackles of the mind and society.

    Maybe, women should abandon this kind of Women’s Day to create a celebration of their own.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    FAQs of Women of India

    By HNN Research Desk

    The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From a largely unknown status in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful.

    What are some of the problems facing the women in India?
    The problems Indian women face are same as those faced by their counterparts in other nations. Additionally, there are some unique problems in India for women.
    The Dowry system prevalent in India calls for a large sum of money to be paid to the groom at the time of marriage. Brides that cannot meet the husband's expectations are sometimes harassed after the wedding.

    Desire for male progeny has caused natural imbalance and numerous problems for women.

    Unwanted touching of women in public places -- this problem is known as Eve teasing in India.

    Unequal share of inheritance -- in most Hindu families, only the sons inherit the wealth of the parents as married girls are considered no longer part of the family.
    Lack of public toilets --this is more of a hygiene problem of India, but making even more difficult for women to get out of the house.

    Ill treatment of widows -- many families blame the untimely death of a husband to the misfortune of the woman. In extreme cases, the widow is made to wear only unattractive clothing and shave her head, although this practice is on the decline.

    Why do Indian women wear the dot on the forehead?
    Traditionally the dot (known as bindi, kum-kum) was the symbol of an auspicious privilege enjoyed by married Hindu women in India. The practice has now evolved to cover young girls and women of other faiths as well and has become part of the make-up.

    What is the status of women in Indian society?
    The answer is a complex one -- women are both abused as well as revered in the Indian society; sometimes within the same household.

    The Hindu religion calls for worship of the womanhood, and several rituals are conducted in honor of women. At the same time, it denied such privileges as performing the last rites and equal share of inheritance.

    The conditions of divorced women, widows, and unmarried working women need substantial improvement.

    What is Burning of Brides? Does this really happen?
    In the 1980s numerous cases of newly married brides mysteriously dying in kitchen-stove explosions came to light in India. The deaths were found to be related to the dowry system when the bride is expected to bring a lot of money to the husband. The burnings consisted both of suicides and murders.

    In ancient and medieval India, there was the tradition of wives committing suicide upon the death of their husbands, known as the Sati or the Sahagamana (co-departure). The women decorated themselves in their bridal attire before immolating themselves.

    The dowry system is a deeply rooted problem in India and sometimes substitutes the inheritance the woman will receive from her parents. Officially, both the Dowry and Sati systems are banned, but one hears about the dowry deaths often in Indian newspapers.

    The last known instance of Sati took place in 1987.

    Do Men Cook in India?
    Even though traditional household work is performed by women, interestingly, a large number of men cook/can cook in India. Men are called upon to prepare festive meals, especially during religious occasions. The most famous of the Indian cooks is Nala - a man.

    A large number of Indian males grow up away from their mothers (due to poverty, purposes of education) and have learnt basic cooking due to necessity. Professional cooks in restaurants and eateries are invariably men.

    Is it true that men in India do not know the woman till they marry her?
    Oh dear. That is true in every country
    Joke apart, it is true that many men and women go in for arranged marriages in India and have very little knowledge about the person they are about to wed.

    I've heard that many women in India are virgins until they are married. Is that true?
    Indian culture attaches great importance to purity and virtue of men and women. Many people who follow this doctrine typically have not had sexual experience till they are married.

    How do the women in India spend their time?
    Indian women spend time with the family members -- mostly other female relatives. The educated women have friends they have made in school or work. (Contrary to perception, a large percent of women in India work)

    Indian women also spend time with chores, raising children, watching movies, and caring for community.

    Why do Indian Hindu women go in seclusion during their menstrual cycle? Is it still relevant in the modern era?
    Some experts believe that it was the mechanism of relieving the women of daily chores and physical activities (of duties of joint-family) and allow for private time during their menstrual cycles.

    Women during their periods were also considered unhygienic or dirty and that's probably the reason they were excluded. This is the same reason many women prefer not to visit sacred places during their cycle.

    Although waning, this custom of "sitting out" is still practiced in some parts of India among traditional families. However, this practice is not relevant in the modern era.

    What was the role of women in India's freedom struggle?
    The role of women during decades of India's freedom struggle was very big, thanks to the vision and encouragement of Gandhi. See the article Gandhi and Women for examples of how women got included in the India's nationalistic agenda from the beginning.

    Many women leaders emerged, and even many more engaged in social service, social reform, and improved the life of women in India.

    Tuesday, November 04, 2014

    Prespective: Muslim women fight patriarchal Sharia laws In India

    Several women’s groups are now fighting the age-old gender bias perpetuated by Sharia law and finding ways to help Muslim women who have suffered due to its patriarchal dispensations. INNLIVE reports on some of these, including one which proposes a codification of such law, reinterpreted.

    In her captivating documentary film Invoking Justice, the seasoned and acclaimed film maker Deepa Dhanraj, portrays how the Muslim Women’s Jamaat functioning in Pudukottai district in Tamil Nadu assists women to secure redressal under the Sharia law, for the violence and injustice they face. Many of these women survive extreme partner violence, severe marital disputes, sexual or other harassment, privately or publicly.

    Saturday, April 18, 2009

    Shattering Illusions - Western Conceptions of Muslim Women

    By Nikhat Kazmi

    "Islam in its original state gave women privileges and imposed no harsh restrictions or double standards upon them.," says Saimah Ashraf, a 1997-98 winner of the Stanford University Boothe Prize for Excellence in Writing.

    "Rose Hamid is as American as they come. She drives a Ford station wagon, leads a local Girl Scout troop, shops at the Gap and just attended her 20-year high school reunion" writes Laurie Goodstein in a recent New York Times article (A1).

    From this brief description of Rose, readers may have formed a particular picture of her in their minds. If they were told, however, that "Rose Hamid wears a head scarf in keeping with her Muslim faith,'" that picture might take a drastic turn (Goodstein A1).

    She's Muslim? Images of suppressed, meek, black-enshrouded women submitting to the demands of their dominating husbands race through some readers' minds. But why is this the case? Would we see Rose any differently if she were Christian or Jewish? The answer is probably no, but since she is a Muslim woman, it is difficult not to have some preconceptions of her.

    I don't understand why, in the West, Muslim women are clumped into one large group and viewed as homogenous clones of one another, while their Christian and Jewish counterparts are rarely ever stereotyped in this way. Many people don't realize, due largely to biased media interpretations, that there are a large variety of Muslim women around the world, from areas such as the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia, Yugoslavia, Northern Africa, and the Southern parts of the former USSR, just as there are Christian and Jewish women in various countries.

    For instance, one probably wouldn't classify a Mexican woman with a French woman, though both may be Roman Catholics and hold the same beliefs. In the same way, American Muslim women are different from Pakistani Muslims, who are different from Saudi Muslims. In these three countries, women are accorded different rights and privileges because of the government and customs in the area. For example, many American Muslim women are discriminated against because they cover their heads; Pakistani women have political rights but are often exploited by men; Saudi women have no public role, yet they are "protected" by Saudi men.

    The negative stereotypes of Muslim women probably arise from this varying treatment of women. The Western media, for some reason, latch on to a few examples of unjust behavior in the Islamic world, brand Islam as a backwards and "fundamentalist" religion, especially in its treatment of women, and ignore that it was the first religion to accord women equal rights. While Christian and Jewish women were still considered inferior, the originators of sin, and the property of their husbands, Muslim women were being given shares in inheritance, were allowed to choose or refuse prospective husbands, and were considered equal to men in the eyes of God. However, through time, slowly changing customs, and the rise of male-dominated, patriarchal nation-states, Muslim governments began placing restrictions on women which had no grounds in the Quran, the Islamic holy book; or the hadith, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, Christian and Jewish women in the West have slowly been awarded rights not called for in the biblical tradition.

    Traditionally, Judeo-Christian women were thought to be inferior to men and were given a low status in society. These negative attitudes toward women arose because Judaism and Christianity placed such a heavy emphasis on Eve's role in the expulsion from Paradise. Because Eve, rather than Adam, was the first to be seduced by Satan and eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, she supposedly caused the fall of mankind. Therefore all women, as the descendants of Eve, were thought to be evil and morally weaker than men (Sherif 2). In the Bible, there are several references to women in this uncomplimentary light: "I found more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare" (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28). "No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman. . . .Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" (Ecclesiastes 25:19,24). Early church fathers such as St. Tertullian reiterated these negative concepts of women by making statements such as, "Do you know that you are each an Eve?. . . . You are the Devil's gateway. . . .You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die." In Christianity, women carried the extra burden of causing the death of Christ, as Tertullian points out (Sherif 2). Because Adam and Eve passed on their sin to all future generations, Jesus had to purge humankind from this "original sin" by sacrificing his life (Sherif 2). Thus, by causing the fall of man, Eve also caused the death of Christ. In the Jewish tradition, women receive no less harsh treatment. Because of Eve, all women have to face punishment on Earth including pregnancy, pain in childbirth, menstruation, and subjugation to men (Sherif 3). Orthodox Jewish males still recite in their daily prayers: "Blessed be God King of the Universe that Thou has not made me a woman . . . . Praised be God that he has not created me woman" (Menahot 43b)

    These early prejudiced attitudes gave rise to discriminatory treatment of women. Because the Judeo-Christian tradition spans such a vast amount of time, it is difficult to deal with the condition of women in any specific period. Therefore I will deal with women mostly as they are referred to in the Bible and by influential church fathers and rabbis. Often, the discrimination against females began immediately upon birth since baby girls were thought to be shameful, a view found several times in the Bible: "The birth of a daughter is a loss" (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). Jewish rabbis also expressed displeasure at the birth of a female, saying that boys brought peace into the world, whereas girls brought absolutely nothing (Sherif 4). This unhappiness at a female's birth arose partly because of the large dowry that had to be given to a Jewish or Christian girl's husband upon marriage, a tradition adhered to until recently (Sherif 8). Hence, a girl was often thought to be a "liability and no asset" (Sherif 8).

    Additionally, as Kevin Harris, senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales, puts it, "women are portrayed in the bible quite consistently as appendages of men; as possessions of men; as goods which may be sold, disposed of, given away, traded, or just ordered about by men" (30). One section in the Bible which is a testament to this view is Exodus 21.7, which expressly condones a man selling his daughter into slavery or concubinage: "When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do." A man also controlled the sexuality of his daughter, as can be seen in the case of Lot (among many others), who offered his virgin daughters to the homosexual men of Sodom in Genesis 19.8: "I have two daughters who have not known a man. . . . do to them as you please." When a woman was married, in which she usually had little or no say, she became the property of her husband rather than her father, and he then had the right of "purchasing and selling" her (Schmidt 127). He owned not only her person, but also all of her property. "The household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table [were] his. Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be stealing from her husband" (San. 71a, Git. 62a). A woman could regain her property only upon divorce or her husband's death, but she was never allowed to inherit any of his property (Sherif 8). In fact, Western women had no property rights at all until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    Because of the inferior status of women in the Judeo-Christian tradition, there often existed a double standard between men and women, especially in areas of sexuality. For example, if a woman was not a virgin at marriage, she could be taken to her father's house by her husband and stoned to death (Schmidt 112). The man, on the other hand, was never subjected to this punishment or indeed to any codes of conduct governing his sexuality (Schmidt 112). In fact, even if he raped or deflowered a virgin, he was not put to death but was instead forced to marry her and give money to her father, which seems more of a punishment for his female victim than him! (Harris 57). After marriage, a Hebrew male could arbitrarily accuse his wife of adultery, even with the slightest suspicion, and make her take the humiliating "bitter-water" test to determine her innocence or guilt (Schmidt 121). If she was found guilty of having slept with another man, regardless of his marital status, she would be stoned to death (Sherif 6). A Hebrew man, whether married or not, on the other hand, was only said to have committed adultery if he slept with a married woman (Schmidt 118). As Vern Bullough, author of Subordinate Sex, explains, "Adultery was not a sin against morality, but a trespass against the husband's property" (Schmidt 118). Since the wife was the husband's property, she could not be violated without his permission. This view of adultery changed with the advent of Christianity, when Jesus introduced the idea that adultery could be committed against a woman also, but later many of the church's theologians "reverted to the patriarchal understanding of adultery" (Schmidt 122). In present-day Israel, however, the old law still pertains. A married man can have an affair with an unmarried women and have children that are considered legitimate (Sherif 6). If a married woman, on the other hand, has an extramarital affair, her children "are considered bastards and are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards" for ten consecutive generations (Sherif 6).

    Judeo-Christian practices also often ignored women's rights in cases of divorce. In original Christianity, divorce was expressly forbidden, and Jesus supposedly said that "anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32). This harsh view failed to take into account the possible incompatibility of a man and woman and condemned unhappy couples to stay together against their wills. This situation was especially difficult for women because society did not allow them extramarital relations but condoned the relations of married men with prostitutes and other single women (Schmidt 50). In Judaism, divorce was allowed and even encouraged at times. Early Jewish scholars disagreed over the reasons a man could divorce his wife, and their views can be found in the Talmud: "The school of Shammai held that a man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of some sexual misconduct, while the school of Hillel say [sic] he may divorce her even if she has merely spoiled a dish for him. Rabbi Akiba says he may divorce her even if he simply finds another woman more beautiful than she" (Gittin 90a-b). The Hillelite law predominated among the Jews and now Jewish men can divorce their wives for any reason whatsoever. The Talmud even obligates divorcing a woman if she "ate in the street drank greedily in the street suckled in the street" or if she does not bear a child within ten years of the marriage (Sherif 9). A Jewish woman, however, could not and cannot divorce her husband. He must give her a bill of divorce voluntarily and even the courts have no power to make him do this (Sherif 9). A man may desert his wife, marry another woman or simply live with one, and have legitimate children, while his first wife is trapped because she cannot have extramarital relations (Sherif 9). This sort of woman is known as an agunah (chained woman); there are approximately 1000 to 1500 Jewish agunah women in the United States today and around 16,000 in Israel (Sherif 9).

    Suffering such blatant discrimination, it seems amazing that most Judeo-Christian women have overcome the odds and achieved equal rights with males. However, this has been a fairly recent development, largely occurring in this century. Within the past hundred years, women began to be considered citizens of states, were given voting rights, property rights, and easier access to divorce. Now many Muslim women hold the former position of Judeo-Christian women, but generally all they receive from the latter is scorn, derision, misunderstanding, or pity. It is ironic that the religion which significantly improved the status of women as compared to both Judaism and Christianity, and indeed was the first religion to grant women equal rights in all areas of life, including religion, sexuality, inheritance, and law, is now regarded as one that oppresses women.

    One of the basic principles of Islam is justice for all humans and equality in the eyes of God. Women are considered no less than men in aspects of religion and are not denigrated anywhere in the Quran. First of all, in the Quranic Creation story, Eve is not mentioned as being seduced by the Serpent and taking the first bite of forbidden fruit. Rather, it says: (my italics) "by deceit he [Satan] brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them (7:19:23). Both Eve and Adam were held equally responsible. Hence, women in Islam do not bear the stigma as the daughters of a sinful Eve nor are they to be blamed for corrupting innocence (Sherif 3). Nor were women created as inferior to men, or solely for pleasure and procreational purposes as the Judeo-Christian scriptures sometimes imply "the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man" (Corinthians 11:3-9). In contrast, the chapter in the Quran entitled "Women" begins with the passage saying, "O humanity, be reverent to your Lord who created you from one soul and created its mate from it, and from these two disseminated many men and women." Here, in very blatant terms, it is stated that women and men are made from the same soul, and therefore, how could one gender possibly be inferior? In fact, neither gender is inferior, as the Quran states: "And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members of one another" (3:195).

    This concept of gender equality in Islam begins immediately upon birth. When baby girls were born in Pre-Islamic Arabia, they were often buried alive to prevent shaming the tribe or family. In response to this infanticide, the Quran forbade treating a female child as disgraceful and states that both baby boys and girls are equally a blessing from God: "To Allah belongs the domination of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills" (42:49). Prophet Muhammad even guaranteed Paradise to those fathers who bring up their daughters with "benevolent treatment" and also encouraged both males and females to pursue knowledge and education (Bukhari, Muslim).

    Furthermore, in Islam girls are not considered the property of their fathers and have complete control over their sexuality, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian tradition (Sherif 8). A free woman can never be sold it would be abhorrent for a father to sell his daughter as a concubine nor can she be married against her wishes, or the marriage can be annulled. After the marriage, a woman does not become the possession of her husband and is supposed to retain her own name and identity. "An American judge once commented on the rights of Muslim women saying: A Muslim girl may marry ten times, but her individuality is not absorbed by that of her various husbands. She is a solar planet with a name and legal personality of her own'" (Sherif 8). Additionally, Islam does not imply that a woman is made entirely for the pleasure of her husband but refers to spouses as equal partners: "They are your garments and you are their garments," the function of garments being to protect, cover, and adorn (Quran 2:187). Today, Western media often convey the idea that Muslim women are completely submissive to their husbands, but in fact, even the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (the most important and noble man in Islam) used to fight with him if they didn't get their way; they were far from the submissive, meek stereotypes of Muslim women today.

    Another area in which Muslim women had greater rights than those of Judeo-Christian women is property. In an Islamic marriage, rather than paying the husband a dowry, the wife receives a substantial gift from him which then remains under her control, not his or her family's, even if she is later divorced. "In some Muslim societies today," Dr. Mohammed Sherif, author of the published essay entitled "Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and The Reality" says, "A marriage gift of a hundred thousand dollars in diamonds is not unusual" (8). Any other property a woman may happen to own at the time of the marriage is also exclusively hers and the husband has no right to use it. Even if she earns her own income, it is the husband's responsibility to maintain her and the children, and she has no obligation whatsoever to provide for the family. Furthermore, a woman in Islam can inherit money or property from any one of her relations, including her husband.

    In the early years of Islam, a woman's rights were also protected concerning sexuality and divorce; a double standard did not exist between males and females. According to Islam, both genders are supposed to remain chaste until marriage, not just the women, and adultery consists of any married person engaging in sexual intercourse with someone other than a spouse. The punishment for both men and women who commit adultery, if the actual act is witnessed by four other people, is death by stoning. If a husband arbitrarily accuses his wife of being unfaithful, they both take an oath upon God, and if the wife swears that she is innocent and the husband swears that she is not, the marriage is irrevocably over and the woman is not considered an adulteress. However, throwing loose accusations around about any woman is highly discouraged in Islam. A woman's dignity should not be toyed with and one should not, under any circumstances, speculate about her sexual conduct without very secure evidence (Quraishi 299). The Quran sets forth a very harsh punishment for those people who do: "Those who defame chaste women and do not bring four witnesses should be punished with eighty lashes, and their testimony should not be accepted afterwards, for they are profligates (24:4). Asifa Quraishi, author of "Critique of the Rape Laws of Pakistan," writes that, "In the face of any hint of a woman's sexual impropriety, the Quranic response is: walk away. Leave her alone. Leave her dignity intact. The honor of a woman is not a tool, it is her fundamental right" (299).

    A similarly just attitude prevails in cases of divorce. First of all, divorce is not at all encouraged in Islam but allowed under compelling circumstances, and both men and women are allowed to obtain one. The Prophet said that "among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God" (Abu Dawood). Couples are told in the Quran to live with one another in kindness: "Live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of good" (4:19). In the hadith, this view is reiterated: "The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives (Tirmidthi). However, in some cases, divorce is inescapable, and Islam attempts to make it as amicable as possible.

    The last way I will mention that Islam uses to protect women is the hijab, or the veil. This is ironic because Western media often portray the Muslim veil as a suppressive force in a woman's life. Every Muslim woman is required to wear a scarf or some sort of head-covering and loose-fitting, modest attire. This is not a means of controlling a woman's sexuality or suppressing her but rather, is used to protect her. It is hoped that by dressing this way she will not be seen as a mere sex symbol but will be appreciated for her mind. Furthermore, it will not subject her to unwanted sexual advances or harassment. It is interesting to note that the head-covering for women is not an Islamic innovation but was practiced by Judeo-Christian women centuries earlier, and yet is scoffed at by the West today (Sherif 15). Dr. Sherif says: "It is one of the great ironies of our world today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of holiness' when worn for the purpose of showing the authority of man by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of oppression' when worn for the purpose of protection by Muslim women" (16).

    Hence, Islam in its original state gave women privileges and imposed no harsh restrictions or double standards upon them. However, with the progression of time, the rights of Muslim women began deteriorating, and today, very few Muslim countries adhere to the Islamic ideal in their treatment of women. This deviance from Islam can be seen when evaluating the rights that women possess in different countries. The three main countries I will deal with are the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia simply because I am familiar with them, having either lived or visited each extensively.

    Though the United States is not a Muslim country, it is supposed to be the "land of freedom," and it is interesting to see how Muslim women are treated here. A Muslim woman is allowed to practice Islam without restrictions placed upon her by the government. As an American citizen, she has the rights of any woman to vote, to voice her opinions, and to move around as she pleases. Rose Hamid, the woman mentioned earlier, is one such American Muslim. This is not to say, however, that American Muslim women do not face prejudice, and Hamid is a good example of this. When she began wearing a headscarf recently, she was promptly fired by her company of ten years. Anjum Smith, another American Muslim, faced this same problem as did Shabana who was fired from her job at The Gap because, with her headscarf, she was an "undesirable" saleslady.

    There have been reports that women with covered hair have been "spit on, denied service, and [had] their scarves pulled off" (Goodstein A1). Goodstein reports that "Recently, on a highway near Orlando, Fla., one driver in a head scarf was stopped and berated by a state trooper who later formally apologized" (A1). This discrimination, even if unintentional, is rampant in the US; people just don't treat you the same once you start covering your hair: "They try and cheat me out of change. They think I'm a foreigner, and I've been here a long time. I wear American clothes, but I wear a scarf. The scarf changes everything," says Tayyibah Taylor, editorial director of Sisters! A Magazine of Dialogue Among Muslim Women (Goodstein A14).

    In contrast, Saudi women are compelled by law to cover their hair, and they are instructed to wear a black cloak known as the abaya to cover their bodies. Saudi Arabia is one of the most "fundamentalist" Islamic nations in the world, and it supposedly implements Islamic law to ensure peace and justice. Yet, many of their laws, especially those geared at women, are unjust and stem from patriarchal customs. For example, the covering of a woman's face is not a requirement in Islam, yet many times women are harassed by the mutawa, or "purity police," for not doing this.

    Furthermore, women are not allowed to sit in the front seat of a car or walk alongside a man if he is not her husband or close relative; nor are women allowed to drive. Havva Kurter, author of the essay "An Outline History of the Oppression of Women," exclaims, "The Saudis think that women will go make sin if they drive a car! Now some non-Muslims may think of this as part of Islam" (116). But to give the Saudis some credit, women there are given certain privileges not awarded to Muslim women of other countries. First of all, Saudi women are almost never harassed (it is usually the foreigners who encounter this) and are extremely protected by their families and government. Additionally, in accordance to Islamic law, they are offered dowries, often very high ones, and are entitled to keep their own wealth.

    This is hardly ever the case in Pakistan. Most women have virtually no control over their own property and are usually accorded minimal dowries unless they are of the upper classes. What is usually the case is that the bride's family has to provide all sorts of gifts to the husband and his family. These gifts, which range from money to cars to houses, are often what determines the choice of a bride. This obviously is not an Islamic practice but one that stems from the Hindu culture of nearby India. Moreover, women in Pakistan are often exploited by the law, sexually harassed, or raped, many times by police officers and other influential government officials (Quraishi 291).

    It is ironic, then, that Pakistan has surpassed even the United States in gender equality in that it has had a female head of State: the former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. In fact, there are quite a few influential female politicians in Pakistan. Among other rights Pakistani women retain is their freedom of dress; most Pakistani women don't cover their hair and no type of dress code is enforced upon them, but this is not to say they won't be harassed if wearing revealing clothing in public. Additionally, women are allowed to drive, vote, attend co-educational universities, and hold paying jobs. However, this blend of restriction and privilege still does not make Pakistan's treatment of women very Islamic.

    In fact, I can't think of any country that really treats Muslim women the way they are supposed to be treated as stipulated in the Quran and hadith. Most Muslim countries' approach to women falls between the two extremes of complete oppression and encouragement to behave like Western Judeo-Christian women, which is certainly not what Islam intended. I have dealt, to some extent, with the former case and believe that most people who read this paper will sympathize with the plight of these Muslim women. Their solutions might involve the "modernization" or "Westernization" of these women, but this is not at all what I am advocating.

    It's true that Western Judeo-Christian women have achieved freedom and independence for themselves, but has this necessarily been beneficial for them or society? One look at the ever-rising statistics for rape, sexual harassment, divorce, broken homes, latch-key kids, teenage pregnancies, and AIDS cases in the West indicates that something is definitely not right in society. Is it just coincidental that many of these issues became actual problems only after the Sixties' Sexual Revolution and feminist movement arose? Are these social problems just part of a growing trend in modern society or do they have some direct correlation to "women's liberation?" These are some questions we need to ask ourselves before we prescribe the "Western remedy" to any other society.

    The last thing Muslim women need to add to their problems at this point is more problems. Rather, the solution for achieving true freedom, independence, and happiness must come from within from the teachings of the Prophet, from the depths of the Quran, and from the wealth of rich Islamic tradition.