Women’s rights have been a contentious issue in many parts of the world for a long time and the issue still prevails to this day. While in some countries women enjoy the same rights as men there are still many places where women are seen unequal. These inequalities range in severity from not being able to drive legally to essentially being made a second-class citizen in comparison to their male counterparts. When these kinds of inequalities are enshrined in law it goes beyond just opinion and essentially becomes government sanctioned fact. When the law states that a women cannot do something then at the same time it is stating that women are inferior. This has a profound effect on the people in the countries which hold these laws. They create sexism and then encourage it as the norm. Institutionalised sexism, rather than being ingrained in opinion in countries with equal rights for women, is now ingrained in bills passed by the government. This leads to all matter of things.
At school a teacher may not bother with the girls in his class because he believes them to be unable to grasp difficult concepts, company insurance premiums may go up for those businesses that employ women because their insurers don’t think the women can be trusted not to make mistakes or, in more extreme cases, judges will favour the testimonials of men over women leading to false aquittal or imprisonment. Another important question to ask is, do women’s rights have an effect on the treatment of women?
In India the constitution guarantees the rights of women. In the eyes of the law both sexes are on equal footing. India has seen vast improvements in this aspect and from the outside looks like a great country to be a woman. Indira Ghandi was India’s leader for fifteen years which makes her term the longest for any female Prime Minister in the world. The government also declared 2001 the Year of Women Empowerment and in 2010 the Women’s Reservation Bill was passed which guaranteed 33% of the seats in parliament would go to women. Unfortunately though, this has had little effect on crime against women. In 1998 it was predicted that the rape crime rate would be higher than the population growth rate by 2010. This didn’t run out to be the case, but rape is still a huge problem for India. Along with this dowry deaths are still taking place all over the country and despite laws suggesting otherwise, women are still often treated as second-class citizens.
In South Africa women were made equal with the Bill of Rights in 1996. Before that women were seen as a lower class. Black women had equal rights to minors while white women had no guardianship over anything. Despite such progress, South Africa has been designated the rape capital of the world. Domestic violence is also a massive problem wherein it is an accepted practice in tribal areas. South Africa also deals with problem of “corrective rape” which is the idea that lesbians can be raped straight. Even with government legislation saying that women are equal, this message has not reached the tribal areas.
Kenya has seen a lot of progression in terms of women’s rights since independence. Women are seen as equal in the eys of the law plus they institute a similar policy to India wherein the government can only be made up of 33% of one sex. In turn there is massive discrimination in more traditional and tribal areas. 50% of women from Kenya have had to go through the ordeal of female genital mutilation. Along with that there is no law to make spousal rape illegal.
The introduction of women’s rights enshrined in law is an amazing product of progression. Unfortunately, laws have little effect on tradition. Whether it be India or Africa, tradition dictates and causes horrific situations for women. A government bill will struggle to dent the opinions of men who base their opinions on centuries of accepted oppression. Government action will too easily become token gestures without strong action within society. Without strong and clear intervention on government’s part, tradition will propser and cause pain for women across continents.
Ghana faces much the same issues as Kenya does. Again, women are seen as equal in the eyes of the law but there are still aspects that mar this. For example, spousal rape is not illegal. That seems to be a contradiction with Kenya’s equal rights laws, but they seem to go out the window in the confines of a marriage. Tribal areas are also notoriously harsh for women. Domestic violence is incredibly commonplace and is general accepted as normal by the population. Along with that rape and violence against women rates are also very, very high.
Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution enshrind equal rights for both me and women. It also declared sexual discrimination in any form as illegal. Unfortunately, once again, this has done little to alter the opinions of the people who live there. Women are seen as inferior and, once married, become the property of their husbands. They are also blamed for many bad things that go wrong included the death of their husbands and children. They are also incredibly disadvantaged educationally while their political representation in government is tiny compared to their numbers.
The state of women’s right’s in Egypt are uncertain since the recent revolution. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak anything associated with his regime has been tainted. The Muslim Brotherhood, who now dominate parliament since elections, have used this to attack groups or people they do not agree with. The National Council for Women, who were set up during Mubarak’s reign, has been a target. This Council has done a lot of work to safeguard women’s right in Egypt, but with The Muslim Brotherhood’s growing power Egypt may see women’s rights decreasing. Only recently during a protest in Tahir Square against sexual harassment, women were attacked and molested out in the open. It is a worrying time for women in Egypt.
Ethiopia has seen some positive steps in recent times. They increased the minimum age for marriage to 18 for both sexes, abolished the provision conferring marital power to the husband and also added extra grounds for divorce. In 2005, female circumcision, domestic violence and other traditional practices were outlawed. It seems though that these laws are not enforced and especially so in rural areas. Domestic rates are still very high, but maybe more worrying is that it is socially acceptable to many people including women. 88% of women in rural areas and 69% of women in urban areas believe their husband has a right to beat them. Early marriage is also still an issue. For example, in the northern Amhara region, 48% of women are married before they reach the age of 15.