Feminism: the Road to Rights

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Since the world was created, gender inequality has always been present in society. This issue begins with the story of creation featuring Adam and Eve, where Adam was created first, and Eve was brought to life from a piece of his body. By constructing her from one of his bones and naming her “woman,” Adam demonstrated the first sign of women’s perceived inferiority to men. As a result, women have since fought for equal rights across the globe, determined to achieve parity.

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Women’s rights activists worldwide have adopted various tactics to combat gender inequality, ranging from conventions, books and writings, to protests, movements, and the establishment of pressure groups. Although women in both the United States and the Middle East have fought tenaciously for their rights, their roles, and their voices in society, those in the United States have seen comparatively more progress, due in part to the distinctive blend of government and culture in each region.

In 1848, the first women’s rights convention organized by women took place in Seneca Falls, New York. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, the Seneca Falls Convention marked one of the initial successful steps for women’s rights movements in the United States. Following two days of heated debates, a third of the attendees—sixty-eight women and thirty-eight men—signed the Declaration of Sentiments. With assistance from Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton penned this declaration to argue that women were subjected to systematic oppression in their patriarchal society and were fully entitled to equal rights as citizens. Stanton began her argument by stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” The declaration also included sixteen statements that underscored the extent of the oppression, highlighting the absence of suffrage, rights in marriage and divorce, representation in government, and equality in education and job opportunities. Stanton then provided a list of twelve resolutions for women’s rights, virtually all of which, except women’s suffrage, were enacted. Conventions like Seneca Falls played a pivotal role in the U.S. women’s rights movement, raising awareness and garnering more support. As the first convention led by women advocating for their own rights, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her Declaration of Sentiments, and the Seneca Falls Convention ignited the fight for gender equality in America, insisting on the full recognition of women as citizens with the same rights and privileges as men.

Unlike the women’s rights movement that started in the United States after the Seneca Falls Convention, the first sign of women’s rights in the Middle East was seen in the late eighteen hundreds. This came in the form of a collection of poems written about women’s presence in society in Lebanon and a book on the status of women in Egypt. In 1867, Warda Al-Yaziji published a collection of poems called “The Rose Garden” to discuss women’s status and role in society. More commonly known as “Hadiqat Al-Ward,” the collection was republished in 1887 in an expanded form and again in 1914, with a greater line of reasoning and discussion. She also wrote articles about women’s rights issues across the Middle East for the magazine “Al-Diya,” which was founded in 1898. In addition to writing about changing the role of women, Al-Yaziji was considered a “pioneer” for opening the field of literature to women across the Middle East. Similarly, in 1899, a book titled The Liberation of Women in Egypt, written by Qasim Amin stirred public debate on women’s status in the country. Although his book made many claims about equality for all genders in society, Amin’s opinion on the seclusion of women through the wearing of the hijab was the primary reason for the public controversy. After the publication of The Liberation of Women, the hijab became a crisis of identification for women. After the works of both Amin and Al-Yaziji, opinions on women’s rights and its movement in the Middle East began to express themselves through writings. With the works of Warda Al-Yaziji and Qasim Amin, the Middle East saw its first cry for gender equality and its first voice on the identity of the hijab.

After the Seneca Falls Convention, men and women began vocalizing their rights by participating in movements to make their voices heard, and by forming new groups such as the American Woman Suffrage Association to champion their cause. In November of 1869, Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Blackwell, well-known author Julia Ward Howe, and famous preacher Henry Ward Beecher, came together to form this association in Boston. The group’s main goal was to attain voting rights for women through amendments to individual state constitutions. They focused on state constitutions and various amendments, instead of just one amendment to the Constitution, because they believed they would have more followers and success. Besides being one of the few women’s rights associations to have male leaders, they were also one of the few to support the fifteenth amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote. Along with protests and movements they introduced to gain suffrage, Lucy Stone also started a popular newspaper, “The Woman’s Journal”, in 1870 to discuss suffrage issues, share their association’s strategies, and reveal meeting plans. The paper discussed current movements, political and legal equality, with bold headlines to attract attention: “Nation aroused by open insults to women— Cause wins popular sympathy—Congress orders investigation.” The paper was one of many methods the group used to bring attention to the AWSA. As a result of the work done by the American Woman Suffrage Association, the United States gradually granted voting rights, state by state, until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed to the Constitution in 1920.

Similar to the American Woman Suffrage Association, the Women’s Rising Group was established in the 1920s in Iraq by Aswa Zahawi, after the 1920 revolt against British occupation. Before the group was created, Iraq was under the control of the Ottomans, where women were not considered full human beings. The Turks introduced a secular legal reform to Iraq that only benefitted upper-class women. When the British took over, they governed Iraq under the terms of a mandate to mitigate the extent of social reform and avoid cultural reforms that could disrupt society by maintaining the archaic Ottoman legal system. As Geoff Simons mentions in the book Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam, “Thus in the case of women murdered for having ‘dishonoured’ their families, one colonial administrator saw the need for a compromise ‘between the demands of civilised and savage tribal justice’.” After the British minimized these reforms, their authorities in Iraq stated in 1931 that educating girls would make them “unfitted for tribal life.” In response to this statement, the Women’s Rising Group published the journal Leila, demanding the right to equal education and employment.

Although it was only a journal, the group encountered severe backlash from British authorities, including setbacks to the women’s movement. The group not only advocated for equal education; they also demanded recognition as full citizens and for women to be able to choose whether to wear the veil. To endorse this idea, in 1923, Huda Shaarawi, Ceza Nabarawi, and Nabawiya Moussa removed their hijabs at Cairo train station to symbolize their liberation. The Women’s Rising Group influenced the debate about the hijab by speaking and acting on its unfair restrictions on women and presenting a new perspective. Due to this particular act and other actions of the Women’s Rising Group, an increasing number of men and women began to advocate not just for equal rights, but also for women to have the choice to wear the hijab, sparking an ongoing conversation that still continues today.

Equal voting rights have been demanded all over the world for centuries as one of the key rights for achieving equal roles in society. Specifically in the United States, voting rights for women did not begin until the establishment of the American Woman Suffrage Association in 1869 and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. The AWSA’s triumph began in 1893, when Colorado became the first state to grant women the vote. Following that, thirty-four other states followed suit until 1913. Then, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting all women in the United States the right to vote in elections. Conversely, in the Middle East, women did not begin to gain suffrage until November 22nd, 1918 in Georgia. After Saudi Arabia granted women the municipal vote in 2015, all twenty-two countries had achieved equal voting rights. The right to vote was a crucial step toward gender equality in both regions since both movements aspired to be recognized as equal citizens, which included voting in elections. Despite achieving equal voting rights in both the United States and the Middle East, both regions still face contemporary gender inequality and discrimination issues, such as unequal pay, unequal employment, clothing discrimination, and unfair treatment by the law.

Although feminists in the United States have fought long and have had many accomplishments for women’s rights, gender inequality is still present in the U.S. today. Most of the discrimination is manifested in everyday life, such as government, work, society, and schools. Specifically, in the present U.S. government, the one hundred and twelfth Congress primarily consists of men, with only seventeen out of one hundred Senate seats, and ninety-two of four hundred and thirty-five House of Representative seats held by women. In addition to the inequality in government, women are also discriminated against at their jobs and even in public places through objectification, harassment, and sexual abuse. As of today, the United States still has no law on guaranteed paid maternity leave for women. Given the lack of this rule, some women are demoted to lower-ranking or lower-paid jobs, and some are even fired for their pregnancies. Women are also paid thirty percent less than men for the same job in society, and some women are not employed or even considered for employment because of their gender. Studies from Pew Research found that less than thirty percent of tech company workers at companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are women.

Women all over the country have also reported being sexually harassed online, in public, and in the workplace. Some women even reported allegations of sexual misconduct about the current U.S. president, Donald Trump. Gender discrimination has begun to impact young women in society as well, specifically in relation to school dress codes. Many school districts do not allow female students to wear clothing that reveals too much skin, such as the shoulders, thighs, or stomachs, attributing their reasoning to potential distractions for other students. Women in the United States are still trying to overcome these obstacles, starting with creating changes in their respective governments, workplaces, societies, and schools. Despite America’s advancements in equal rights, they still face discrimination in everyday life and have a long way to go to achieve full gender equality.

Contrasting with the ongoing situation of gender inequality in the United States, the Middle East has far fewer rights for women. This region is still working towards attaining more gender equality, albeit in small steps. Specifically, women in Afghanistan are not allowed to leave their homes without a male family member’s accompaniment due to Taliban rule. They are also compelled to wear a hijab that covers their face, hair, and in some countries, the entire body. When Islamic extremists take over a country, they enforce this dress code, even though the Quran does not specifically mandate wearing a veil.

The government aims to detract from women’s defining features such as their body and face while also subconsciously stripping them of their individuality through this custom. In keeping with the goal to keep women’s features hidden, women are indoctrinated that the enjoyment of their beauty is solely for their husband’s pleasure, so they must stay covered in public. Debates about the hijab have been publicly present since the publication of the book The Liberation of Women in 1899, and the works of the Women’s Rising Group in the early 1900s. Although the Islamic government has yet to enact drastic changes to the policy of the hijab, they have started implementing changes in other areas. For instance, in 2018, the Saudi Arabian government lifted the driving ban on women, consequently conferring on women the right to drive. This was viewed as an effort by the government to encourage the participation of women in the workforce. Similarly, in 2019, women in Saudi Arabia were given the right to check the status of their marriage online, thus avoiding unpleasant surprises relating to divorce or other changes in their marital status.

However, the United States has tried to arrange meetings with Taliban officials to create a plan for more freedom and equality for all citizens, including women and children. Despite centuries of writings, protests, and organizations, the Middle East remains the least gender–equal region in the world. Although significant progress has been made towards changing the lifestyles of their countries, the Middle East still has a long way to go to achieve complete gender equality. This effort could potentially be bolstered with assistance from the United States.

People across the world have faced discrimination based on their race, body, and gender since the beginning of time. People become what they see, and by growing up in sexist regions, the citizens of the United States and the Middle East adapt to these unjust societies, which affect their perception of equality. Despite the emergence of feminists and activists who began speaking out and publicly championing their rights in the early eighteenth hundreds, both regions are yet to attain complete equality. Through the works of activists in the United States, women have largely accomplished semi-equal rights such as equal voting and election rights, and some equal roles in society. Seemingly, women in the United States have obtained almost equivalent rights to men, with a few glaring inequalities such as equal pay and job opportunities. Similarly, women in the Middle East have fervently fought for the rights they have been endowed with, such as the ability to obtain a driver’s license, equal education, and equal voting.

Akin to the rights yet to be procured by women in the U.S., women in the Middle East need to continue their struggle to achieve absolute gender equality, such as equal dress codes, job opportunities, and societal roles. Women in the Middle East and United States have worked equally hard to gain the rights they enjoy today. However, women in the Middle East still encounter many of the age-old challenges, albeit on a larger scale. In conclusion, women in the United States and the Middle East have battled for centuries to acquire equal rights, roles, and voices in their societies, and they continue to fight for their complete equality to men. All this while striving to change the sexist government and cultural rules that restrict them from obtaining complete equality.

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Feminism: The Road to Rights. (2021, Apr 26). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/feminism-the-road-to-rights/