International Women’s day: Celebration or Commiseration
The 8th March 2010 saw the 100th anniversary of International women’s day in which women come together globally to celebrate the political, social and economic inroads that women have made in the last century. It is an official holiday in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The UN gave it official recognition in 1975.
At the turn of the 20th century women began to see the fruits of their battle to gain the right to vote; and following a conference for working women in 1910 in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin, (leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) spearheaded the launch of a day for the recognition of women’s rights.
Women globally have made some progress since the industrial revolution when scores of women entered the work place. The discussion of women’s rights began to take shape in the early 1800s when women were denied the right to vote, denied the right to own property, they were denied entitled entitlement to inheritance, denied education and were generally employed as home helps and paid a meagre wage.
The Enlightenment saw the ‘rights for women’ movement become political. John Stuart Mills the political theorist wrote: “We are continually told that civilization and Christianity have resorted to the woman her just rights. Meanwhile the wife is the actual bondservant of her husband; no less so, as far as the legal obligation goes, than slaves commonly so called.”
By 1915 most European states had given women the right to vote. The United States and Britain had had passed laws which protected the property of women from their husbands and their husband’s creditors. The fight for education for women saw the emergence of the first university for women in the US in 1821, in 1841 women were formally allowed to teach at universities. In 1873 mothers were granted guardianship for children in cases of divorce.
In the 1970’s Equal Pay Act’s and the Sex Discrimination Act’s were passed across the Western world. The National Organisation for Women was founded in 1966 in the US. The organisation lobbied aggressively to secure equal pay for women. Women now make up 50% of the degrees earned at college, compared to the figure of less than 20% at the turn of the 20th Century. Also in the US, 36% of all doctors are women.
It is these successes many around the world come out and celebrate every March 8th. However, a closer scrutiny at the real situation draws a much dimmer picture. Richard H. Robbins in his award winning book Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, he noted: “the informal slogan of the Decree of Woman became: women do two thirds of the world’s work, receive ten per cent of the world’s income and own 1 per cent of the means of production.”
Globally the statistics and facts released every year about the emancipation of women suggest that women have regressed to the position that they were in prior to the Enlightenment era. Two thirds of all children denied school are girls around the world and of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults, 75% are women.
Domestic violence is the biggest cause of injury and death of women world wide, ironically the UN officially commemorates an International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th November each year. In the US only nearly 45% of domestic violence is reported to the police. The FBI estimates that only 37% of all rapes are reported to the police. Of these, 21.6% were younger than the age of 12.
In the workplace, a recent survey by the Fawcett Society found that of the 2,742 board seats available in the top 350 companies listed on the London stock exchange, only 242 were occupied by women, and most of those were non-executive directorships. Those who have entered London’s prestige’s City have found they are potentially only an object of desire for men and not much else. A survey by the BBC News Online (Laddism in the City, 10/4/2001) showed the plight of many women working in the city; many say they are “touched up by both colleagues, contacts or competitors…and think objecting could be bad for business”. ‘Team building’ meetings and ‘client facing’ often take place in strip clubs or seedy bars and, as one women put it, opting out is not an option; “You had to be part of the gang… they see it as seriously affecting their profits (if you miss these events)”.
In the Muslim world women in Bangladesh suffer from acid battery attacks at an alarming rate; women in Pakistan are raped for daring to make an allegation of rape. Tribal laws saw Mukhtar Mai in 2002 gang-raped on orders of a tribal council for acts allegedly committed by her brother.
The feminist movement has gone full circle. German writer and TV newsreader Eva Herman recently wrote that “Let’s just say it loud, we women have overburdened ourselves – we allowed ourselves to be too easily seduced by career opportunities.” She recommends women exchange the cold sphere of work for the “colourful world of children” and discover their “destiny of nurturing the home environment.”
Regardless of the introduction of laws and global women’s organisations, women remain disadvantaged. Some argue that the Gender Equality movement has further entrenched the problems that women suffer since they are now expected to be equal to a man, work as hard as a man, and commit as much as a man. This notion is contradictory since “gender” points to the biological differences between men and women, “gender equality” eliminates gender from the discussion entirely. A research paper by Professor Jacqueline Adhiambo-Oduol concluded that: “A built-in tension exists between this concept of equality, which presupposes sameness, and this concept of sex which presupposes difference. Sex equality becomes a contradiction in terms, something of an oxymoron.” (Adhiambo-Oduol. J. ‘The socio-cultural aspects of the gender question, US International University-Africa, Dec 2001).
Islam on the other hand is not gender based. It came as a mercy to mankind and not to cause a battle of the sexes, which will always bring about an imbalance. Whilst women were struggling with the right to vote, women in Madina during the time of Muhammed (saw) and subsequently were entitled to vote and had an obligation to assume a political voice. It was a woman who accounted Umar ibn Khattab (the second rightly guided khaleefah) when he attempted to set a limit on the dowry that women could request. Aisha (ra) was revered for her extensive knowledge, often giving rulings to the shahabah when there was a dispute.
Women are permitted to be employees and employers. She can trade, be a teacher, nuclear physicist, own and sell property and enter into various economic transactions. Annemarie Schimmel, the influential German Orientalist and scholar stated: “Islamic progress meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work.”
It was Fatima al Fihri under the Khilafah that built the first university in 841 CE. A well educated woman herself, she opened the al-Qarawiyin in Fez, Morocco. Amongst other subjects, the sciences were also taught at the university.
Women faced the protection of their honour under the khilafah. It was khaleefah Mutassim who sent an entire army to the Roman Empire upon hearing that a Muslim woman had been dishonoured by a Roman soldier.
Upon understanding the real protection and nurturing that a Khilafah state would bring men and women alike, is it any wonder that there is an overwhelming call for its return. The vast majority of those polled in a Gallup survey in 2005 said that they would want to see Shari’ah as the sole source of legislation. It is only the Khilafah that will ensure the rights of all citizens, men and women, Muslim and non- Muslim. History pertains to that fact. Islam is as applicable today as it was before the destruction of the Khilafah in 1924. Allah (swt) tells us as much in surat al Maidah:
(TMQ Maidah 5:3).