"No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens." - Michelle Obama, Former First Lady of the United States
In the run up to International Women’s Day 2022, my readings discovered select elements of women’s rights from American and English Legal History. The right to vote nationwide was mandated only in 1920 in the USA, with the right to vote restricted to white men who held properties in the 18th century and certain states allowed women to vote. Two years earlier Britain passed the Representation of the People Act wherein women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification were allowed to vote.
Scholarship usually credits Western societies for introducing ideals such as independence and liberty and through it achieving economic independence. Yet, women have been conveniently left out this entire narrative and process. Women have contributed immensely throughout the ages. Mary Wollstonecraft is the first feminist thinker who advocated equality of women. Through her book, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)’, she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. Despite stressing on the need for education to achieve equality, women being involved in the society and its advances does not come through soon. Levels of literacy would have improved but for participation in political and economic spheres, that came quite later. Such movements instead had men in the forefront of the account. Women and their rights were not treated primary or considered equal to that of men.
In the contemporary globalized world, democratic institutions ensure participation of people in choosing their elected representatives. As for most matters it is through the west that the world would have gained these critical ideas and thoughts, however, we see another trend in terms of equality in the Asian / eastern part of the world.
Women in Asia have been part of political movements throughout history. Although there has been fractured development in terms of literacy rates in several countries among women, it is also true that women have been given voting rights as well as been premiers of their country. The first woman to become head of governance as Prime Minister was Sirimavo Bandranaike in 1960 from the small island nation of Sri Lanka. She was elected to power with a decisive victory which was a big achievement in history. This was in a country that attained independence in 1948 and had its first woman elected representative in just 12 years from independence. India also had its first woman prime minister around the same timeline. In 1966, Indira Gandhi became India’s third Prime Minister. She is known as the Iron Lady of India and was a popular leader in terms of policies as well as leadership skills. While her tenure as prime minister came with several controversies yet the significance was particiular in a nation that was a colony just two decades earlier. Adding to the list of phenomenal women in governance, we have Golda Meir from Israel who served as the Prime Minister in 1969. She had the title of Iron Lady of the Middle East.
As the global order changed from the colonial period, we have independent countries choosing women as their leaders and even granting equal voting rights. Unlike in the western world, which has been a leader in these very ideals yet not recognising and promoting gender equality. It wasn’t until 1979, that Britain elected a woman as its prime minister. Margaret Thatcher was popularly referred to the Iron Lady of the West for her portrayal in the media & her stance on several policies. This highlights how the eastern world has produced more women leaders as elected representatives and have been at the forefront in promoting equality among genders as well as bridging the gaps among the genders.
In the todays’ day and age we’ve women leading several industries and being world leaders. Probably for the first time in history, through the technological age, women are creating history equally with men. Although the capacity and the women involved in the changes worldwide are still not even a fraction of the total population. Several instances clearly highlight that we still have a long way to go to incorporate women into crucial conversations at each level. Even today, phrases such as breaking the glass ceiling, having a seat at the table or even building her own table are being used to quote an achievement made by a woman. Each win of a woman must be celebrated to ensure young girls and women learn and leap forward to take what is theirs.
With each year on the 8th of March, we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Alongside raising awareness about women's equality, accelerate gender parity, we must ensure to promote women in all industries equally and provide opportunities through each sphere to women to equip her to grow to her full potential and as well as deliver the best for the world too.
I believe it is & must be affirmed as a thought that women have a key role in contributing to the structures and institutions of the world.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2nd Women Justice of US Supreme Court