Journey towards equality

Journey towards equality

In Seneca Falls, New York City, US, the Women's Rights National Historical Park stands as a testament to the humble origins, struggles and victories of one of the most fiercely fought battles in the history of the modern world. On the one side of the bloodless battlefield stood a few women, powerless but of extraordinary courage and resolve. On the opposite side was the social norm prevalent, patronised and practiced at the time, which these women were opposing.

This accepted social norm was aimed against women and it constantly downgraded them, their abilities and their stance in society. The dissenting women, however, believed that the right to live in freedom - free of violence, slavery and discrimination - to be educated, to own property, to vote and to earn a fair and equal wage, all of which the men enjoyed, were just as fundamental to all women as they were to all men. With this conviction, they sought and demanded that these basic rights that were denied to them because of their gender, be granted to them. It was then indeed a tall order, a far-fetched demand. Yet, they stood firm and through a long drawn process a mass movement for these rights was initiated.

Among others, the bold women who voiced the need for change were activists Jane Hunt, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Brownell Anthony. These pioneer feminists, who held on to the truth that "all men and women are created equal", became the catalysts for the women's rights movement. Their efforts would eventually pave the way for a new status and refined dignity for women world over, the success of which is commemorated annually as the International Women's Day on March 8th.

Looking back, moving forward

Women have indeed come a long way since the fight for gender equality that began decades ago. Women's presence today is very much a reality in every field. Contemporary politics, philanthropy, business, medicine, technology, literature, art, entertainment and various other organised sectors are teeming with confident and capable women. Moving away from conventional and stereotyped roles, women have emerged as equal partners to men. Shattering the glass ceiling, once believed to be impossible, is on its way to becoming a reality. Feminism is no longer an extreme idea or taboo; rather an accepted and respected notion.

Looking back at the efforts of women in claiming their rights of equality and forging ahead from passive existence to active living, have placed women today in a far better and prosperous state. Today, there are, for instance, more educational opportunities for girls, better judicial system to protect women's rights, wider access to health care for women, greater social network and far more opportunities and privileges for women to work and earn independently. The central belief that gender discrimination limits the progress of a nation and cripples the advancement of all humanity has gained acceptance after much struggle and dogged fight.

However, the journey to women's liberation is not over yet. It is also a fact that gender parity is not achieved globally and wholly. The highest-paying fields are still dominated by men, and it is predicted that it could take a full 45 years before this gender inequality actually disappears. Other forms of discrimination continue subtly in many places and in a pronounced manner elsewhere on the global front. They include among others, female genital cutting/mutilation, femicide, gender-based violence and early marriage.

The successful continuance of the incredible journey to gender equality has often been stalled by persisting in orthodox beliefs, holding on to misplaced feelings of superiority among men, negative cultural influences and wrong attitudes towards girls and women. These factors have further contributed to several loopholes in the gender equality fight.

Depriving girls of education, early marriages and other oppressive practices aimed at the female sex still continue worldwide. The world, however, moves forward. It is the onus then on the entire human race to build on the achievements of the past and support women to empower themselves by promoting gender equality as a way of life, routed in fairness and justice. It should begin with improving the gender sensitivity in the education system, which will lead to the increase in the number of educated girls, who can then contribute to a more equal society. As Malala Yousafzai said, "Extremists have shown what frightens them the most: a girl with a book." The need to shift the focus from talking about girls and women, to taking concrete steps towards their complete liberation and empowerment, is more urgent now than before, as we usher yet another International Women's Day.

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