Women rights can be defined as freedoms for women and girls in the society (Cook, 1993) and may include, the right to vote, hold public office, own property, to fair wages, to education, to bodily integrity, to autonomy, to marital rights, to work, to religious rights, to serve in military as well a the right to get involved in legal contracts (Cook, 1993).
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Women have been for a very long time, sidelined and discriminated in job opportunities and other spheres of life by the men and by the society. Throughout history, majority members of the society have been gendered into constructing women as the weaker sex. This has had a devastating effect on the women. As a result, women have missed job opportunities, women have been sidelined from taking political office, and women have been denied equal access to land and other property and as well being given a different treatment when it comes to serving in the military. This paper will analyze factual and current literature on the political and military rights of women in five countries namely; India, Egypt, China, Iraq and Canada.
It is worth noting that, rights of women is an issue that has been influenced by very many factors. The right of women is not an issue which just happened. The reasons for denial of same rights to women as given to men largely depend on a given society and the reasons vary from country to country and from region to region. Religion plays a big role in access of same rights to women as many. For example in Iraq and Egypt which share the same predominant religion, Islam, and the laws concerning military and politics are inclined towards the teachings of Islam (Afshari, 1994). Women in the both countries fail to participate in politics as a result of the religious beliefs. Another factor which determines why women do not have same access to military and political jobs is based on the cultures of the two countries.
Both Egypt and Iraq have very conservative cultures and in both countries men are regarded as very powerful and important than women. Therefore, they are tasked with military duties which require strength and perseverance, something which the two cultures view women as lacking. History has also played an important role in determining the stance the two countries have taken against women. Largely, both countries have not embraced democracy since independence. Cases of revolutions and coups in both countries have had a bearing on the leaderships of the countries. For instance the leadership of Saddam Hussein in Iraq watered down any political gains the society had achieved in that country. Under the Saddam regime advocates of political rights for women were seen as enemies of the state and agents of the west; such were dealt with mercilessly.
Iraq has faired well compared to Egypt, for instance, the Iraq provisional constitution of 1970 granted equal rights to women. Therefore women were entitled to vote, to education, to run for political office but all those achievements were diluted by subsequent political environment. Therefore the current situation has got to do with political instability which has made it unattractive for women to join the military or politics. Indeed in 1986 Iraq had ratified the convention on elimination of all forms of discriminations against women. All the gains were quickly watered down with the presidency of Saddam with several decrees being passed which dealt a blow to women political and military rights.
The unusually tough stance on issues regarding to women political rights led many women to go into exile in fear of their lives. The leadership would go in as far as to gang the media to make sure that no form of feminism ever cropped up in Iraq (Suad, 1992). The same case is true for Egypt. The leadership of the country has never embraced women rights although it takes a rather softer stand on the issue of women and politics compared to the current Iraq. The media which is very core in advocating for equal rights for women is censored so much that to operate in Egypt, a media house has to be conformist. There is no freedom of expression just as it is the case with Iraq, any one who voices concerns about women rights is seen as a dissident something which is punishable by death. The women’s rights law of 1979 had become instrumental in the struggle for women rights (Suad, 1992). But soon after the 1979 women rights were reversed and since then Egypt continues to be a country where women rights are violated.
Therefore due to lack of freedom of speech, the society’s construction of women as weak and not as able as men, the treatment of women as inferior, the historical events in regard to the leadership of both Iraq and Egypt have all been instrumental in denying women their universal and natural rights to join politics and the military (Suad, 1992). The situation has become so complex that it would seem no women are interested in that kind of jobs any more. There are very few civil rights groups allowed to operate in both Iraq and Egypt due to political reasons. Therefore the matter is rarely discussed in public and when it happens, it is the leadership denouncing the idea or even spelling tough warnings against any ‘would-be’ advocates and activists. Unless there is the good will from the political leadership of both Egypt and Iraq women are likely to continue suffering from denial to political and military rights (Suad, 1992).
The society also will have to do away with their gender construction of women as weak by borrowing from other countries in the west and even in Africa whereby women have proved to be a good match for men and have even at times outdone the men. Taking an example from Africa, Liberia currently has a woman President. It is worth noting this country has a political history of civil war just as it is the case for Iraq. Barely a year since President Johnson Sirleaf took charge; there is every indication that the country is steadily growing both economically and politically (Alston, 1990). All this is happening under the political leadership of a woman. Therefore Egypt and Iraq have a great deal to learn from Liberia.
India has a good history of empowering women both politically and militarily. India has women soldiers serving in UN peace keeping missions. This is a clear indication of how far India has gone in terms of human rights and women rights in particular. The constitution of India has provided for equal rights for both women and men and does not offer any preferential treatment to either women or men. Therefore the constitution has played the most significant role in shaping women rights in the country. In addition to the Prevention of Human Traffic Act, the Sati Act, and the Dowry Prevention Act, there is a need for more elaborate laws to enhance women rights. The influence of the British as the colonizers during the pre-independence also played a role in women empowerment. This is because the British themselves although male dominated they were open to contribution of women in politics and military. Of significance is the fact that British was under the political leadership of a woman, Queen Elizabeth II, something which Indian women could have been inspired by. Religion also has had a role to play in India in that the dominant Hindu and Buddhism did not have radical stance against women.
Compared to Islam, which is dominant in Egypt and Iraq, Hinduism and Buddhism welcome empowerment of women in the society (Cook, 1993). This is evident in that India has on numerous occasions voted in women as Prime Ministers. Again India has flourished economically under the political leadership of women. These women have served as role models for young generations of women who continue to strive free of any negative gender implications. Although in terms of political and military rights India has empowered the women. This does not imply that there are no other issues of women rights. For instance the larger Indian community continues to advocate for selected births whereby giving birth to a boy is considered to be better than giving birth to a girl. This has something to do with the religious and cultural beliefs and it is therefore a women rights issue and one area which India should change.
India upholds the democratic rights of women and there are very many human rights and women rights activists who fight abuse of women rights. This is very important in that even if the women are given military and political rights but are subjected to sex abuse which is very rife in India, the girl child may never live to access or to exploit the military and political rights. It is worth noting that both political and military rights are some rights which not every woman in the society can take advantage of. For a woman to enjoy or utilize these rights, they need to have led a life free of sex abuse, and girl child discrimination (Cook, 1993). Therefore India needs to empower women rights form childhood by discouraging sex discrimination and fighting sex slavery. Only then will the women enjoy the military and political rights offered in the constitution.
China is a conservative society which does not embrace women empowerment politically and militarily rights (Bunch, 1990). Again this has been influenced by historical factors, religion and culture. In China women are allowed to take up political positions or to vie for election posts but rarely get elected due to cultural barriers. Human rights are hardly upheld in China, let alone women rights. The country does not encourage criticism and therefore women rights activists have not made progress in convincing the government to recognize women political and military rights. The Chinese constitution provide for equal rights for men and women in terms of property ownership, jobs and education (Bunch, 1990). However the law is rarely followed something which has seen women denied equal political and military rights and when women enter the military, it is under a different footing form that of men, for instance most of the recruits to the army are volunteers. China can learn a great deal from India and Canada which have fully benefited from the input of women in both the military and politics. China will need to embrace the role of women in the society and change the constitution inorder to have a level playing ground for both men women.
Canada on its part is a role model when it comes to women rights and military rights. The country’s constitution empowers women to seek any political seat in the country as long as they are citizens. Therefore in Canada, political representation in the parliament is a fair one for both women and men (Bunch, 1990). Canada is one of the few countries in the world to embrace gender equality as well as promotion of women rights and it has incorporated this in its foreign and domestic policies. Therefore Canada has excelled in terms of women political and military rights. Canada also is a signatory of the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women.
Rights of women are very important in if the world aims to truly co-exist in a peaceful manner. The highlights of China, Egypt, India, Iraq and Canada are an indication of where the world is, in terms of gender equality and human and women rights. The five countries represent many countries and shows how the world treats women in terms of access to military and political rights. The lesson derived from the above discussion is that both national and international law is very important factor if the world is going to embrace women rights.
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