With the 2016 U.S Presidential election only days away, we have in the leading candidates a perfect example illustrating the story of women all over the world. Donald Trump, the Republican Candidate for president can be said to represent all the excesses and privileged notions that men have held for hundreds of years. His accusations of sexual assault and his demonstrated lack of coherence and knowledge of the work required and the delicate balance of power in the Oval Office would have decimated any other candidate’s chances. This is especially so if the candidate were a woman. If Hillary Clinton behaved like Donald Trump for even one second, she would never hear the end of it. Yet the mere fact that Clinton is a candidate for the highest office in the land (and leading in opinion polls) is a testament to the progress of women and women’s rights in the USA and in most of the world.
The story of humanity is a story of the underdog constantly overcoming perilous odds to come out on top. From living out in the open, in constant fear of attack from predators and exposed to the elements, we were able to conquer the environment and shape it to our will. The invention of the wheel and the discovery of fire further spurred our development, with agriculture providing enough food for the growth and the propagation of the species. Commerce and the formation of city states soon followed, and the industrial revolution of the 19th century soon catapulted us into the stratosphere. We now have unimaginable power and information at our fingertips. However, with all these developments, women have consistently placed in the periphery. They have been neglected and saddled with the thankless tasks of raising children and building homes while being subjected to a patriarchal society that sees them as mere objects or chattels to be bought and sold at will.
This state of affairs led to the launch of the Women’s rights movement in 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a housewife and a mother, used the Declaration of Independence to fashion a Declaration of Sentiments. In her draft, Stanton specified situations in which women had been unfairly treated, including not being able to votes, not having any property rights and not having any legal standing in the eyes of the law. Stanton stated, “Now, in view of this entire disenfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, — in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”
It was a long time in coming, but women finally got the right to vote in 1920. This was the first wave of feminism that washed over America. In subsequent decades, women have had to overcome numerous and often daunting obstacles to make their voices heard in shaping public policy and in demanding for equal rights in all spheres of life. In the USA, women are still fighting for equal pay in companies just like their male counterparts doing the same work but getting paid more. A prominent example of this would be Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence who was being paid less than her male actors on set when she was arguably more famous and playing a bigger role in the plot.
Seeing Hillary Clinton one step away from the White House, not as First Lady but as President is therefore the culmination of a bitter struggle and fight for equality by women from a society inclined to subjugate women and elevate men just because of their gender. It is therefore fitting that she has to contend with some of the worst qualities of a male led society that can be clearly seen in her Republican rival.
While the United States has made several strides in the empowerment of women, the rest of the world has not fared too well in this. In 2016, we still have record high levels of sexual violence and harassment of women in the workplace, in their homes and in their schools. In Nigeria, about 200 girls were abducted from their secondary school by Boko Haram rebels, their lives drastically changed in the blink of an eye. Two years down the line, some of these girls have been released, malnourished and some with children that they got while in captivity. The Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari was recently quoted stating that his wife belongs to the kitchen. This was in reference to comments made by the First Lady urging him to reform his government.
In the Middle East, the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS has led to a humanitarian and refugee crisis of untold magnitude. Women have been used as sex slaves by terrorist organizations, especially if they are of a different ethnicity or religious belief. The Yazidis, an ethnic group in Iraq suffered when ISIS was taking over lands and cities belonging to Iraq, and many girls and women were sold into slavery. In Saudi Arabia, women are still not allowed to drive a car, and in many Islamic countries there are tight restrictions on what women can do, what they can own and who they can marry.
In Africa’s Malawi, young girls are subjected to a rite of passage that requires them to have sex with a man chosen by the village for the task of inducting young girls into womanhood. This has led to the spread of HIV/AIDs, a deadly disease that has no cure. As can be clearly seen, the situation for women across the world is precarious and looks bleak.
However, out of the ashes the phoenix shall rise. There are incredible stories of resilience and bravery to be told by the women of the world. The zeitgeist is the ascendance of women into the corridors of power and into the boardrooms of powerful corporations. Britain, Chile, Germany and South Korea all have women leaders occupying the highest office in the land. This might soon come to pass in the United States. Like the entire human species, women have adapted to their environment and have fashioned it to their will. The story of women is set for a new, glorious chapter that will change the world for the better.
POSTSCRIPT: This was an article I wrote as a freelance gig but ended up not being used. As such, the view of the article is WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic). It is my aim to continue with this story from the eyes of an African!