Women’s Rights in Developing Countries
Not unknown to us is the fact that in many countries, inequality between men and women still exists. In gender differences for example in earnings and occupations of American women , the ratio of female to male earnings among full time workers was roughly constant from the 1950’s to the early 1980’s and the segregation of occupations by sex is substantial and has declined only slightly across the last century (Goldin, 1994). This problem is even worse in developing countries where people suffer from appalling poverty.
Evidence of gender inequality and exploitation of women exist in most societies, yet some of the worst cases are found in the developing world. The murder of some five thousand woman annually in India by dissatisfied husbands; the enslavement of women working in Pakistan’s brick-making industry; wife beatings in Zambia and the Andes; and the sale of child brides are only a few of the many instances of women’s subservient status in many Third World countries (Sadelksi, 1997). Countries that do not sufficiently meet its necessary sustenance can even have bigger rifts in the disparity between men and women.
Studies show that in developing countries, severity of inequality to health, life expectancy at birth, quality of life, workload, education, legal rights, and economic mobility are some of the areas where men and women differ (Witwer, 1997; World Conference on Women, 1995; & Huyer, 1997 as cited in Park, n. d. ). The burden of this inequality between men and women is compounded by the failure of some developing countries to recognize women’s rights. In Asia, women work more than men but they get paid less.
Fifty percent (50%) of food production in Asia comes from the sector of women but they get little recognition for that (Shah, 2007). Faced by this issue, we can say that although developing countries have relatively moved from an extreme patriarchic society to a more permissive structure allowing both sexes to freely exercise their rights, women continue to be unwilling victims of discrimination. Indeed men and women are created uniquely, however in our society, the women are always taken as the inferior one, supporting the men.
According to Plato’s “The Republic” (in Ebenstein & Ebenstein, 2000), there is no occupation concerned with the management of social affairs which belongs to woman or to man, as such. Natural gifts are to be found here and there in both creatures alike; and every occupation is open to both, so far as their natures are concerned, though woman is for all purposes the weaker. But is this convention enough reason to strip women of their rights and abuse them? It seems illogical that because women are women, they would be taken as weaker and more inferior. It is only an issue of gender.
Gender is a social construction that although useful has been dominated by a male bias and is particularly oppressive to women (Littlejohn, 2002). This is construction is nothing but a false ideology that made us believe that we are thinking are necessarily true, when in fact they are not. An international organization that facilitates international law and security, the United Nations established a commission on the status of women in 1946 (Division, 2005). Since 1975 conferences have been made and provided avenue for women all around the globe to voice out their sentiments and situations.
Consequently, several declarations have been created such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Office, n. d. ) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (United Nations, 2000). But the question still remains- are these being observed in most countries? In some places, claims are made that women’s rights will be respected more, yet policies are sometimes not changed enough, thus still undermining the rights of women (Shah, 2007). Looking at the issue closely, there is the undeniable truth that yes, policies are existing to protect women from abuses.
But what we fail to see is that the implementation of these policies are sometimes met by resistance, nit so much because the people does not like to establish relative order in their society but because the complex nature of culture would not easily permit these changes to happen. Relative order because for all we know, developing countries’ society see themselves as ordered despite infringes on women’s rights. For example, in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, early marriage of girls is common. The threat of HIV induces parents to marry their daughters in the mistaken belief that this will protect them from infection (Women’s Rights, n. . ). In Pakistan, honor killings directed at women have been carried for even the slightest reasons (Shah, 2007). It surely is not easy to change tradition overnight. In many developing countries, the sad truth of continued unfair treatment to women exists. In some regions they are not allowed to inherit or own property, meaning that a woman without a male protection has very few ways to support herself or her children. Moreover, stigma and ridicule prevents women from bringing cases to courts that may rectify injustices (UNAIDS, UNFPA, & UNIFEM, n. d. ).
Moreover, women during their lifetime meets various discrimination that include foeticide and infanticide. In many developing countries where preference for sons exists, misuse of diagnostic tools can aid in determining gender of babies. Death from pregnancy complications and childbirth has also been accounted highest in developing countries (Shah, 2007). These clearly show us how culture can be against the rights of women. They are denied of their right to live even at conception when men are given more privilege. They suffer from lack of medical attention when they carry children and their partners go footloose.
Aside from cultural issues, some other facets of women’s rights violated include education (Jejeebhoy, 1995; Malhotra & Mather, 1997), discrimination in the workplace (Shah, 2007; Malhotra & Mather, 1997), reproductive rights (Jejeebhoy, 1995; Shah, 2007), and even how women are portrayed in the media (Shah, 2007). In almost every setting, regardless of region, culture or level of development, well-educated women have a greater say in their lives (Jejeebhoy, 1995). However in developing countries where education is beyond the reach of most women, how can we expect them to have better lives?
According to UNICEF (2007) because women have to spent much of their time at home, they get paid less in their jobs. And even if women have the financial power, they do not necessarily have power over family decisions (Malhotra & Mather, 1997). Women’s rights refers to the freedoms inherently possessed by women and girls of all ages, which may be institutionalized, ignored or suppressed by law, custom and behavior in a particular society (Hosken, 1981). These rights are meant to protect women from the oppression that they are experiencing and also provide opportunities to empower themselves.
In developing countries where tradition is more prevalent than reason, it is not easy for women to safeguard themselves. For a society that has existed with a certain practice whether oppressive or not to women, change can only happen if the need arises. We cannot expect cultures to suddenly reorganize simply because they appear barbaric to us. No, this will be imperialism. Taking into consideration the history of most colonized countries, the suppression of cultural practices has become more of a disadvantage. This is not to say that women should be left on their own and wait for society to feel the need to uplift the status of women.
According to Human Rights Watch (n. d. ) arguments that sustain and excuse these human rights abuses – those of cultural norms, “appropriate” rights for women, or western imperialism – barely disguise their true meaning: that women’s lives matter less than men’s. Cultural relativism, which argues that there are no universal human rights and that rights are culture-specific and culturally determined, is still a formidable and corrosive challenge to women’s rights to equality and dignity in all facets of their lives.
What is needed now is a more realistic creation of rights that would not clash with the culture. There should always be harmony between policies and customs for after all, quoting from the book The Little Prince, “Authority rests on reason. ” Women’s rights, just like any other right need to be observed and defend everyone from all kinds of oppression. Societies have gone past primitive to a more modern setting and hopefully this development would be instrumental to the empowerment of women and creation of a better society.