Throughout history, women have been dominated by men, and were not given their human rights, simply because they were women. Nevertheless, starting the eighteenth century, some women started showing their dissatisfaction with their unfair conditions. They came to realize that since they were human beings, then they must have equal rights as men. In this paper, I intend to show the historical back ground of the earliest womens movements in the world, and to state the major achievement of these movements. Finally, I would like to throw some light on the changes in the status of women in Lebanon.
Women have not been sleeping when it came to their rights. However, women have not been able to anything about their rights for several reasons. For example, the role of women was to take care of the home while the husband was winning bread for the family. In addition to this, very few women could read and write, and therefore, they did not have the means to express themselves, or to start organized actions.
With the rise of equality of all men and democracy by the end of the eighteenth century, the cause of women started, particularly in the year 1792 when the first feminist publication was written by Mary Wollestonecraft, a British woman who was devoted to the cause of liberating women from their chains. The famous publication was known as the vindication of the rights of women. According to this publication which is the first organized step towards womens liberation, the aim of womens movements would be to eliminate the sexual discrimination against women on the political, economic and social level, so that women would have equal rights to men (Grolier, 1).
Grolier Electronic Publishing shows that the first problem women faced was suffrage. While men were able to vote and to participate in the political life, women were not. Therefore, the efforts were united and aimed at winning the right to vote. Consequently, in 1903, the women social and political union (WSPU) was established with its main goal as winning the right of suffrage for women. The Union was under the leadership of Emmiline Panhurst who was able to lead her fellow women in Britain in demonstrations that protested against the inequality of men. The British Public opinion was divided and many women were arrested and send to jail for their participation in the demonstration (1).
In 1914, the World War I broke out, and the struggle by the Union stopped until the war was over. However, the Union and other womens organizations supported the government in its war, particularly by participating in voluntary jobs and other efforts that enabled Britain to stand on its feet until the war was over. Once the war was over, the government returned the favor by granting the British women the right to vote in 1918, but the voting age for women was 30 whereas for men it was 21. The vote ages for both sex were not made equal until in 1928. Despite this great achievement, the struggle for equality and liberation did not stop (Grolier, 1).
An article in Grolier state: at the same time that the British women were struggling for their freedom, the American women were also on the same road towards liberty. The first organized movement for womens cause in the US started in 1848, though it was among the voices calling for antislavery rather than for the liberation of women. In 1850, the first convention for womens rights was held and it was known as the National Womens Rights Convention. Thirteen years later, the Womens National Loyal League was established under the leadership of Susan B. Antony who became famous for the proposal she wrote to the Congress in 1878, calling for the amendment for the constitution so that women could vote. This famous letter was supported by huge demonstrations and protests by men and women until the amendment was ratified as the 19th Amendment. This Amendment, however, did not become law until 1920. Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote in 1890 (1).
During the period between the World War I and World War II, women in many countries in the world, specially in Europe gained the right to vote. However, the efforts of women movements calmed down after that, until in 1945, the United Nations charter recognized the equality of men and women in rights. This was followed in 1952 by the first convention to be held for the political rights of women by the General Assembly (Grolier, 1).
Janet Z. Giele said that apart from the UN recognition of womens right and equality, not much was achieve between the 1920s and the 1960s. The womens movements in most countries of the world were still pleased with the right to vote which they were granted. However, the 1960s witnessed a new rise for the womens movements due to the increasing number of educated women who became aware of the need to improve their status. Women in the 1960s wanted to change their personal and social roles, particularly after finding out that announcing equality to men was something, while practicing it was something else. Consequently, the goals of the womens movements would then aim at overcoming the sexual discrimination against women in all social, economic, and political fields (388).
The 1970s witnessed more efforts for the recognition of the rights of women worldwide. The 1980s and 1990s witnessed more efforts towards more specific goals on all levels, particularly issues such as equality in pay, compensation and working conditions. In addition, the prevention of sexual harassment and the rights of battered women became major issues which the womens movements in the world stressed and were able to achieve significant legal and legislative gains in these domains (Grolier, 2).
In the US, the most important legal gains for the womens movements were made during the 1960s and 1970s. Five major achievements were scored by these movements. The first was the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which required from employers to pay male and female employees doing the same job equally. In 1964, the Civil rights Act was issued which prohibited sexual as well as other forms of discrimination in all levels of life. In 1972, the Education Amendments were issued preventing sexual discrimination in schools. Finally, the year 1975 witnessed the birth of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act which prohibited banks, companies and other financial and commercial institutions from sexual discrimination against women when granting credit or loans (Giele, 388).
These achievements were made in the 1960s and 1970s but the womens movements had to work harder in the coming two decades to make sure that these rules were implemented fairly.
The Lebanese women, unlike most women in Europe and US, had to go through double struggle. First, they had to struggle for their rights as women who wanted equality and recognition of their rights, and second, they had to struggle for survival during a war which lasted for two decades, paralyzing the country and endangering its population.
In October 1987, a conference was held by the League of Arab States and the support of the UNESCO in Paris to throw light on the conditions of the Lebanese women. Maha Samara insisted on the necessity of this conference because many Lebanese women were playing the role of mother and father, especially that many husbands and other male supporters of the Lebanese families were killed at war. In addition to these burdens, those women had to face the unfair status they lived in (10).
The Paris Conference recognized the rights of the Lebanese women, and also recognized the importance of the role that the Lebanese woman was playing in her society and family. The recommendations of the conference encouraged the Lebanese woman to keep playing her role in promoting peace, facing discrimination and segregation, and by effectively promoting the national culture rather than the religious confessional culture (Samara, 11).
Janet Z. Giele insisted on the massive impact of the womens movements in the world, not only on the lives of women in the world, but also on their societies and even political systems. The major influence of these movements is seen in the participation of women in the paid labor force. For example, in the US in 1940, the percentage of employed women was only 28% but it grew with the growth of womens movements until in 1989 it reached 57%. Besides, most countries of the world protect the right to work for all women, including mothers with young children (389).
Further more, many women have reached high positions in political, economic, and social areas, and some have even become leaders of their countries such as Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and Corazon Aquino of Philippines. Moreover, changes and attitudes towards women and against sexual discrimination have been witnessed in most countries of the world. For example, more fathers are sharing their wives the house work, including child rearing, and in addition to this, sexism is disappearing in language as terms such as fire man and chairman are being replaced by neutral terms such as fire fighter and chairperson (Giele, 390).
The achievements so far made by the womens movements in the world have dramatically changed the status of women in many countries of the world. However, a long struggle is still to come. In many countries of the world, especially the underdeveloped countries, women still lack the most basic rights of human beings.
Furthermore, even in the countries where the most advancements have been made, efforts are still needed because real equality has not yet been attained. For example, women have been used as subjects of sex and attraction, and this situation has not changed. Advertising agencies and marketing methods still regard the sexuality of females on TV, posters and other methods, to be the best selling because they keep the image in the mind of the viewer (Densemore, 203-204).
Moreover, Dana Densemore affirm that judging women according to their physical characteristics rather than their mental or intellectual abilities is still everywhere. The more beautiful and physically attractive a women is, the more is welcomed and respected without much regard to her intellect, mental abilities, beliefs or attitudes (206).
Above all, working women still suffer from what is know as the double-burden. Working women have to work as they part of the labor force, and when they return home to finish a long task of house work starting with washing, cleaning, dusting, laundry, sewing, mending, shopping, cooking, child-caring and many others. Usually husbands participate in very few of these activities if they do at all, and the woman is left to finish them all without regard to her need for rest (Tax, 230).
In conclusion, the history of the womens movements is a strong example on the struggle of women for centuries in their attempts to attain their freedom, humanity and equality. The struggle has not yet come to an end, and the road to success is still very long and full of challenge. Nevertheless, women will always have the hope and faith in what they are doing, because they know it is right. After all, human equality is the most basic right of all human beings, males and females.
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Giele, Janet Z. Womens Movements. Colliers Encyclopedia. 1992.
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Samara, Maha. Lebanese Women Witness to War. Al-Raida, November 1,
1987, vol. 8.: 9-11.
Tax, Meredith. Woman & Her Mind: The Story of Daily Life. In Salper,
Roberta ed. Female Liberation. New York: Alfred knof, 1972.
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