South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Published in The News – Pakistan on Oct. 21::

On October 11, the International Day of the Girl, the UN secretary-general said in his message: “I call on all the governments to take action to end all forms of violence against girls in all parts of the world. Together we must create a world where violence against women and girls is never tolerated and girls are always empowered to reach their full potential.” 

The truth is that violence against anyone should be unacceptable and everyone should have the right to reach their full potential. So then the question is: why is this world not like that? What triggers violence and contempt for women, men and even children? 

The sad truth is that besides vicious physical violence women are also victims of emotional, sexual, intellectual and economical violence. In many cultures the girl child is the last to receive not only material things like education and healthcare but even love, affection and respect. 

She is constantly reminded that she does not deserve the same dignity and does not have the same rights as boys. Her only identity is her relationships with men – daughter, sister, wife and mother. She is brainwashed to believe that her valuable qualities are sacrifice, obedience, modesty and self effacement and she is not supposed to have any personal aspirations and ambitions.

But then if we look around we see that almost 80 percent of men are also oppressed by other men. The nature of violence is different but it is there. Just visit factories, fields, construction sites, hospitals, corporate offices, hotels, and any other institution. Look around and see how the cooks, drivers, gardeners, and other domestic servants are treated in the homes of respectable citizens. See young boys in tea stalls, car workshops, and doing other odd jobs being beaten and abused. They learn to be servile and submissive. 

So, while girls and women are doubly oppressed but men are also victims of this menace. After a long and hard struggle women in developed countries have achieved some semblance of formal legal and political equality. They have equal rights to education, jobs and other opportunities but are still subject to all kinds of discriminations and violence and are still a long way from reaching the goal of social and economic equality.

The question then arises: why have feminist movements failed to reach their goal? In Pakistan tooo there are many organisations trying to fight for the rights of women. But very little progress has been made thus far. To understand this we have find the root cause of this problem. Engels has explained this in his book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. 

Prior to the agricultural stage of human society, all members of the clan had equal share in whatever was acquired, and whatever was acquired was consumed. There was no surplus. This changed with the advent of agriculture and farming. New tools for farming and new methods of breeding gave rise to surplus food and larger animal herds. Physical hard work needed for farming gave rise to division of labour along biological lines. Men worked in the fields and women took care of the children and housework. Since surplus wealth was a result of men’s work, gradually they became the owners of this wealth. 

Women’s work did not bring in any material wealth and thus came to be considered inferior. The men who owned more started to hire or enslave other men for cheap labour. This was the beginning of private property ownership and the class system. This economic system changed social relations, giving rise to exploitation of not only women by men but also of men by men. 

With time these changed social relations were given the cover of tradition and religion. As a result many people still believe that this inequality is ordained by God or is imprinted in our DNA and thus will never change. Under capitalism women and children are considered cheap sources of labour and thus exploitation has become much worse.

So, we can see that oppression of both men and women started with private property ownership and the class system. As long as a class of capitalists, feudal and tribal chiefs control the resources, there can be no end to abuse and violence against the majority. 

The solution lies in changing that economic structure and establishing a system based on equality of rights over resources and access to opportunities regardless of colour, clan, religion, race, gender, nationality or ethnicity. This will liberate women and men from economic slavery, and free them to exploit their natural talents. This can only be achieved through a class struggle where working men and women join hands to get rid of all the injustices, abuses, and violence rather than pitting women against men. 

However, beyond economics, a paradigm shift is needed. State and social institutions have to be more women-friendly and work places more responsive to their biological responsibilities. The state should provide support in the form of child care. 

Education institutions and workplaces should be more flexible to accommodate women. Society needs to develop support systems to empower women and men need to share responsibilities for household chores. This will allow women to balance their biological, intellectual and emotional needs and provide opportunity for active participation in social, cultural and political activities. Women’s productive function is important for the future of human race but it should not restrict their ability to pursue their own aspirations. 

Women’s rights are no more and no less than human rights. The only sustainable way to ensure those rights for everyone is to eliminate exploitation of all human beings by eliminating the tribal, feudal and capitalist system.