Human rights are rights to which all persons are entitled by virtue of their being humans, regardless of their sex, race, religion or social status. They include rights to life, privacy, property and security, as well as freedom from all forms of slavery, discrimination and torture, among others. The popularity of human rights is a product of many years of philosophical pontifications and intergovernmental commitments. Notwithstanding, the world continues to witness cases of human rights violations in different spheres of society, in both “democratic” and authoritarian states.
Although both men and women are victims of human rights violations, women’s rights are more commonly violated. It is observed that fellow women, government agents, religion and society contribute to the incidence of women’s rights violations. Consequently, women’s rights campaigns should be comprehensive enough to accommodate them. As it were, such campaigns should be seen as what they are – human rights campaigns. Therefore, this article discusses the diverse dimensions women’s rights violation assumes and how human rights can be protected through the women’s rights perspective.
Dimensions of Women’s Rights Violations
Women's rights violation assumes different dimensions. Some of them are discussed below.
• Religion: Religion plays an important role in shaping our worldviews about the family, culture, lifestyle and the world at large. Unfortunately, major world religions have patriarchal undertones and their adherents have used them to promote gender inequality. Women are presented in sacred books as subservient to men in various ways. This is often used to violate the rights of women as humans who have equal rights as their male counterparts. All humans are equal and have equal rights; women are humans. Therefore, women have equal rights as men and religion should not be a standard or yardstick for gender-related issues.
• Government: Agents of governments in theocratic, autocratic and developing countries are regular violators of women’s rights. They are typically authoritarian, promulgating and formulating laws and policies in line with religious doctrines. Since major world religions promote gender inequality, theocratic governments logically enact laws and formulate policies that violate women’s rights, such as prohibiting them from driving; participating in sports; voting during elections; freedom of thought and choice of religion; going out without being accompanied by a male relative and assuming certain leadership positions.
Women’s rights campaigns have yielded positive results in Saudi Arabia in the last decade as women are now allowed to drive, engage in sporting activities and travel without being accompanied by male “guardians”. Conversely, these medieval practices have gradually returned to Afghanistan since the Taliban took over in August 2021. A similar trend is being observed in Nigeria where, in December 2021, mostly northern Muslim lawmakers rejected the gender equality bill for the third time in five years on the ground that it contradicts their religious belief. Of course, in sharia states like Kano there is widespread human rights violation. The tentacles of human rights enshrined in the federal constitution do not reach such states.
Women get sexually molested by the police, prison warders and soldiers in many countries around the world. In such societies, it is not uncommon for young women to be denied the right to decide if, whom and when to marry. All of these women-targeted regulations deny women their human rights and make them second-class citizens of the world. Therefore, women’s rights campaigns are human rights campaigns.
• Society and tradition: Society and tradition are two of the oldest driving forces of gender inequality. Erected on the pedestal of patriarchal hegemony, society has systematically and historically normalized a men-determined world. Women’s (human) rights to property (especially inheritance), academic and career development are consistently violated in conservative societies. In short, male children are preferred to female in certain societies around the world, making some couples ignore family planning in their search for male children.
By resisting the wheel of social change and evolution, conservative societies continue to retain this servant-master relationship between men and women while dynamic civilizations are yet to meet expectations. Society urgently needs to apply Nietzsche’s concept of “transvaluation” to reconstruct our ideas about gender.
• The Role of Women: Women contribute both positively and negatively to women’s rights issues. There are frequent reports of women selling other women into sexual and domestic slavery, while some connive with rapists against other women. Privileged women also deny their housemaids academic, empowerment, healthcare and growth opportunities. Others abet underage marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and child labour. These are some of the many ways women frustrate the efforts of women’s rights campaigners.
The race to build a society that respects human rights and equality started as the brainchild of the Age of Enlightenment thinkers and was sustained by intergovernmental commitments. It seems Europe and America are blazing the trail with more country prime ministers and vice presidents being the female gender. Many women are also given more chances at governmental and corporate leadership levels.
It can be said that everyone is a victim of women’s rights violation directly or indirectly – daughters, mothers and sisters. Women’s rights campaigns tremendously contribute to our efforts to build a society that regards all humans as equals. Therefore, building a society that recognizes women as equal stakeholders with unabridged human rights should be everyone’s business.
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