The Girl child has often been considered the lesser child, especially in cultures that adore sons and abhor daughters. Atharva Veda serves as a very good example of this discrimination which has been in the society since ages and can be traced to deep-rooted social values in an essentially male dominated society. The Veda states 'The birth of a girl grant it elsewhere; here grant a son'. The rejection of a girl, unwanted as she is, begins unfortunately, even before she is born, i.e. in the mother's womb. She is brought to an end by the pre-natal sex-determination tests or amniocentesis. Those who are lucky enough to escape these tests are born into indifference and brought up in negligence to the greatest detriment of their potentials.
Man and woman are two halves of humanity. Neither can reach its highest creative excellence without the cooperation of the other.
Through the ages, we have placed woman on a pedestal 'mother of mankind'. Paradoxically, the most horrendous cruelties have been inflicted on her, often without reason and mostly without just cause.
Though we have entered the new millennium, as we call it the 21st century, the status of woman has not improved, mainly due to the traditional bias and prejudice towards that section of the society, which has remained, for no fault of theirs, discriminated against, all these years. The discrimination stems not so much from legislative inefficiency as from the attitudinal bias of the society.
Contemporaneous legislation, laws, treaties and conventions have unequivocally established equal rights for men and women as a global norm. In spite of all this, discrimination continues and the perception about women remains the same.
Gender inequities throughout the world are among the most all pervasive, though deceptively subtle forms of inequality. Gender equality concerns each and every member of the society and forms the very basis of a just society. Human rights issues, which affect women in particular, play a vital role in maintaining peace and prosperity of a just society. It is an established fact that women represent the very kernel of the human society around which social change must take place. The last decade of the last century has seen a growing recognition of women's rights as human rights and an integral and indivisible part of Universal Human rights.
Women's issues have been a matter of grave concern for a long time but have attracted pointed attention only in the past few decades. Over the years, radical changes have been introduced in the laws pertaining to women, which not only recognize their rights, but also afford protection against exploitation. Indeed, the struggle for legal equality has been one of the major concerns of the women's movement all over the world. In India, since long back, women were considered as the oppressed section of the society and they were neglected for centuries.
Violence against women is a manifestation of historical unequal power relations between women and men which have led to domination over and discrimination against women and is a ''social mechanism by which the 'subordinate' position of women is sought to be perpetuated''
'The reason for gender injustice can be attributed to unequal power equation in gender relations. Patriarchal society, considering women's household work as economically insignificant, male child preference in society, lack of legal awareness in women and so on aggravated the differential status to the disadvantage of women. Neither the term 'Gender Justice' nor struggle for it is new. What has intensified in recent days is the awareness on gender justice. It is being increasingly realized that crimes against women are to be handled with greater sensitivity and women as seekers of justice, to be treated with extra care.'
One can indeed start with John Stuart Mill, a representative liberal in the era, when industrial capitalism became further consolidated. In his 'Subjection of Women' (1869), Mill stated long ago: 'The principle, which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes ' the legal subordination of one sex to the other ' is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other' .
After hard and bitter struggle for centuries, the newly born area of scholarship known as 'Feminist Jurisprudence' or 'Feminist Legal Theory', though far from being essentialist and homogenous , was finally able to demonstrate that doctrinally the 'Legal theory or (masculist) jurisprudence is basically nothing but an ideology of male supremacy'.
Until recently, the perceptions about women remained the same but, things are changing but rather slowly. Movement from the First U.N. World Conference on Women held in Mexico in 1975 to the Fourth World Conference on Women held at Beijing in 1995, has been a journey in search of equality, development and grant of rightful place to women throughout the world ' success has not been so encouraging but the tide must continue.
At the International level, prohibition against sex discrimination was first articulated in the United Nations Charter of 1945 and later reiterated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.
Since then, virtually all human rights instruments have reinforced and extended protections against discrimination. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights approved in 1966 guarantees equal protection of the law to both sexes. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also approved in 1966 promises women equality of status. The Fourth World Conference on Women held at Beijing just a few years back, has brought us forward by reaffirming gender equality as a fundamental pre-requisite for social justice. The Platform for Action at the Beijing Conference addressed eleven substantive areas of concern, poverty, education, health, violence, armed conflict, economic structures and policies, decision-making, mechanisms for the achievement of women, women's human rights, women's human rights, mass media and the environment.
Perhaps the most important conceptual advance in the international law of women's rights is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), effective 1981, which provides that women be given rights equal to those of men on equal terms. The Preamble maintains that 'the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields'.
According to me, this problem which is now a social problem affecting the society at large is not always a male-dominated problem as it often appears to be. The problem is in the way women are perceived by men. They have always been made to believe that they are a class inferior to men and any pro-feminist thoughts are ridiculed. Fight for justice by females or cry for gender equality is not a fight against men. It is a fight against traditions that have chained them- a fight against attitude that is ingrained in the society. Concept of gender is thus, a Socio-Political-Cultural construct. Primarily, it is for the men folk to bring about a change. Every effort must be made to ensure that a girl child is treated as an equal important member of the family. We must instill confidence in women to change their image themselves. Since, it is folk men who have glamorized the role of men, change must emanate from them. Both men and women will have to contribute to achieve these objectives. Law has to take into effect that women are multisectorial and there are no neat divisions of labor. Human rights of women do not appear to be high on National or International agenda. It is high time that Human rights of women are accorded proper priority.
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