The answer to the question “are women human?” should be yes, obviously. In many ways, however, this answer has not been as obvious as it should be. Throughout history, women have been considered subservient to men. The human rights that men have had throughout history have frequently been denied to the female half of the population. Because they have not had the same access to education, they have not had the same legal and social rights, and they have not been allowed to actively participate in politics. They have been treated as less than human. Throughout the past two centuries, women have struggled to gain the rights they have traditionally been denied. Only within the past few decades have they gained, at least in the nations participating in the United Nations, equal status as men, though in many countries even today they are still fighting for these rights. Today, women in many countries have the same human rights as men, though the gaining of these rights has been gradual, they have only gained them recently, and women are still frequently discriminated against.
Over the past few centuries, women have struggled against the view that they are more fragile, inferior and less capable than their male counterparts. They did not have the right to own property, they did not have access to education and were therefore illiterate. Their role was to stay within the home and bare children, whether they wanted to do so. In reaction to these traditional stereotypes, women have fought to be equal to men. This, as Arvonne notes, is the original meaning of feminism. Arvonne writes that feminism can be used to describe “the theory of, and the struggle for, equality for women” . The feminists who began the fight for equality were working to gain women the same rights and status as men. As Arvonne notes, the ultimate purpose of this struggle was to help women be humans, just as men are. She writes: “The ultimate desire, then and now, is for women to be considered human, a diverse, multifaceted group with both common and conflicting interests” . The push for women’s rights, is all about allowing women to be equal to men, different from them, and yet sharing in their humanity.
The rights for which women have been struggling through the centuries have had to do with their access to education and employment, their ability to marry when and who they choose, an increase in their social status, the ability to own property, and the ability for them to participate in politics both by voting and through the ability for them to hold office. As Arvonne notes, these things allow them to have “a measure of respect as individual human beings, not prisoners of their sex ”. The ability for a woman to have access to education was at the forefront of the struggle for equality because literacy allowed a woman not only to read and understand her history and the work that has been done by others, but also to express her own views. The ability for women to be involved in politics has allowed them to try to implement the laws which protect their rights. The freedom of choice in who they marry and when and if they have children have been important because that choice allows women to have a say in what happens in their lives and in their families which has traditionally been thought to be given only to men. The winning of these rights has not been easy, and is still contentious. For example, birth control was controversial for decades before it became universally available to many industrial countries, and abortion is still a hotly debated topic. Through hard work and controversy, women have gradually gained rights in many industrial countries which allow them the same freedoms and choices as men have, and the ability to shape what happens in the world around them as much as they do within their own homes.
One landmark in the struggle for women’s rights was the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was ratified by 20 Countries of the UN in 1981, and which entered force more quickly than any previous convention . This convention saw that women needed some sort of legal standing which confirmed their rights as human beings, equal to men. Before this, “the fact of women’s humanity proved insufficient to guarantee them the enjoyment of their internationally agreed rights” . The Convention consists of articles which confirm, for the countries which ratified it, a woman’s right to political equality , equal access to education , healthcare , and employment , and the freedom to choose their own partners and have equal parental rights as their children’s fathers . Since 1980, the women of many UN countries have enjoyed an equal status as men, because the UN HAS recognized that a woman’s humanity should give her the same rights as the other half of the human population.
Not all of humanity recognizes these rights, however. Some countries do not treat women as equal to men. As Arvonne notes, some organizations such as the Taliban do not view women as equal . In its preamble, CEDAW notes that, though womens should be equal, they are still frequently discriminated against . Despite the strides that have been made regarding women’s rights, there is still much work to do.
Women are human beings, and yet have had to fight for equal rights to men because under the law and socially, traditionally they have been somewhat less than human. They have gradually gained these rights in many parts of the world, and these rights have been legally enforced. In others, though, they are still fighting. Are women human? Yes, obviously, but many women have struggled, and are still struggling, to show that their humanity entitles them to be treated equally to men.
- Fraser, Arvonne S. “Becoming Human: The Origins and Development of Women’s Human Rights”. Human Rights Quarterly 21, No. 4 (Nov 1999): 853-906.
- United Nations Department of Public Information. “Short History of Cedaw Convention”. United Nations. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/history.htm. Accessed May 28. 2017.
- United Nations. “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women”. Cedaw 29th Session, June 30-July 25, 2003. United Nations. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm. Accessed May 28, 2017.