None of us are free until all of us are free
Written by Asli Saban and Kirthi Jayakumar
Patriarchy has fettered women’s rights throughout history. International and national women’s movements have always fought the patriarchy and the decades of repression it has normalized. Patriarchy is hidden and manifests in government policies, decisions, and beliefs in religious obligations. In general, patriarchy has affected women's fundamental rights at every level.
Despite the fact that gender equality and women’s empowerment actions and programs are taken and implemented widely, gender equality is still not a reality in many countries and communities. Women in different countries still suffer setbacks in accessing and exercising their freedoms and access to their fundamental rights. The best example is that of Iranian women, who are protesting state repression following the death of a young woman in the custody of the morality police, apparently for not wearing her hijab properly. Similarly, girls and women are forced to wear hijabs without room for their agency to determine what they will wear and when, in countries like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, some settlements in Indonesia, and Afghanistan. Girls have been forced out of high schools in Afghanistan - a clear example of the fact that women are not allowed to enjoy full public life, and if they are “allowed,” their existence must conform to state-articulated standards. In India, while the root issue remains the same - where the state dictates what women shall wear - the opposite phenomenon is unfolding, where women have been prevented from wearing the hijab, and girls have been prevented from taking exams if they wore a hijab. The relation between women’s bodies and genocide is especially evident in the Chinese context, where, the government is taking draconian measures to slash birth rates among Uighurs and other minorities as part of a sweeping campaign to curb its Muslim population. Women from minority communities in China are vulnerable to oppression at the hands of the the government. In Mona Eltahawy’s words, women are at the mercy of the trifecta of patriarchy - the family, society, and the state.
Regardless of whether women are being forced to wear or take off the hijab, the point remains that their personal space, freedom and choice around dressing and religious insignia have been violated, and their full public lives have become arenas for their discrimination and deprivation. Neither is their consent sought nor is their agency given any room for free play.
Although many steps have been taken to call for women’s rights, their achievement remains poor at best. There is a solid and relentless pushback against women’s rights world over. For instance,Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Conventionin 2021. Some right-wing populists claim that violence against women has increased because of the Convention; however, women’s NGOs have proved that the problem is a lack of implementation. Similarly, Poland also withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, claiming that the Istanbul Convention has promoted controversial ideologies vis-a-vis gender. Closely at the heels of Poland’s decision, Sweden rolled back its Feminist Foreign Policy - despite being the first country in the post-modern international relations arena to adopt one.
Women’s sexuality and fertility have historically been subjected to control by patriarchy and states. For instance, abortion has been banned in 13 states in the USA as laws restricting the procedure take effect following the Supreme Court’s decision. Although, the USA has a strong feminist movement and NGOs, unfortunately, women’s bodies have still been targeted by the government.
Wherever you are in the world, patriarchy is the norm: inequality and discrimination are the norm and show up in all places. It is a global goal to enable progress for the world’s women by enforcing their rights and paving the way for gender equality. However, violence against women is still ongoing, at epidemic levels worldwide. Nearly 75 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the modern and post-modern world, women are still fighting for their fundamental rights. Among women, women of colour, women with disabilities, and women from a range of marginalized backgrounds that involve long histories of oppression are even more vulnerable. The media-politics-military industry complex tends to sensationalize and over-focus on certain sections of women to the exclusion of several other: Where the rampancy of sexual violence in Ukraine is in the spotlight, there is a chilling silence around the same issue in Tigray, which has perched on the precipice of genocide for a while. Where the global attention is on the women of Iran for their revolutionary fight, colonialism has wiped out memories of women mobilising and resisting in collective engagement across multiple identity lines. The intention of articulating this is not to suggest that one community of women are more important than the other: but to call out that very approach that has been normalized by the double-standards of the Western-hegemony led media-political-military industry complex.