x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Women's fight for the right to parity continues

In many parts of the world, women are still treated as commodities to be bought and sold.

We have still not understood the true value of a woman. After thousands of years of human existence and centuries of women's movements, we have yet to reach the simple but seemingly elusive goal of giving worth to a woman as a human being rather than a commodity.

Women's movements have long struggled for greater freedom, equality and self-determination. Their aim has not been to belittle men, but rather elevate the status of women. To do so we have to understand "what is the value of a woman?" and how much of that value is she accorded today.

Female foeticide is still widely prevalent. In India, six million girls under six are missing. In China, there are 32 million more men than women. Both are attributed to sex selection during pregnancy.

As females grow into young women, they are valued as commodities to be sold, rented or bartered. The horror of female cutting affects an estimated 100- to 140-million girls, whose value is based on their "purity" once mutilated. Some are sold as child maids, or into prostitution. In parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the custom of swara means girls are married off to resolve tribal disputes. And sex trafficking of women, distressingly, seems to be on the rise all over the world.

Forced marriage and "honour" killings underline the notion that young women are the property of their menfolk. The same applies to domestic violence and murder, which are a global epidemic.

Attitudes towards divorce are far more negative when applied to women than men. Last week, a YouGov poll carried out in the GCC revealed that women are seen as "tainted", whereas men seem to emerge unscathed and are fully expected to remarry. It's a familiar story.

There are big picture questions about the worth we give to women that need to be addressed and applied to every society around the world. Are women simply units for economic generation? Is the push to get them out of motherhood and into work simply so that they can increase their financial contribution to the economy? Why does the pay gap persist between genders?

Motherhood and housewifery are still considered easy, brainless and low value occupations. Paradoxically, few women break through the glass ceilings of organisations, whether commercial, political or public. And we are still stuck in a time warp where women are treated as pretty objects to sell goods, or taken up as trophy wives. In short, are women really treated as people, or power objects?

Of course, I highlight these depressing statistics and trends so that we can confront the stark question of whether our societies in reality attribute value to women. And of course none of this means that men's value doesn't need to be looked into either. The snapshot of trends from different cultures and geographies shows us something important: women's social worth is far beneath any expectation that a human being should have.

Huge strides have been made in improving women's status, but there is still a long way to go. A woman's worth is not to be calculated by her economic potential, nor her sales value. She is not a commodity to be bartered. Her value is inherent in her whatever her life situation: before birth, during childhood, single, married, mother, divorced, widowed, or any other status she chooses for herself. A woman's value lies in this simple fact: she is a human being, with human rights.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk