By Dr Lawrence A. Joseph
In the early days of feminism some women abandoned their bras and burnt them as a symbol of their independence from the male of the species. They then bounced around the society with what seemed to be a new sense of pride. This bra-less approach has also been subsequently abandoned. It seems clear now that the main thrust of modern-day feminism is to establish and promote gender equality as distinguished from female domination.
What is really feminism? Feminism refers to a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common objective which defines, establishes and defends equal, political, economic, cultural and social rights for women. As a consequence of this thrust, a feminist theory emerged over the years which sought to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining the social roles of women and their lived experiences.
From the beginning of time, there seems to be no doubt that societies in general developed a patriarchal mindset. This mindset conditioned people to accept the authority of males over females with the overriding assumption that females are in subordination to males. Despite the fact that today the world has changed direction considerably, an examination of the phenomenon’s historical development makes it easy to understand why patriarchy as a social construction persisted over the years.
In what is regarded as pre-historic societies, the men did have dominance over the women as the women fully depended on them. The men went out to hunt for meat, fish and other food items, whilst the women remained at home to take care of the children. The Holy Bible, especially in the Old Testament, persistently portrays men in a more dominant position than women. In the New Testament Jesus had twelve disciples comprising only men. From time immemorial, major wars were fought by men with women staying at home. In modern day constitutional and other legal documents, when references are made to positions of authority the masculine gender alone is often used as opposed to using both masculine and feminine.
As a consequence of this patriarchal conditioning, feminism emerged to counter this phenomenon. The first wave of the movement occurred from the middle 1850s to the early 20th century when women fought to become more politically involved. During that period they did not even have the right to vote in general elections. The second wave began in the 1960’s and lasted until the 1990’s. This wave campaigned for more legal and social equality for women. The third wave began in the 1990s and continued pushing for success regarding what was perceived to be the failures of the second wave.
In the meantime, after over thirty years of consultations, the United Nations General Assembly was able to adopt the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. The Convention which came into force in 1981 is regarded as the international Bill of Rights for women. Grenada ratified CEDAW in 1990.
CEDAW defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women… in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or other fields.” The convention therefore mandates that in order to prevent discrimination against women that the principles of equality of both men and women must be incorporated in legal systems. All discriminatory laws must be abolished and appropriate ones must be legislated. Additionally, countries must establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination.
The cabinet of the country has already agreed in principle to accept the recommendation of the present Constitution Reform Advisory Committee pertaining to amending the constitution to include more Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. Having more gender sensitivity in the constitution is among those proposed amendments. Indeed it seems clear that women need more protection under the constitution. There are sections there that refer only to the masculine gender with regards to certain positions of authority. There is also a need to spell out clearly that there must not be any discrimination against anyone on account of their sex either at the workplace or in general.
Notwithstanding, extreme caution must be exercised regarding the idea of taking affirmative action by way of the constitution for establishing a minimum percentage of any sex which must be in the parliament of the country. Extreme caution must also be exercised regarding the principle of reverse discrimination against the male sex such as the situation where an insurance company allows less costly premiums to women drivers as they are perceived to be safer drivers.