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A B C of women’s emancipation

By: Nusrat Khan Afghani

Freedom of women remained and is the talk of numberless NGOs, other institutions and governments, working for a long time and spending millions of dollars to achieve this purpose, but until now the said question remains to be solved. Even in the USA and Britain, the guardians of liberalism in the world, women do not have a status equal to men, and where hundreds of women are sexually harassed, exploited and raped. Supporters of monetary capitalism though in theory claim equality for women before the law, but have never been able to implement it due to want of the same in practice.

Let us pay attention to this query: is there any women’s question at all? It would be strange for many liberals but historical materialism explains the non-existence of the women’s question (as bourgeois liberals present it) in class society since the discrimination women suffer is not biologically determined, but attributed to an exploitive system based on private ownership. The women’s question is part of the social question and it can only be solved completely by transforming the whole of society.

‘Bachofen’ in his book Mother Right asserts that in the ancient past humanity originally lived in a free sex society rendering it impossible to declare someone the father of a progeny; therefore, descent could only be reckoned in the female line putting the woman as the head of the tribe or the family. The American writer Morgan scientifically analysed the human progress from savagery to civilisation through barbarism in Ancient Society, which could not achieve popularity in a male-chauvinist society.

Freidrich Engels in the light of the said book of Morgan discussed sexual, social and productive relations in different ages of history in his enormous work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels talked about the family in a historical category, which changed and developed as the mode of production changed and developed. The family as a social phenomenon appeared in primitive society, having for its economic basis a primitive communistic household in which the woman dominated. Men came from different gens, whereas women ruling the household usually belonged to the same gens. Lineage was traced only by the distaff side. Engels strictly rejected the ridiculous conjecture holding women slaves of men since prehistoric ages. In ancient times, there gradually appeared a paired family system, which developed as the productive forces grew and women’s influence in economic matters and social relations declined. Before discussing monogamy it is important to look into the social and economic system of the patriarchal period.

The prehistoric time was the era of savagery and barbarism. Fruit, fish and hunting were the resources of livelihood. There was no concept of private property and the state. The political or social system was tribal in which an administrative or tribal council (not ruling) consisted of adult members of society. Women were equal partners of men in sharing rights and liabilities of life.

Differentiating the hardworking woman of that time from the woman of today, Engels pens, “Among peoples where the women have to work far harder than we think suitable, there is often much more real respect for women then among our Europeans. The lady of civilisation, surrounded by false homage and estranged from all real work, has an infinitely lower social position than the hardworking woman of barbarism who was regarded among her people as a real lady and she was also such in status.”

The concept of private ownership was born on the eve of the agricultural revolution. Greed for private property led man to think that it should be transferred to his offspring, building the concept of ‘monogamy’.

Despite being a progressive step in history, monogamy was imposed only upon women, rendering men free from it. The exploitation of womanhood was part of the process of exploitation of all oppressed masses. Rising feudalism degraded the status of women even further, providing the basis for all kinds of exploitation. In nations where feudalism was not strong and there were collective farms, women stood unfettered and high, both in domestic and communal life: in the Vedic times of India, in ancient Egypt and ancient Afghanistan, the position of woman was better than later in the feudal societies of these nations.

In class society, the family appeared as an economic cell and thus ‘male supremacy’ in the family is a consequence of his economic supremacy. Talking about inequality between man and woman, Engels pointed out that it is “not the cause but the effect of the economic oppression of the women”.

Household management no longer concerned society as it became a private service so the woman who had been excluded from participation in social production for a long time got no payment for her labour. In the name of religions, customs, traditions and above all, virginity, hundreds of restrictions were imposed on her liberty to keep her under house imprisonment, which ultimately destroyed her mental capacities as well as physical strength.

After the Industrial Revolution women of the lower class became economically independent, joining factories and other social institutions. Though marital relations in the family of the working class in a bourgeois society rest on love, respect, friendship and cooperation of husband and wife but due to the existence of an exploitative system, the family is still an economic cell where a woman has to carry a double burden: she works for the bourgeoisie, even for a lower wage than a man, and also has to do the lion’s share of the work involved in housekeeping and bringing up children.

To prove woman’s inferiority, it is argued that a woman is physically weaker than a man. Accepting this odd connotation, every physically stronger person is superior to a less stronger person, and thus, instead of human beings, the lion or alligator should rule the world. Observing animals in their group lives, no vital distinction can be seen between both sexes. A lioness hunts in the same way and with the same power as the lion. It is pertinent to mention here about the affection of female animal for her offspring, making her more responsible than her male partner.

In human beings, women in conservative societies are not allowed to take part in physical activities to the same extent as men. Especially during the age when male children take part in all healthy and physical activities like swimming in rivers and canals, female counterparts are forced to observe purdah, forcing them to spend most of their lives in taking care of their modesty. Her mental and physical capabilities are wasted in household work, and so she becomes weaker to man physically, mentally and socially. But women living in a natural way as men of their societies have the same powers as men.

Female furnace workers and agriculture workers perform the same duties as their male counterparts. Regarding physical strength, the most crucial point is role of conscious labour in distinguishing human beings from animals. Both men and women laboured in the same manner, in the same way and in the same time. Today’s human brain is the outcome of this conscious labour of millions of years. Medical science proves there is no difference between the mental qualities and capacities in both sexes, as human ascension is always determined by knowledge, not by physical power.

Exploitation of women annexes the exploitation of all oppressed classes, hence no movement of women’s emancipation can be pulled off without its affiliation with the movement for the emancipation of all oppressed masses. Women are household labourers like industrial labourers, wage earners and agriculture workers who produce a large number of surplus value.

Only the removal of the exploitative system that is based on private property and monetary capital can make women free, abolishing all oppression, inequality and economic abuse. The family would cease to be an economic cell and would perform the functions of regulating relations between the sexes, bringing up children, creating the best conditions for the family members and marriage resting on love, friendship and cooperation of husband and wife.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court and may be reached at

Source: Daily Times