Women’s Emancipation: Is it an Accident of History?

SOROOR AHMED says that the western model of empowerment of women should not be blindly imitated, rather we should endue our own strategy in view of our circumstances.

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Soroor Ahmed

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SOROOR AHMED says that the western model of empowerment of women should not be blindly imitated, rather we should endue our own strategy in view of our circumstances.

Only in India – the land where zero was discovered – 33 per cent and 67 per cent can be equal. How can we become so weak in Math.? Why don’t we rely on computer to rectify this anomaly?

Ever since mid-1990s we have been talking that 33 per cent reservation for women will bring about the gender equality in the country. But why not 50 per cent quota when women form almost half of the population. Whatever be the political motive the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar earlier this year gave 50 per cent reservation to women in panchayats, that is, at the grassroots level of democracy.

Though debate is hotting up on special reservation for the backward castes women and exclusion of creamy layer among women, neither any feminist nor any women’s group is pointing out its fingers towards this discrepancy, that 33 and 67 are not equal. Thus one way or the other everyone has conceded that women deserve just 33 per cent quota. As if with this much strength in Parliament they would silence 67 per cent men and everything would be hunky dory.

After about eight years, efforts are once again on to table the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Winter Session of Parliament. But the moot point is as to why we are choosing the path on which the West fears to tread. In many respects the women of West are better off than their sisters in India yet there is no such movement there for the empowerment through reservation in the legislative body. The United States , which we pursue so madly, has only 15 per cent women Congressmen, though in the recently held elections the number of women who contested rose by 18 per cent. The Super Power ranks 68th in the world so far women’s representation in Parliament is concerned.

In 230 years of its existence the US has not witnessed any woman President. And in over 300 years United Kingdom had only one Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. However, it is true that the record of Scandinavian countries is better, at least on this count.

In fact countries having dynastic rules, especially of subcontinent, Sri Lanka , India , Bangladesh , Pakistan and even the Philippines had or still have more women at the top than many western countries. Yet their lot is not at all better. The truth is that our thinkers – no not only the advocates of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation but also the champions of political liberalism, Communism and Socialism – have misunderstood the whole concept of equality. Women in the West are certainly more empowered than in India yet their number in Parliament is much less. Even these empowered women of the West are often victims of what they call male chauvinism.

We want to go ahead – even of the West – by means of some legislations. Our new laws only increased the cases of dowry deaths, divorces, tortures, witch-huntings and burnings. Our women pramukhs and mukhias are stripped, gang-raped and paraded naked by the same village panchayat and yet we go on glorifying panchayat. This is the result of the so-called empowerment. What is the guarantee that in the future this may not happen to women MPs and MLAs. Legislations without any positive social movement are bound to lead us to chaos.

The coinage female foeticide is our contribution to the English language. You may not find this term in dictionary but like harem, lathi, etc. it may soon find its way into it. This is simply because in no other country babies are killed in the womb as rampantly and as shamelessly as in India , therefore, they are yet to come up with the terminology.

We try to adopt a shortcut route to bring women on par with men. The feminists, the women’s groups and the male champions of their cause seem to have inferred something wrong from the history. They failed to grasp that there is a difference between what is actual history and what is history written by historians.



There is nothing wrong in championing the cause of women and in fact in his last address Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) exhorted Muslims to treat their women and slaves well. Yet the whole issue of the status of women in the West needs to be examined in a different perspective. It needs to be mentioned that they have acquired some strength not simply because of the writings of Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir or some ultra feminists.



The so-called empowerment of women is in fact the outcome of the accident or chance of history. Women in the 20th century Europe and also the United States became ‘empowered’ – if the term is correct – because of the destructive wars – yes wars, which in fact always have a detrimental impact on them. For example, the two World Wars alone took the lives of crores of military personnel and civilians. Besides many times more received injuries or got maimed for ever.

Russia , Germany and France alone accounted for the highest casualties in the World War-II. In battles in the eastern and western fronts in late 1944 Germany , for example, lost two million soldiers. Russian casualty was enormous. In just one of its offensive against Germany 1.3 million Russian soldiers were killed or wounded. Similar was the situation in the World War-I. For example, the Britain , Australia and New Zealand lost 1.25 lakh soldiers in a failed attempt to capture Gallipoli in Turkey .

The World Wars had their impact on men, women, children, old and young. But men suffered highest number of casualties and women lost their chastity. When the Germans ruled a large part of Europe and in particular France for about four years men were physically eliminated and women physically abused. Similarly millions of their sisters in East Asia worked as comfort women for the Japanese armies. Women after the two World Wars were not like their mothers and grandmothers before.

Shortage of men forced women, even of the upper class families, to take all sorts of jobs: physical as well as mental. They not only lost their innocence but other womanly qualities, too. True, women had been working in factories in the 19th century Europe too, but most of those women came from the poor working class. After the war the entire values underwent a sea-change. Since almost the entire generation lost its purity it was not considered wrong if demand for free sex was raised there. Men were forced by circumstances to retreat and give space to women as there was no way out.

This is the long and short of the women’s empowerment. It is not that talks of empowering women had not been going on in the West before the Wars. But the truth is that actually women got empowered in the West by this bizarre means. Since wars paved the way for women of all classes to come out, they can no more remain ignorant and illiterate. The circumstances have gradually moulded them in a different way and they cannot be pushed inside the four walls of their houses – as earlier most of western women used to be. But in the West there was no craze even among the women to acquire political empowerment though in most of the countries there is cent per cent literacy.

We need to learn from the twists and turns of history. Great upheavals do have impacts on women. For example, the communal riots of 1946-47 compelled thousands of Muslim women, especially those now living in Pakistan , to discard hijab for ever. They did not do so because of any feminist movement.

In recent Reminiscences columns I discussed how the vagaries of history and geography helped the growth of democracy in England and then in other European countries. We give too much credit to political thinkers and advocates of social contract theory when the fact is that accidents in history played a more pivotal role. We in the Third World give credit to men like Rousseau, Voltaire, etc. for the concepts like liberty, equality, fraternity and human rights. George Washington and successive American presidents are praised too much for championing the cause of human rights. The truth is that France witnessed maximum human rights violations after the 1789 Revolution and America is the greatest human rights violator of the world. The philosophy enunciated by the French and other western thinkers as mentioned above only lead to the massacre of millions of people and then again to the coming up of monarchy under Napoleon. Perhaps no Revolution proved as disastrous as the French Revolution yet the West calls it as one of the greatest developments in the human history. France itself witnessed half a dozen revolutions or big political upheaval since then.

Karl Marx, no doubt, wrote against the exploitation of the poor by the capitalists. He predicted revolution in an industrialised country like Britain . But the Communist Revolution took place in Russia and then China , which he perhaps never imagined. They came to power through ballot for the first time in the world in Kerala, a state on the southern tip of India .

The truth is that be it the empowerment of women or the downtrodden, or the growth of democracy or people’s movement the peculiarity of history and destiny played more crucial role than the philosophies and thinkings of the scholars of the West. Since we need to give credit to somebody we end up giving too much to them. The West failed to realise that all these above mentioned issues have been discussed in the Qur’an and many of the Western thinkers borrowed them from there.

True, monarchy is not acceptable in Islam yet it cannot be denied that nowhere in the world we ever had anything called Slave Dynasty, and that too 800 years back. Can slaves ever rule? The United States , the champion of equality, is yet to have a Black President and only a second Negro recently got elected as governor of any state of the country. The Blacks account for about 13 per cent of the country’s population.

Since India did not witness any calamity – like the World Wars – the social norms and customs, especially related to women, have not crumbled. We certainly cannot pray for such devastating wars to bring about the change. What we need to do is to minutely and objectively examine the actual history and not what is taught, and sincerely work to reform the society. If possible learn how Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)  brought about social change in a similar situation 1400 years ago.

If India and any Third World countries follow the West, at least on the issue of women’s emancipation, it is their folly. Equality does not amount to pushing women in the army, asking them to drive trains, bulldozers, trucks, etc. and work in night shifts in factories when there is already so many unemployed men. The capitalists have swung into action by coining fantastic slogans like women make good managers, women make good workers, women make good politicians. All this for the sake of marketing. These are the myths deliberately created which may further increase unemployment and benefit the women of the creamy layer of the society and not the downtrodden. Jayalalithaa, Jaya Jaitley, Mamata Banerjee, Uma Bharati, Vasundhara Raje, Mayawati, etc. have proved that women politicians like men can be as corrupt, as maverick and as populist as men.