Gender equality in the 21st century
February 28, 2005
The dawn of the 21st century marks an important milestone
in the worldwide campaign to eliminate traditional social and cultural
barriers to gender equality. While women in some societies enjoy
their equal social status and access to education, employment and
career opportunities similar to men, gender based segregation and
discrimination remains common in communities with strong conservative
Evidently, the process of social change does not
bear a universal character. The winds of change are felt around
and yet women in developing countries are still treated as second
class citizens and confined to their traditional roles as child
bearers and nurturers. By generating global awareness on atrocities
committed against women, social advocates lead their tireless campaign
to stop gender based segregation and discrimination that are often
justified on religious and cultural grounds.
Today, the debate on women's empowerment includes social
change through understanding local customs and traditions and developing
appropriate public education strategies. As women's issues
vary from one community to the next, it is critical to find solutions
with respect for traditional local cultural values and beliefs.
This does not mean that one must shy away from change in case of
cultural resistance. On the contrary, it is possible to bring forth
social change by emphasis on socio-economic advantages that would
result from women's rights reforms.
In the information age, the global aspect of women's movement
takes a new dimension. The digital technology is revolutionizing
the way people around the world communicate and learn about each
other's traditions and cultures. Using latest advanced technology
tools, it is now possible to accelerate the pace of social change
and reflect the truth about human rights violations against women.
As a result, the Western world is better than ever before informed
about gender based discrimination in countries, such as Saudi Arabia,
Sudan, Kuwait, Jordan, and Iran, where patriarchy (or a social
structure organized around male dominance) exists.
In Saudi Arabia, the ruling royal family shares
power with the Wahabis (a strictly conservative Muslim sect) who
are given a free
rein to implement their rigid Islamic code in the kingdom. This
power sharing arrangement has led to the lack of democratic and
human rights progress and strict Islamic laws deny Saudi women
even the basic right to apply for a driver's license.
comparison, the sufferings of Sudanese women are multifaceted.
They are the most vulnerable victims of Islamic fundamentalism,
decades' long civil war and starvation crisis. Many countries
of the Middle East reflect a superficial level of recognition for
women's right. However, social change is difficult to realize
where the religious establishments oppose universal suffrage for
Kuwaiti women and fail to condemn the practice of Œhonor killing' in
Iranian women, who in years prior to 1979 had gained
substantial freedoms and benefited from widespread socio-economic
the time, are now reduced to second class citizens. Under the
laws of the Islamic regime, women are denied gender equality, deprived
of their emancipated status, denied equal social, education and
Despite their immeasurable pain and
Iranian women are determined to regain their lost social status.
They have demonstrated courage and led the non-violent civil
disobedience movement for gender equality without fears of imprisonment,
and death. This ever growing movement is a grassroots based
campaign that has emerged out of the sole defiance for the ruling
These examples serve as reminders of the task ahead
to address women's rights issues in non-Western societies. As social
activists share the vision to eliminate the worldwide practice
of gender based stereotyping, segregation and discrimination, they
seek to first understand the symptoms of intolerance and find remedies
in the public education process. The example of women's movement
in Iran indicates that it is possible to seek social change in
areas of the world with most patriarchic traditions.
look at their own past and present achievements in the West for
direction. In the pursuit of their aspirations, they set a great
example of resistance to gain equal rights and recognition. Admittedly,
the women's rights movement in Iran faces the daunting challenge
of opposition from the ruling theocratic regime. Nevertheless,
public education remains the keystone to generating societal and
international awareness on eliminating gender inequalities.
Behshad Hastibakhsh, 34, is an award winning Political Scientist
by training, Marketing & Public Relations Specialist
by experience, and published Writer with passion. Behshad
leads a professional career in the high-tech business sector
and maintains vast interests in global politics. Visit
his site, Behshadh.com.