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Change in Woman's Legal Position in Europe

Change in Woman's Legal Position in Europe

A woman in the tribal and barbaric societies was considered a sub­human beast or a chattel used to fulfil sensual needs and required to perform menial and worthless jobs. She was a bonded labourer who lived only to be exploited by man in whatever manner he deemed fit. She did not live to enjoy life or exercise human rights and privileges.

Later, in semi-barbaric or half-civilized human societies, woman continued to be the subject of debate, and different opinions were expressed about her such as:

  • woman is the abominable creation of the devil;
  • she does not have a human soul, hence no life in the Hereafter;
  • women's deeds are not acceptable to God;
  • being a means of satanic seduction, she should be physically tortured;
  • death, poison, fire and the serpent are lesser evils compared to her;
  • girls should be buried alive to wash away the scars of disgrace;
  • woman is a human being, but was created to serve man.

These and other such views in regard to woman have been expressed by the ancient Romans, Arabs, Frenchmen and Athenians.

Europe's civilized societies recognize woman as a human being but deprive her of many a human right. They even did not consider her to be a citizen of the state, nor granted her any personal rights. A girl was required to accept anyone selected by her guardians as her husband.

She was only the means of fulfilling the carnal desires of man and maintained for this purpose. She was used to work on farms and at home on the one hand, and, on the other, to satisfy man's sexual passions; beyond this she had no significant legal protection.

Before the advent of the Industrial Revolution, European families lived a simple and modest life; women helped in agriculture and house­hold affairs. They occasionally kept themselves busy with some small handicrafts within the household. However, the family and social life of a woman, along with her husband and children, was confined to the premises of her home, enriched by the environment of mutual love and affection. The Industrial Revolution brought into existence large industrial complexes and heavy industries. The need for large numbers of workers resulted in the break-up of the family. Women and children had to leave the warm family atmosphere of their villages and were dragged into industrial cities and towns. Hard and tiring working conditions, break-up of families, unlawful mixing of women with men in the work premises, the pressure of sexual urges on both sides, the erosion of familial sentiments, the exploitation of unprotected and unsheltered women by the managers of industrial houses in order to satisfy their lusts, resulting in the spread of corruption, prepared the ground for a revolution.

The women felt that the burden of life had fallen on their shoulders and they had been deprived of all sentiments and privileges of a pleasant family life. They had lost their husbands, their children, their honour, their chastity and everything else. They realized that although the war had devoured millions of men and youth, and the factory owners were in urgent need of women to keep the wheels of industries moving, yet they never attached any value to them and continued to oppress them. Moreover, they were not even paid proper wages. Discrimination between men and women continued. The women were dragged into all types of corruption and moral pollution. The unsheltered and unprotected women, crushed under the pressure of such a life, were compelled to surrender to this forced life of indignity and sub-human existence.

They felt that they had lost everything: they had to turn the wheel, to carry the burden and yet keep their mouths shut. They had to tolerate oppression yet abstain from protests under its crushing weight, Apparently, they were working shoulder to shoulder with men, but, in fact, they were no more than the oppressed beasts of burden fallen captive in the hands of a handful of profiteers. Every hour they had to surrender to all and sundry, suffering severe indignities for meagre wages.

The pressures caused by this atmosphere aroused their feelings and encouraged them to protest and strike resulting in their eventual arrests and killings.

Finally as a result of continued efforts, through speeches and writings, they found their way to the centres of authority and penetrated into the legislative assemblies. Slowly and gradually, they not only achieved the goal of equal pay for equal work, but also achieved equal rights with men with the right to participate in all spheres of activity. The question is, how far has this freedom and equality of rights in all spheres been to the benefit of men and women or how far has it been harmful to them? This is the subject of another debate to be discussed some other time.

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