Revisiting the myths, realities of Gender Justice

Syed Shahid Rashid

Although in the term “gender” both man and woman are included and even transgender, but global phenomenon of gender justice revolves around the rights, equality, and justice of women. It means equal treatment and equitable value of the sexes. It is often used with reference to emancipatory projects that promote women’s rights through legal changes and women’s interests in social and economic policy. Achieving gender equality is understood as men and women sharing due levels in the distribution of power and knowledge, and have equal opportunities, rights and duties, both in their private and public lives within their respective spheres. Some of the feminists started emphasizing the public role of women at the cost of familial role. Gender justice as a legal entity was brought before the world by Islam, a long time back, when it recognized women as a legal entity and gave her all the rights that man enjoyed viz. status, matrimonial, economic, domestic, familial, social, property and even political rights. The Holy Qur’an makes it abundantly clear that women have their individual status and enjoy all their rights as individuals, not merely by virtue of being a mother, wife, sister, or daughter as suggested by some opinion holders. Unlike in some other religions, a woman in Islam enjoys respect not because she happens to be a mother or women who give birth to children, but because she is a complete human being. Islam attributes the responsibilities and rights of gender on the natural, physical, emotional, psychological and biological considerations. On the other side, modern feminists consider gender equality irrespective of these features in the sense that man and women should have the same field of activity, that their activities should be similar, they should shoulder equal responsibilities in all sphere of life, and that they should have identical positions in society. In support of this view it is contended on the basis of scientific observation and experiment that man and women are equi potential and as regards their physical strength and ability. But their being equi potential in this respect is not a sufficient and strong enough basis for the claim that nature also requires them to have the same sort of pursuits. For such a claim cannot be justified unless it is established that both man and woman possess identical physiological structures, and have been entrusted similar duties by the nature, and endowed with similar psychological dispositions. The scientific research that has been carried out so far does not lend support to any of these hypotheses. Syed Maududi, mentions in his book Purdah, that it has been established by biological research that woman is different from man not only in her appearance and external physical organs but also in the protein molecules of tissue cells. From the time the sex formation of the foetus being, the physiological structures of the two (male and female) begin to develop differently.
Now coming to the point of gender equality! Equality suits among equals. Comparing man and woman is like comparing two different fruits in which both constitute two different propositions, tastes, identities, natural manufacturing and different natural arrangement. Both are differently situated by nature. Both are unique in their respective zones. Both are complimentary and supplementary to each other. Being not equal does not mean being inferior or superior to another. Since man has been put under more responsibilities and liabilities than women, it is quite natural that former should be equipped with more powers to perform such responsibilities and liabilities. As as was laid down in Gauri Shankar v. Union of India, AIR 1995SC “that equals should not be treated unlike and unlike should not be treated alike. Likes should be treated alike”. In Charanjeet Lal v Union of India AIR 1951 the Supreme Court of India held that the fact remains that all persons are not equal by nature, attainment or circumstances and, therefore, a mechanical equality before the law may result in injustice. Thus, the guarantee against the denial of equal protection of the law does not mean that identically the same rules of law should be made applicable to all persons in spite of difference in circumstances or conditions. In John Vallamatom v Union of India AIR 2003 the Apex Court held that all persons in similar circumstances shall be treated alike both in privileges and liabilities imposed. Mazheruddin Sidiqi in his book Modern Reformist Thought in the Muslim World, has quoted Muhammad Abduh, the Egyptian Reformer, giving a spirited reply, to those Westerners who criticize Islam for having given a low position to women in society. He says that Islam made a revolutionary reform in man’s conception of women’s place in society and in the actual treatment of women. It is relevant to mention George Bernard Shaw here who gives a picture of women in the western societies quite contrary to that what it appears. He says: “Look at the fashionable society as you know it, what does it pretend to be? An exquisite dance of nymphs, what is it? A horrible procession of wretched girls, each in the claws of cynical cunning, avaricious, disillusioned, ignorantly experienced, foul minded old woman whom she calls mother, and whose duty it is to corrupt her mind and sell her to the highest bidder. Why do these unhappy slaves marry anybody, however old and vile, sooner than not marry at all? Because marriage is their only means of escape from these decrepit fiends who hide their selfish ambitions, their jealous hatreds of the young rivals who have supplanted them, under the mask of maternal duty and family affection. Such things are abominable.” Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Indian Reformer says that the civilized countries lay great stress on the point that by birth men and women are equal and that their rights are also equal. Notwithstanding, this we find that the civilized countries stand in no comparison with Islam in this matter, for Islam immensely raised the status of women and equalized their rights with those of men. Sir Syed says that according to English Law, woman loses here separate identity after marriage. She can enter into no contract on her own account and she cannot be held responsible for any document signed by her without consent of her husband. August Bebel, the leader of the German Socialist party says “woman is at the present day chiefly an object of enjoyment for man: her pecuniary circumstances oblige her to look to marriage for support; she thus becomes dependent on man… Her position is rendered still more unfavorable by the fact that the number of woman is as a rule larger that of men…. This disproportion, which is further, augmented by those men who for one reason or other remain unmarried, heightens the competitive struggle among women, and forces them to pay the greatest attention the attraction of their personal appearance, if they are to have any chance of successful emulation with their fellow women in the favour of men…” He further states: “By far the greater number of married men could not support a second wife… As a rule, they have already two and more wives. One is legitimate, and the others illegitimate.”
It is the battle of extreme tendencies which has challenged the gender justice, the religious orthodoxy dominated by patriarchal mindset and the liberalized feminist movements which have even gone rebel to the fundamentals of entire notion of gender. It has polarized the issue and woman is sufferer from both the sides.
According to Syed Qutb “When man is made to be overseer over woman, this directive stands so because of his natural aptitude and positioning. Apart from this, he is charged with the financial responsibility. There is a strong link of the financial aspect with that of guidance, and that is the acceptance of that responsibility.” According to Iqbal, “Woman is the pillar of society. We should look to this pillar. We should educate our women. The education of man, Iqbal opines, is the education of a single individual but to educate the women is to educate the whole family. No nation can progress in this world, if half of its remains ignorant.” However he argues, nature has assigned separate duties to men and women and human welfare is bound up with this natural arrangement, the division of duties between men and women.
Now the important question is whether the rights guaranteed to women in Islam are really applied in practice? How far the applicability and interpretation is done in the true spirit of Islam? Exercising consent as a matter of right at the time of marriage, share in property in the form of inheritance, depriving proper procedure of divorce, maintenance to divorced wives and their children, impediments made in remarriage of divorced women or a widow, are some of the major challenges which currently Muslim women are facing especially in our part of the world. It is clearly the lack of implementation and misinterpretation of the provisions of Islam which has created challenges to gender justice from the Muslim context. It is the lack of information among Muslim women about their rights, lack of common platform where women can raise their voices, misinterpretation of Islamic texts, which tend to emphasize male privilege at the cost of female rights. A breed of Muslim women writers like Fatima Mernissi, Nawal el-Saadawi, Naila Minai, and Fatna A. Sabbah have attempted to graft the western model of feminism albeit with little success. Undoubtedly, some of the issues raised in their works are genuine but instantly lose their relevance once when they are projected through a western paradigm. Feminists like Betty Freidman, a modern liberal feminist who is regarded as the ‘mother of the modern feminism’ in America advocated masculine lifestyles for women have been criticized as compromising the quest for equality by relegating feminine work to the often exploited women whose poverty, race, or immigrant status pushes them to the margins of society. In her highly influential work, Feminine Mystique, (1963) she contended that preoccupation of women as wife and mothering all the time at home is nothing but a feminine mystique. It is the battle of extreme tendencies which has challenged the gender justice, the religious orthodoxy dominated by patriarchal mindset and the liberalized feminist movements which have even gone rebel to the fundamentals of entire notion of gender. It has polarized the issue and woman is sufferer from both the sides.
(The author is a research Scholar at the University of Kashmir. Views are his own) [email protected]

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