A history of Women’s Rights

Women’s Rights:

This Week, we have chosen to publish an excerpt from Murtaza Mutahhari’s ‘The Right of Women in Islam’. The excerpt has been picked up from the Preface that was written down on September 19th, 1974.

“In the Western world, subsequent to the 17th Century, there was a movement in the area of social affairs, which took place in the wake of scientific and philosophical developments, and which went under the name of ‘Human Rights’. The writers and thinkers of the 17th and 18th Centuries propagated their own ideas regarding natural, intrinsic and undeniable human rights with admirable tenacity. Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu were among this group of authors and thinkers. Human society in general is deeply indebted to them. It may even be claimed that human society is no less indebted to them than to the great discoverers and inventors.

“The basic point to which the group gave their attention was that a human being by his nature and by reason of his birth and disposition possesses a series of rights and liberties. No person or group can, by any means or under any pretext, deny these rights and liberties to any individual or people. The owner of these rights himself cannot, by his free will and inclination, transfer them to anybody else and strip himself or deprive himself of them. Everybody, whether he is a ruler or ruled, black or white, rich or poor, is equal alike with regard to these rights and liberties.

“This intellectual and social movement bore its fruits firstly in England and then in America and afterwards in France through revolutions, changes in the form of governments, signatures to petitions, and gradually these ideas spread to other countries of the world.

“In the 19th Century, new ideas with regards to the economics, social and political rights of human beings sprung up, and other changes took place which culminated in the appearance of socialism and the requirement of an allocation of a share in profits to the proletariat, and the transfer of government from capitalists to those who defended the working class.

“Upto the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century, what was said about human rights and what practical steps were taken were connected with the rights of the people with respect to the employer class and the overlords. But in the 20th Century, the question of the rights of women as opposed to the rights of men arose, and, for the first time, in the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, which was drawn up after the second world war in 1948 by the United Nations Organization, the equality of rights of women and men explicitly declared.

“In all the social movements of the West, from the 17th up to the present century, all ideas centred around two things: ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’. Keeping in view the fact that the movement for women’s rights in the West followed the same sequence as the other movements, and although the history of women’s rights in Europe was full of extraordinary hardships as far as their liberty and equality were discussed.

“The pioneers of this movement considered the liberty of women and the equality of their rights with those of men to be the completion and fulfilment of the movement for human rights that had been the central idea since the 17th Century. They claimed that without securing women’s liberty and establishing equal rights for men, any reference to human rights and freedom was meaningless. Moreover, they believed that all difficulties within the family arose from the absence of freedom for women and the inequality of the rights of women and men and that with the securing of this objective, all difficulties in the family would be solved in one swoop.”

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