How to Treat a Lady: Women’s Rights and Gender Equality in the 21st Century

Written by Mehgan Gallagher

The issue of gender equality has long perplexed me. Why is it that women are so respected in some ways, yet still treated like second-class citizens in other respects? For example, in some cultures women are considered spiritual creatures; for centuries, men have stood up when women enter a room out of respect, yet women all over the world, even in the 21st century face barriers that men do not. Laws from voting rights to martial rape and property rights have long kept women behind the curb in the realm of gender equality.

On April 14, 2014 234 school girls between the ages of 16 and 18 were abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in Northern Nigeria by the Islamist armed group Boko Haram. Following the abduction, people all over the world were outraged, not only by this sheer act of terror, but also by the lack of response by the Nigerian government. In April 2015, nearly 100 women and 200 girls were rescued by Nigerian troops. What happened to these women and girls for the year they were missing? Those who have been rescued reported conditions of women kidnapped by Boko Haram face rape, forced marriage, and conscription into the militant army.

Meanwhile India has been in the spotlight in the past few years with incidences of violence against women.   In December 2012, a 23-year old female medical student was returning home in South Delhi, India after watching a movie with a friend. On her bus ride home, she was beaten and gang raped by six men on the bus, including the bus driver. She was then thrown off of the moving bus. She spent two weeks in critical condition, and then died from her injuries. This incident sparked national and international outrage and protests regarding the shortcomings of India’s government in the protection of its women.

In many Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, there are laws that allow for “honor killings” and death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, which generally effect women more than men. This is due to many factors including illiteracy and inability to defend oneself in court. Just last year a woman was beaten to death outside a court house in Pakistan by her relatives after she eloped with someone outside of her religion. A report by the Pakistan Human Rights Commission confirms that this is not an isolated incident and that over 800 women were victims of these types of “honor killings” last year alone.

Although women are still subject to laws and cultural norms that disproportionately hold them back and subject them to horrific fates, I remain hopeful.   The once large salary gap in many industries is now almost a thing of the past in the United States.   Many social policies in Latin America have drastically improved the lives of women in the region. Women recently gained the right to vote in Kuwait.   Women play a vital world in world politics today and are members of parliament and government in many nations. There are many international NGOs as well as government entities that work toward gender equality and women’s rights. Technology and social media are also important tools in the fight toward women’s rights, making these once hidden issues international news and helping to spark social movements.   Perhaps one day, there will be no need to treat a lady differently than a man, and instead we will all be treated equally.

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