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Gender equality is a national mandate

BARRINGTON BRENNEN

Published: May 23, 2013

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I wonder what group of people or institution would resist gender equality in our country? Unfortunately I can already hear the rumblings of resistance from people calling talk shows, chatting on the streets, and believe it or not, in church.

What is gender equality? It is males and females receiving equal treatment. This includes equal voice, power and vote. It also includes equal pay, opportunity, access to healthcare and education, politics, faith and legal rights.

The Council of Europe explains gender equality this way: “Gender equality means an equal visibility, empowerment and participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life. It requires the acceptance and appreciation of the complementarity of women and men and their diverse roles in society.”

Gender equality is being discussed because our women have been left out in the cold for thousands of years. Men have been given rights or have assumed rights and made policies that will make these rights inclusively for males.

Why?  Because the men making those decisions have presuppositions that women are not equal to men and thus should not receive all the rights and privileges as men.  They argue that women have an inferior intellect, are physically weaker and are too emotional; hence men are superior to women requiring more privileges and rights in society. What a pity!

UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), endeavoring to level the playing field regarding gender equality, states, “Gender equality is, first and foremost, a human right. Women are entitled to live in dignity and in freedom from want and from fear. Empowering women is also an indispensable tool for advancing development and reducing poverty.”

Before one argues against gender equality one must first know why it is a concern and why it is needed today. Women around the world are being used and abused, raped and killed simply because they are considered of very little value in society. They are not equal to men. In countries riddled with national or tribal wars, the majority of the victims are women and children. How can we stop such violence against women?  How can we educate men that women are also created equal by God with equal voice, power and vote?

Over 160 years ago, a group of women and a few men tried their best to begin that process by rewriting the United States Constitution. I mentioned this in a speech in 1998 at a regional conference on domestic violence and the church. Here is an excerpt from that speech: “One hundred and fifty years ago, on July 19, 1848, a political and social movement was born. Three hundred persons, including 40 men, traveled by horse-drawn wagons and by foot, from up to 50 miles away, to Seneca Falls, New York, to protest the legal bondage of American women and to demand full equality.

“It was the first women’s rights convention to demand greater civil liberties for women, including the right to vote and to get an education. They came together to rewrite the United States Constitution and to sign the Declaration of Sentiments, which proclaimed that all men and women were created equal. During this occasion the Declaration of Sentiments presented a list of evils against women. It said: ‘The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.’”

Elizabeth Stanton, the great leader of the group, stood before the large crowed on that memorable day and read the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolution. I thought I would share with you the entire resolution. See how relevant it is to us today. Here it is: “Whereas, the great precept of nature is conceded to be, that man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness, Blackstone, in his commentaries, remarks that this law of nature being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times; no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this, and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and all their validity, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original. Therefore:

“Resolved, that such laws as conflict, in any way, with the true and substantial happiness of woman, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and of no validity; for this is superior in obligation to any other.

“Resolved, that all laws which prevent woman from occupying such a station in society as her conscience shall dictate, or which place her in a position inferior to that of man, are contrary to the great precept of nature, and therefore of no force or authority.

“Resolved, that woman is man's equal — was intended to be so by the Creator, and the highest good of the race demands that she should be recognized as such.

Resolved, that the women of this country ought to be enlightened in regard to the laws under which they live, that they may no longer publish their degradation, by declaring themselves satisfied with their present position, nor their ignorance, by asserting that they have all the rights they want.

“Resolved, that inasmuch as man, while claiming for himself intellectual superiority, does accord to woman moral superiority, it is preeminently his duty to encourage her to speak, and teach, as she has an opportunity, in all religious assemblies.

“Resolved, that the same amount of virtue, delicacy and refinement of behavior, that is required of woman in the social state, should also be required of man, and the same transgressions should be visited with equal severity on both man and woman.

“Resolved, that the objection of indelicacy and impropriety, which is so often brought against woman when she addresses a public audience, comes with a very ill grace from those who encourage, by their attendance, her appearance on the stage, in the concert, or in the feats of the circus.

“Resolved, that woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.

“Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

“Resolved, that the equality of human rights results necessarily from the fact of the identity of the race in capabilities and responsibilities.

“Resolved, therefore, that, being invested by the Creator with the same capabilities, and the same consciousness of responsibility for their exercise, it is demonstrably the right and duty of woman, equally with man, to promote every righteous cause, by every righteous means; and especially in regard to the great subjects of morals and religion, it is self-evidently her right to participate with her brother in teaching them, both in private and in public, by writing and by speaking, by any instrumentalities proper to be used, and in any assemblies proper to be held; and this being a self-evident truth, growing out of the divinely implanted principles of human nature, any custom or authority adverse to it, whether modern or wearing the hoary sanction of antiquity, is to be regarded as self-evident falsehood, and at war with the interests of mankind.”

After reading the resolution she read the Declaration of Sentiments. Here are a few points mentioned: He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men — both native and foreigners.

He has made her, if married, in the eyes of the law, civilly dead.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education — all colleges being closed to her.

He allows her in church as well as state, but in a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic Authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the church.

At the end of these points and more, Elizabeth Stanton said these words, “Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation — in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.”

What will prevent us from doing in our country what is natural and right? All men and women are created equal. Let us do our part to remove any law, policy or constitutional input that gives any shade of unequal treatment of women and men. Gender equality is truly a national mandate.

 

• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions and comments to barringtonbrennen@gmail.com or visit www.soencouragement.org or call 327-1980.


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