What is equality across cultures?

The 2012 campaign brought up many of the same issues that live in the foreground of our collective social consciousness: international policy, ideas for how to combat the continued fight against terrorism, gun laws, and equal rights, to name a few. A considerable amount of momentum picked up in the “War on Women,” a term coined by  Tanya Melich’s 1996 memoir The Republican War Against Women, but it seems as if we continue to discuss the issues without any real solutions under consideration. 

Issues of gender equality permeate virtually all sectors of life, from equality in the workplace to reproductive rights. Because gender equality is, to some, a primarily social concern, issuances of legislature can only go so far as to enact any real change. The problem is epistemological. 

As a culture, we have had marginal success in narrowing the gap as far as basic rights for women. The 1800s brought about rights for married women to own property, and in some states, married women were even allowed to control the property they owned. The rights for unmarried women to own and control property were even more slow moving. After the Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, women were allowed to receive a higher education; not a separate, seminary or academy education, but an equal, coeducational college or university education. Although women had control over their earnings as early as 1857, it wasn’t until 1967 that women were allowed to have their own bank account separate from their father or husband. 

Apparently it takes over a century for women to prove the ability to manage finances. 

Today, although women are fully able to open and close their own checking account, buy or rent property as they wish, receive a higher education, choose a profession, marry or remain single, vote, and even run for political office, the systemic cultural mentality of gender superiority/inferiority demands more of women to prove their capability and not only be taken seriously as equals, but compensated and treated equally. 

The philosophical underpinnings of gender equality stem from ideas of feminism, which are as broadly defined while at the same time, narrowly focused as any other philosophical concept. What is agreed upon by most feminist scholars is that feminism is not about female dominance over men; rather, feminism is about equality for all, regardless of age, gender, sexual identity or orientation, ethnicity, or religion. 

It isn’t an exclusive club for biological card holders. 

Consequently, Western ideas of feminism have spread to regions of the world where, according to our view of equality — whether continually put into practice or not — do not uphold any semblance of those ideals. Islamic nations function very differently than what we are used to in the United States. One thing that we hold in common is the way religion interacts with government, along with the ambiguities of religious interpretation and presence of extremists.

On October 16, 2012, 14-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban — murderous ideologues and religious extremists — as a reaction to her activism and desire for girls to receive an education, which became problematic after the Taliban took control over her city in Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan to use as a base for nearby operations in Afghanistan in 2003. 

The Taliban demanded that girls should not leave their homes, much less receive an education in an edict issued in 2009. Malala’s father operated a school in the region who refused the order, encouraging Malala to speak out and against the Taliban. Her bravery and insistence for an equal education in the face of the Taliban has earned her well-deserved attention and new conversations about the rights of women across the globe. 

Radical militant views of women do not compose the sentiment of the nation or the Islamic faith, just as Christian extremist views of women do not compose the sentiment of the nation or the Christian faith. 

The pivotal consideration of just how much influence Western philosophical thought should have in other corners of the globe is often discussed, cited as an impedance to the established faith and culture. But what Malala’s story shows is that many women — young and old alike — desire to be treated fairly and allotted the same opportunities as men. 

While in the United States we thankfully don’t face the same risks of women in occupied extremist territories, the discussion of gender equality and the tenants of feminism cannot subside.

The cultural space for the discussion of gender equality already exists. It lives in the space we construct as a community. It lives in the space that results from the support we grant to each other, merely because we all share the common trait of being human. It lives in the space of our politics because they are a direct reflection of our social and cultural values whether or not we admit it. 

A strong nation recognizes the imperative for true equality. Once we can build and maintain a national community without prejudice or self-serving agendas, we can change the consciousness of our global community and succeed as a human race. 

There is always space for change. 

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