There is so much talk about and concern for the abuse of women but we tend not to think of it from a justice point of view but rather as physical, emotional or sexual violence. From my research it appears that it is mainly academics who look into the issues of social justice for women, particularly rural women.
Until recently, historically speaking, women were still very much a commodity even in so-called civilised societies. Right up until the early 20th century in Britain, for example, young women from wealthy or aristocratic homes, were destined to have ‘coming out’ parties at the age of 18 and expected to be chosen for marriage by one of the single men who attended these. Even today, where couples may choose for themselves whom to marry and when, most marriage services include the question, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
There are still many arranged marriages in a number of countries and cultures today. From a very young age, girls are promised in marriage to a man who may be 10 or 20 years her senior. It is frequently for financial gain for the girl’s family. She is simply the commodity in the transaction. In certain religions the bride does not attend the marriage ceremony herself, but waits for her groom at the reception venue while he makes all the vows and commitments. In other religions men can divorce women simply by stating their intention.
Then we have many societies and cultures where educating girls is seen as unnecessary and may even be forbidden. Think of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl from Pakistan, who was shot last year because she wanted to be educated and wanted education for girls in her village. A girl from Nepal writes,“But I am a daughter. I complete all the household tasks, go to school, again do the household activities in the evening, and at night only I do my school homework and I study. Despite all the activities, my parents do not give value or recognition to me. They only have praise for my brother, as he is the son” This is the situation in many, mostly black, households in South Africa. If the girls are fortunate enough to go to school, they are expected to do the household chores as well, whereas this is seldom expected of the sons.
So then, what is social justice? According to Wikipaedia, it is a society based on the principles of equality for all members of the community. They further define social equality as a situation in which ‘all people within a specific society … have the same status …. At the very least, social equality includes equal rights under the law,… property rights, and equal access to social goods and services. However, it also includes concepts of economic equity, i.e. access to education, health care and other social securities.’
While listening to the radio a few weeks ago I heard that there is great excitement in Kenya because a law has been passed allowing married women to open their own bank accounts and to purchase property. They have gained some economic equality, a step closer to social justice. “Thus far, the poverty alleviation strategies of the South African Government seem unable to reduce inequalities and the consequences of poverty amongst women in rural areas. Many of the existing policies deal mostly with the formal sector, to the detriment of the informal, non-remunerative roles rural women perform.”
In South Africa there is a wonderful Constitution which says that women should be treated equally in every respect but this is not happening in practice. Tradition and poverty are still keeping many women in a state of dependency. This is not only socially unjust but it is also abuse of women. Another item I heard was when a woman phoned into a radio programme, and spoke of a man who worked in a senior position in an office situation and had recently divorced his wife of just 6 months after a big ‘western type wedding. When asked why he replied, “She refused to serve me my meals on her knees!” That is not only abuse it is Social Injustice.
Sadly the whole world has a long way to go before we have true social justice for all. I have written from the perspective of women and girls but there are many people and groups who are unequal in society. These include the elderly, the physically and mentally challenged, religious groups in certain countries, children who work as slave labour and people who are trafficked. As it is said, ‘All men are equal but some are more equal than others.’