Women have been driving a car, wearing the latest fashion, and voting for so long, it’s hard to believe that they once couldn’t do what’s considered commonplace—or that some women in the world are still fighting to experience these rights that many take for granted.
Women’s Equality Day reminds us of how far we’ve come—and how much farther we still have to go—to claim certain privileges that men enjoy, such as equal or higher pay, for starters. Held every August 26 since 1971, Women’s Equality Day marks the historical passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave American women the right to vote. (Read: 3 Reasons Why People Admire Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)
In celebration of this groundbreaking day not just for American women but for women who continue to shatter outdated beliefs and stereotypes, we look at the challenges and great strides made by women in three countries where gender equality remains a dream.
Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia
Then: Described by National Geographic as “the world’s most gender-segregated nation,” Saudi Arabia based its treatment of women on local culture and Islamic law (Sharia). As such, women required the permission of a male guardian (wali) to travel, undergo medical procedures, secure documents, and others. (Read: Travel Guidelines: 3 Things You Need to Know)
Now: Though there are still a number of things Saudi women cannot do (such as wear clothes and makeup that “show off their beauty,” interact with men, compete freely in sports, and try on clothes when shopping), they now enjoy certain liberties, thanks to the relaxing of rules by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia since 2017, Mohammed bin Salman.
Today, Saudi women can apply for a passport and travel without the permission of a wali. They can also drive, vote, have access to education and healthcare, open a business, watch live sporting events, jog and bike on the streets, enlist in the military, and have custody of their children after a divorce.
Women’s Rights in China
Then: Girls born in 10th-century China were considered inferior next to boys who could carry on the family name. Footbinding and arranged marriages were also practiced during the Tang Dynasty.
Now: Mao Zedong’s victory and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 saw the end to footbinding, arranged marriages, child marriages, and concubines. Women were also given the right to divorce their husbands, attend school, and work. (Read: 5 Influential Filipina Women Who Prove Hard Work Pays Off)
Despite these great strides, Chinese women have a long way to go to attain the rights they deserve. As a population control measure, China’s One-Child Policy (which was put to an end in 2016) resulted in the abortion of female fetuses, the abandonment (or worse, killing) of little girls, and an excess of males over females. And while women now hold their own in the workplace (they contributed 41 percent to China’s gross domestic product in 2017), they still earn lower than men, are questioned about their commitment to their jobs at the age they are expected to start a family, and are mandated to retire by 50—a good 10 years before men, says a story from aljazeera.com.
Women’s Rights in Nigeria
Then: According to postcolonialweb.org, Nigerian women in pre-colonial times were as much wage-earners as men, making money in farming, fishing, cloth-making, pottery, and other trades. A woman also wielded power in the home, and could use her ability to cook and feed the family as leverage against her husband and children. (Read: How Candy, Assunta, and Risa survived the hardships of motherhood)
Now: Despite the contributions of their wives to the income and household, husbands continue to take them and their children for granted. Polygamy is still being practiced in 12 of 36 Nigerian states, female genital mutilation in this country is the third highest in the word, and domestic violence is not only rampant, it is also culturally acceptable.
“Nigeria has a national gender policy that focuses on the empowerment of women and advocates against any form of discrimination against women,” asserts Ngozi Odiaka, a lecturer at Afe-Babalola University in Nigeria.
“There has been an improvement in terms of gender equality in education… However, there is still significant gender disparity when it comes to labor force participation and representation in government. This can be attributed to cultural norms, discriminatory laws, and other factors such as women’s child care and family commitments,” Odiaka says.