Historically, women have been on the wrong side with fewer political and legal rights as compared to men. Even in career opportunities, women have failed to secure high positions due to male dominance.
It is as if these women still live in the colonial world. However, as compared to the colonial woman, today’s woman has achieved significantly rights that they never had or participated. Traditionally, the society viewed women as people with low intellectual power and weak to perform muscular tasks. They therefore subjected them to motherhood and wifehood.
Nonetheless, the dawn of the 20th century saw women assume some roles that men described superior to women. In fact, during the colonial times, women could note even vote to elect a leader. Voting was a prerogative of men. Some nations prohibited women from schooling and instead, assigned them household cores.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, women in some nations gained their right to vote, started attending schools and colleges to get education and some even acquired big jobs including political seats. This did not happen just by chance. Women had to fight in order to gain such rights. It was not easy to change a society deeply rooted in traditionalism and traditions that segregated women to accept ‘feminization’.
In order to gain political and legal rights, women had to convince the society to reevaluate its traditional views on women. The current society not only views women as a creative foundation of human life, but also, equal with men. In the past, the society considered women intellectually inferior compared to male. In addition, the society that mainly constituted male dominance considered women as the spring of evil and enticement.
For instance, in the ancient Greek mythology, a female by the name Pandora, opened the forbidden box and from there came despondency and plagues that continues to invade human beings even up to today. On the other hand, in the Roman world, the society enacted laws that portrayed men as children, perpetually lesser to men. Surprisingly, even the then theological teachings condemned women as a spring of all evil and wickedness (DinKin, 1995, pp. 1-12).
For example, St. Jerome who served Christian Church as a Father in the fourth century wrote that women were like the gateway of the fiend, the conduit of impiety, serpent’s sting, and overall, a dangerous object. Other theologians also had their own way of describing women. Thomas Aquinas in one of his theological sermons said that God created women to act as assistants to men, and that their main role was to conceive.
He went further to say that if men needed assistance, only other men will assist them. In Asia and particularly in the Middle East, the society was fair towards women. In countries like India, women had the right to own property and exercise other freedoms. However, after 500 BC, Hinduism evolved and set out new dimensions regarding women. According to Hinduism, women had to respect men and always be obedient towards men. In addition, the religion prohibited women from walking in front of men.
Moreover, the religion disallowed women from owning property and prohibited widows from remarrying. In general, the society valued a male child more than a female child. The paper examines the roles of women during colonial times. Further, the paper will examine how the roles of a colonial woman have changed to fit the modern environment. In the past, women participated in roles different from the contemporary.
The paper will analyze the past and present roles of women and as to whether these roles befit women. Even with the changed roles, women still face enormous challenges. Yes, it is true there are opportunities for women all over the world, but the society continues to delegate minor responsibilities to women. History has shown that if societies grant women personal and intellectual freedoms, women can achieve great things.
For example, history portrays women as hardworking when it comes to political and legal matters aimed at changing the society that all of us live in. in the Middle Ages, women who participated in church activities as nuns, performed imperative roles that later shaped religion in Europe. The aristocratic women performed vital societal roles emanating from the reputation and authority they had.
From one era to another, women rulers influenced generations towards achieving success. For example, women rulers like Queen Elizabeth who ruled England in the 16th century remains an icon even up to today. On the other hand, the political lives of Catherine the Great of Russia and Victoria of England remain great inspiration to women around the world who aspire to be political leaders (Elaine, 2005, pp. 13-41).
Role of Colonial Women in Political Life
During the colonial period, women had few roles to participate. This is because the society did not value women much and instead, it delegated household responsibilities to women. These and many other legal injunctions ensured women never participated politics and other public sphere cores. However, during American Revolution, perceptions about women started changing slowly. Women had to fight to have a say in political life and other freedoms.
In United States, men dominated the public space of both politics and occupation. Thus, women had to fight in order to join their male counterparts in political life. They instigated liberation fronts to demand the denied freedoms. Little they know that the struggle had to take more time than expected. Nevertheless, they never got discouraged easily but instead, increased their determination and strength to achieve the denied freedoms.
Although they did not achieve all of their rights, women assumed new responsibility termed “Republican Motherhood” that improved their accessibility towards educational prospects and gave them a chance to take part in public roles. Ironically, women did not achieve full lawful egalitarianism and voting citizenship (Compton New Media Incorporation, 1995, p.1).
In America, there were three types of women with different roles. These included African, Native Indians and Europeans. These women had specific roles that they performed within their societies. In most cases, these roles were traditional in nature. For example, preparing meals was the role of women.
Women also wove clothes, took care of children and taught them how to be good citizens. When colonial masters entered America, they got appalled with the way women performed these household chores. They especially goy mesmerized with the manner in which women stayed around homesteads raising children, doing artistry works, cultivating farms. Men engaged themselves in hunting, building houses and doing fishing. Consequently, the colonies established commercial companies and employed men to work for them.
However, with time, the colonial masters wanted to instigate permanency in their mining and tobacco firms. Therefore, they decided to employ women. The roles of women did not change because they got involved in farming for the colonial masters. Life was not easy for them in colonial farms. In fact, some of them even died of diseases, while the few who survived got married to rich men (Brown, 1996, pp.70-82).
Women never participated in politics but helped men in making political rights. The fact that women never voted is a surety that women were mere creatures in political decision-making. In fact, the society required women to get married before they reach 25. Any woman who was not married above this age became a social misfit. Surprisingly, as soon as they got married, the laws considered them dead. It is this particular law that prohibited them from participating in politics and instead delegated them household chores.
Moreover, women had no control over family earnings, land or property acquisition and never appeared in legal courts to give evidence. These curtailments became obstacles for women to participate in politics. Thus, their political life was doomed and reduced to hearsay rather than actively participating in it (Kamensky, 1995, p. 41-43).
Women have fought tirelessly to gain political status. For example, since 1920, American women participate in election through voting. Nevertheless, they still have long way to go as their political roles are quite minimal.
For example, up to today, no woman has served United States presidency. In United States, women serve in senate and governor posts. Until recently, Hillary Clinton, the wife of former President Bill Clinton, served as the senator of New York.
She is currently the chief diplomat of United States serving as the Secretary of State in Obama Administration. In Africa, the president of Liberia is a woman while is Asia, the sitting president of Philippine is a woman. Today, most nations allow women to elect their leaders and women have the right to vie to vie for political seats. Thus, the contemporary woman has the role of electing leaders she wishes.
Major constitutional amendments all over the world have awarded women parliamentary seats and in some governments, women get automatic percentage of seats to serve either in the public service or in politics. Today, women have the right to own and inherit property (Eileen, 2009, pp. 8-43).
Historical versus Contemporary Roles of Women
The historical women engaged themselves in household chores leaving prestigious roles to men. This is because the society considered women inferior to men in all spheres of life. For instance, in past, women could not participate in politics, practice medicine, preach or become lawyers leave alone appearing in court to give evidence.
However, with long struggles coupled with civilization, women now enjoy varied positions in politics, medicine, teaching, writing, teaching and many more. It is important to note that the political gear termed “feminization” contributed greatly during the women movement in America and Europe. They instigated reforms that saw men change their attitudes towards women.
In the colonial era, the societies disallowed women from schooling. As a result, many women did not know how to read and write. At a snail’s pace, major political reforms in many countries for example, United States saw acceptance of girl child education. In 18th century, women could acquire professional education but limited to medicine. The few medical schools present trained women on obstetrics only.
However, a century later, women started training in other medical field like nursing. Research done in 1890 showed that about five percent of doctors in United States were women ninety years later, the percentage increased to 17 percent. (Compton New Media Incorporation, 1995, p.1)
In the past, women could not even give evidence in court. However, this has changed where women can now take law as a profession, previously regarded as a man’s job. Statistics reveal that by 1989, there were as many as 22 percent women lawyers and judges. In addition, women serve in other professions like engineering previously dominated by men. However, there is still a challenge as women regard themselves inferior to men.
That has seen many women take simple careers like teaching art subjects leaving science and engineering fields to men. Research shows that there are many women working as elementary school teachers than other levels of learning like high schools, colleges and universities. The few who teach colleges and universities handle disciplines like home economics, sociology, art subjects and nursing.
In other positions of work, women serve as less involving positions like secretarial, bookkeeping, typing and other service jobs that do not require much energy. During the Second World War, women had the opportunity to serve in the Army just like their male counterparts but as secretaries, nurses and typists.
However, they contributed significantly in the war through resisting underground movements. In other countries like Israel, women are almost equal with men where both male and female recruited in the force participate in full combat training. Thus, it is clear women can perform chores initially preserved for men.
Unlike in the past where women only performed household chores and farming, the contemporary woman can do diverse jobs including working as a civil servant or serving people in politically. In United States alone, women constitute about 45 percent of working Americans. Unlike in the past, women are now assuming managerial positions ranging from managers to head of private and government institutions. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 saw women start earning the same salary like their male counterparts.
Thus, women are now in a position to own property. With money, women can engage in active politics and compete with their male counterparts for political seats. Despite these major changes, the contemporary woman still participates in historical roles performed previously by the colonial women. For example, the contemporary society still believes that women should perform household tasks like washing, cleaning and cooking.
It is quite hard to find a man involving himself in any of these tasks. Research indicates that majority of women perform household cores in addition to raising children. Nevertheless, some men are now involving themselves in these activities especially in homes where both the husband and wife work as employees.
Challenges facing women
Poverty remains an issue affecting most households. In most cases, women from poor backgrounds lead a poor political life. Many of them do not participate in choosing their leaders. Poverty-stricken women are prone to human rights violation. Many of them do not have accessibility to basic needs and clean water.
These are many other inadequacies violate women’s human rights. In some countries, women fail to secure employment due to sex discrimination. They end up leading a poor life. In some situations, women receive less pay as compared to men. Traditional practices that prevent women from inheriting property and land remain a major challenge to women ailing from uncivilized communities. If the society denies women right to education, those women will remain ignorant and live a wretched life.
Institutions and Electoral Laws
In many countries, institutional and electoral laws prevent men from participating fully in the political arena. These laws contain some element of exclusion that locks out women from exploiting their political ambitions. For example, in Europe, the uninominal voting system has prevented women from acquiring political seats as many view it as an acme of individualizing the process of competition.
The system supports famous women who might be holding other constitutional offices hence making them double office holders. Such scenario becomes detrimental to the ordinary women, as it tends to maintain the political class through feminization. This feminization enters government level and showers it with oligarchic manners to continue developing self-replicating elites (Council of Europe, 2003, pp. 23-26).
Opportunities for women
Once imposed, gender equality will earmark a new era in the political lives of women, as they will favorably compete with their male counterparts minus favoritism. For a long period, politics has been the preserve of men. However, women can use their numbers and trespass this perception.
Gender equality break fundamentalism of any kind, discard male superiority and promote competition. In addition, countries that have successfully imposed gender equality have empowered women and instilled gender hierarchy in their system of governance.
This great opportunity will make women shine politically if fully adopted. Under parity democracy, both women and men represent a certain institution. Some researchers call it a mechanism of rethinking democracy even as people continue to deliberate on it. Parity democracy leads to social partnership between male and female hence forming a social contrast. Where there is democracy, women do not exist on paper, but they actively participate in politics to promote democratic edifice (Council of Europe, 2003, p. 23).
Brown, M. (1996). Good Wives, Nasty Wenches & Anxious Patriarchs. The University of North Carolina Press.
Compton New Media Incorporation. (1995). Women’s History in America. Retrieved on September 20, 2010, from
Council of Europe. (2003).The Participation of Young Women in Political Life. Strasbourg: European Youth Centre.
DinKin, R. (1995). Before Equal Suffrage: Women in Partisan Politics from Colonial Times to 1920. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Eileen, M. (2009). The Motherless State: Women’s Political Leadership and American Democracy. University of Chicago Press
Elaine, C. (2005). Elite Women in English Political Life c.1754-1790. Oxford University Press.
Kamensky, J. (1995). The Colonial Mosaic 1600-1760. Oxford: Oxford University Press.