Dictatorships, Patriarchy and Women’s Rights

Daily World International, Chnadigarh, March 20, 2023

The Istanbul Convention does not apply to Istanbul, nor does it apply
to any other part of Turkey. In 2021, Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the
several institutionalised dictators in the world, decreed its
annulment in Turkey. Ironically, it was opened for signatures at
Istanbul in 2011 and Turkey was the first country to sign it the next
year and then it became the first and the only country to withdraw
from it. “The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating
Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence,” as it is formally
called, is the first multi-national effort to place the rights of
women at par with human rights. It is no surprise that the least
democratic regimes in Europe including Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and
Poland have not joined the Convention.

On March 8, 2023, the International Women’s Day, permission to hold a
March in Istanbul was denied. Nevertheless, women turned up in large
numbers and were tear-gassed by the police. Erdoğan has survived by
fanning religious bigotry in rural areas with steps like revoking the
ban on the hijab in public places, converting the Hagia Sophia to a
mosque again and annulling the Istanbul Convention. Yet, he is not
alone; dictators all over the world and in all ages have used
ideological fervour, religious or irreligious, to create otherness and
fear to cement their position as the saviour. Since most of the
religions are male-centric, adulation of patriarchy and promotion of
male chauvinism are handy tools for bringing more men on the streets
in favour of the dictator and for suppressing pro-democracy movements.

Recent anti-hijab protests in Iran and the continued oppression of
women, including denial of education, in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan
have once again highlighted the virtual impossibility of sustaining
women’s rights in theocracies. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Yemen and
similar Islamic states continue to let patriarchy prevail over the
human rights of women. Russia’s Orthodox Church has played a huge role
in suppressing women’s rights with its head Kirill, who carries the
pompous title of “Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia,” proclaiming
feminism to be a dangerous phenomenon conferring pseudo-freedom
outside marriage and family. He said, “Man turns his sight outward, he
should work, make money. While a woman is always focused inwards
towards her children, her home.” He is a close ally of the
male-chauvinistic Putin and is the keystone that sustains Putin’s

Communist dictatorships are no different in spite of pious
declarations to the contrary. Lenin had said soon after the Communist
Revolution in Russia, “One of the primary tasks of the Soviet Republic
is to abolish all restrictions on women’s rights.” He declared success
in March 1921, saying that in Soviet Russia, no trace was left of any
inequality between men and women under the law. Yet, in a research
paper in 1971, Alice Schuster found that in the USSR, 90 per cent of
swineherds, poultry workers and milking personnel were women and only
20 per cent of women were in some administrative or agricultural work.
Even in the Communist Party, only 20 per cent of the members were
women with virtually no representation in the higher echelons of the
party. No woman ever headed a Warsaw Pact country or any other
Communist-ruled country including Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Nicaragua and
Nepal. In India, Communists ruled the states of West Bengal and Kerala
for decades but did not choose a woman to head their government.

In the 102 years since the formation of its Communist Party, China has
not had a woman leader at the helm of the Party or of the government
since Mao came to power in 1949 and proclaimed “Women hold up half the
sky.” In spite of 74 years of Communist rule, China continues to be a
patriarchal society with domestic violence, work place sexual
harassment and assault in public places against women being widespread
and the system’s response  has remained lackadaisical. On June 10,
2022, at a restaurant in Tangshan, nine gangsters demanded sexual
favours from women diners. They beat up three of them to pulp when
they resisted, with other diners remaining mute spectators. Even as
the whole incident was recorded through ubiquitous surveillance
cameras, the party-controlled media made light of the incident,
calling it a fair fight. The All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), an
official umbrella organisation “to protect women’s rights and
interests” recognises the derogatory term sheng nü or the “leftover
women”, similar to sheng cai or leftover food. It is defined as women
who are not able to get married till the age of 27 years and the ACWF
called such women “yellowed pearls” advising them to migrate to rural
areas and marry a farmer since an urban man will not marry them!

Male chauvinism is so entrenched in the Chinese Communist Party that
it has been fighting for the last few years what its controlled media
calls a “masculinity crisis.” In 2021, the party brass gave a call to
“prevent the feminization of male youth” and suggested greater
emphasis on sports and physical education. The party diagnosis of the
issue put the blame on there being more female instructors in physical
education and it recommended hiring more male instructors. For the
said feminization, in addition to female teachers, the party blamed
the culture where pop stars with pierced ears influence male students.

Patriarchy and male chauvinism seem to influence language too. One’s
own country is called “motherland” or “fatherland”, the latter being
the favourite coinage of Hitler. On the other hand, in India, there is
a hoary tradition of calling it the former. In the Sanskrit proverb
“Janani janmabhumishcha swargaadapi gariyasi”, the country of birth is
bracketed with the mother who gives birth. In recent times, some
persons have objected to the use of the phrase “Bharat Mata ” in
schools on religious grounds. It may be coincidental that in that
religion’s practice, women’s rights are often curtailed. Putin has
been, of late, using the word Fatherland, while traditionally, the
Russian form was Motherland. As a thumb rule, liberal democracies
promote respect and equality for women and are more likely to use
“motherland”. Theocracies, Dictatorships and totalitarian ideologies
promote patriarchy, a subservient image of women and the use of
“fatherland.” Myanmar is a case in point. Democracy threw up a woman
leader, Aung San Suu kyi. On the other hand, the military dictatorship
has assiduously promoted patriarchy. It is not sheer coincidence that
military rule is always accompanied by credible allegations of rape
and occupying armies have used rape as a tool of war.

Indira Gandhi, Bandaranaike, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Angela
Merkel and many other women rose to power in democracies and numerous
women broke the glass ceiling in the corporate world. The oppression
of women and the denial of equal opportunity to them seem to be
inseparably linked to the lack of democracy. If democracies want the
seeds of democracy to germinate and thrive in countries like Iran,
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia, they should strive to support
women’s rights in these countries.

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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