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 Women in Ancient Civilizations:

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imagine_raza



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Join date : 2010-07-18

PostSubject: Women in Ancient Civilizations:   Mon Jul 19, 2010 7:55 pm

ne major objective of this article is to provide a fair evaluation of what Islam contributed toward the restoration of woman’s dignity and rights. In order to achieve this objective, it may be useful to review briefly how women were treated in general in previous civilizations and religions, especially those which preceded Islam (before 610 AD). Part of the information provided here, however, describes the status of woman as late as this century, more than 13 centuries after Islam.

(1) Describing the status of the Indian woman, The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911, states: “In India, subjection was a cardinal principle. Day and night must women be held by their protectors in a state of dependence says Manu. The rule of inheritance was agnatic, that is descent traced through males to the exclusion of females.” In Hindu scriptures, the description of a good wife is as follows: “a woman whose mind, speech and body are kept in subjection, acquires high renown in this world, and, in the next, the same abode with her husband.” (Mace, Marriage East and West).

(2) In Athens, women were not better off than either the Indian or the Roman women: “Athenian women were always minors, subject to some male - to their father, to their brother, or to some of their male kin.” (Allen, E. A., History of Civilization). Her consent in marriage was not generally thought to be necessary and “she was obliged to submit to the wishes of her parents, and receive from them her husband and her lord, even though he were stranger to her.” (Previous Source)

(3) A Roman wife was described by a historian as: “a babe, a minor, a ward, a person incapable of doing or acting anything according to her own individual taste, a person continually under the tutelage and guardianship of her husband.” (Previous Source). In The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911, we find a summary of the legal status of women in the Roman civilization: “In Roman Law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married she and her property passed into the power of her husband . . . the wife was the purchased property of her husband, and like a slave acquired only for his benefit. A woman could not exercise any civil or public office . . . could not be a witness, surety, tutor, or curator; she could not adopt or be adopted, or make will or contract.”

(4) Among the Scandinavian races women were: “under perpetual tutelage, whether married or unmarried. As late as the Code of Christian V, at the end of the 17th Century, it was enacted that if a woman married without the consent of her tutor he might have, if he wished, administration and usufruct of her goods during her life.” (The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911).

(5) In Britain, the right of married women to own property was not recognized until the late 19th Century, “By a series of acts starting with the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870, amended in 1882 and 1887, married women achieved the right to own property and to enter into contracts on a par with spinsters, widows, and divorcees.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968). In France, it was not until 1938 that the French Law was amended so as to recognize the eligibility of women to contract. A married woman, however, was still required to secure her husband’s permission before she could dispense with her private property.

(6) In the Mosaic (Jewish) Law, the wife was betrothed. Explaining this concept, the Encyclopedia Biblica, 1902, states: “To betroth a wife to oneself meant simply to acquire possession of her by payment of the purchase money; the betrothed is a girl for whom the purchase money has been paid.” From the legal point of view, the consent of the girl was not necessary for the validation of her marriage. “The girl’s consent is unnecessary and the need for it is nowhere suggested in the Law.” (Previous Source). As to the right of divorce, we read in the Encyclopedia Biblica: “The woman being man’s property, his right to divorce her follows as a matter of course.” The right to divorce was held only by man, The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911, states: “In the Mosaic Law divorce was a privilege of the husband only...”

(7) The position of the Christian Church until recent centuries seems to have been influenced by both the Mosaic Law and by the streams of thought that were dominant in its contemporary cultures. In their book, Marriage East and West, David and Vera Mace wrote: “Let no one suppose, either, that our Christian heritage is free of such slighting judgments. It would be hard to find anywhere a collection of more degrading references to the female sex than the early Church Fathers provide. Lecky, the famous historian, speaks of ‘these fierce incentives which form so conspicuous and so grotesque a portion of the writing of the Fathers . . . woman was represented as the door of hell, as the mother of all human ills. She should be ashamed at the very thought that she is a woman. She should live in continual penance on account of the curses she has brought upon the world. She should be ashamed of her dress, for it is the memorial of her fall. She should be especially ashamed of her beauty, for it is the most potent instrument of the devil.’ One of the most scathing of these attacks on woman is that of Tertullian: ‘Do you know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserters of the divine law; you are she who persuades him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.’ Not only did the church affirm the inferior status of woman, it deprived her of legal rights she had previously enjoyed.”
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