Social and Political Rights for Women



Social rights are another type of right that is rarely specified in law. This refers to the group of rights that contribute to society's overall structure. 

For the vast part of a person's life, the family is the most important social aspect. 

The organization of a family reveals a lot about who is valued, what is valued, and how society is or should be formed. 


The term "patriarchy" literally means "father's rule," but it has been used to characterize both familial and governmental control. 


The book Patriarcha (1680) by Robert Filmer (1588–1653) supported the divine right of monarchs and maintained that succession is through the fathers of families who have political power over their wives and children. While this is a typical illustration of patriarchy in political theory, the word is commonly used to refer to males having the last word in home life. 

The first of John Locke's (1632–1704) Two Treatises of Government (1689), a response to Filmer and an attempt to argue for all people's equality, is the first of his Two Treatises of Government (1689).

 Even in the family, Locke opposes the father's exclusive authority, advocating instead for "parental power." Although he has been chastised for maintaining this view inconsistently, Locke's work does force us to reconsider the traditional family structure. 


The relationship between the family and society is frequently defined by one of two broad models in political theory. 


  1. The first considers the family to be a microcosm of the larger society. 
    1. The duties in the family are represented in the greater political world as a microcosm of society.
    2. This reflection might be due to the fact that civilizations are built on extended family units. 
    3. The allocation of power in the family is used to mirror political power in the wider community (in its extreme form, this is patriarchy but there are much milder forms as well). 
  2. The second considers the family to be a separate society within a wider civilization. 
    1. The second model sees the family as a separate society with its own set of systems that it shares with the greater political society.  



These differing perspectives on the family-society relationship have huge repercussions for women. If the family is a microcosm of society, and the structure of the family is patriarchal, society will be patriarchal as well. 


In such a society, women's responsibilities would most likely be confined to those that involve mothering or need talents that a mother could possess, such as early childhood educator or nurse. 

Men are more likely to fill societal jobs that include political decision-making or rule in any kind. If, on the other hand, the family is a separate society inside a broader community, a woman may still be subject to patriarchal control (depending on how her family is constituted) or she may have some degree of relative freedom. 

That is, her position in the family and her position in society would be independent and different. When the family is considered as a distinct society, it has its own set of laws or norms, and the wider community or state is advised not to interfere.


Women are more vulnerable to abuse in such circumstances, when the family is held in high regard. 


Another important feature of first-wave feminism shown in this conversation is citizenship. Citizenship has been almost exclusively a male domain from ancient times. Certain women may have had the position of citizen or even ruler at various eras, but they are the outliers rather than the rule.

Citizenship in philosophy refers to being a member of a political community. Being a citizen entails having specific rights and obligations that are related to the community's good functioning. 

Different types of protection (such as protection of property, protection of one's person, and protection of privacy) are usually included, as well as liberties (such as the right to speak freely, the right to gather with others, and the right to practice one's religion) and the right to participate in government according to a set of principles (so, one may vote or run for public office in a democracy). 


Respecting others' rights and contributing to the community's upkeep and sustainability are among the obligations (like paying taxes and obeying the laws). 


To be a citizen, in short, is to be acknowledged by one's community as someone who matters - as someone deserving of protection and capable of shouldering obligations. The absence of women from the status of 'citizen' is instructive. 

Women were not always seen as completely human as we have seen, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons for their exclusion. Another explanation is because they were seen untrustworthy and unworthy of protection. The feminist movement has worked tirelessly to alter this. 


The major focus of the first wave is on arguments to equalize women's standing with males. 


Different tactics were used in following rounds. Patriarchal ideals are rooted in our conceptions of autonomy, rights, and citizenship, according to feminist social theorists and legal critics. 

To bring about the sort of social transformation that would free women, rights would have to be profoundly rewritten or the basic concept of rights abandoned and replaced with something else (possibly relational theories such as caring and solidarity). 

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was a utilitarian philosopher, a member of the British Parliament, and the first person to advocate for women's voting rights in such an official role. Utilitarianism is a moral theory based on the premise that in every given scenario, the ideal thing to do is what would result in "the greatest amount of good and the least amount of misery for everybody concerned." 

According to Mill, granting women citizenship rights would maximize usefulness. Harriet Taylor (1807–1858), another notable nineteenth-century feminist, was a close friend of Mill's. They met in their early twenties and were intellectual companions for the rest of their lives. 

Mill fell in love with Harriet despite the fact that she was married to John Taylor at the time. Harriet Taylor kept at least the pretense of her marriage to John Taylor, despite the fact that the Taylors already had three children. He died in 1849, and she married Mill two years later. 

In his most famous feminist book, On the Subjection of Women (1869), Mill credits her with much of his reasoning, as well as part of what occurs elsewhere in his social and political philosophy. Some broad characteristics of Mill's views on women may be divided into three categories: intellectual, economic, and civic. 


Women have not attained the same level of success as males and hence appear to be less brilliant than males, not because women have a different moral or intellectual character than men, but because women have had less chances and had a lower level of education. 


Women have fewer experiences and have less time than males. 

Women would not be able to participate in the arts and sciences at the same level as males due to these limits alone. 

Women have little desire for the popularity and acclaim that comes with tremendous achievement. 

So, much as Woolf exploited the notion of Shakespeare's sister to indicate that women's possibilities, not their natures, rendered them inferior, Mill blames women's perceived inferiority in society on their limited educational chances. 


According to Mill, the only way to determine if men and women are naturally equal is to provide women with equal educational opportunities. 

In terms of economics, Mill believed that women should be treated equally in the public realm. That is, women must have equal access to all work opportunities. 


He also maintained that women should have a say in policy and lawmaking in the civic realm. Mill underlined the potential benefits of granting women equality in education, civic life, and economic opportunity, in keeping with his utilitarian theory. 

First, he proposed that social equality would result in a more equitable relationship between men and women. 

In other words, Mill believed that societal changes would alter men and women's courting and marital relationships, and that women would be less likely to be subjected to an unfair spouse's dictation. 

Second, Mill recognized that allowing women to participate in intellectual, economic, and civic responsibilities would essentially double the amount of talent available to serve humankind. 

The third significant benefit of gender equality is that women's pleasure would greatly improve. 

Women's liberation is consistent with the utilitarian goal of maximizing pleasure and reducing misery for everyone in society. Mill clearly believed in the ideal of marriage as a life shared by equals. 

Even if one of the couples took the lead when specific choices were to be made, it would not create any form of permanent rule in the house.


Children would be trained to value equality between men and women in the same way. 


Mill was a strong supporter for women's freedom, but while he wanted women to have the same chances as men, he also believed that spouses should not be required to work. It was enough for her to have the choice of working. 

Similarly, the decision to marry or not marry had to be a legitimate option; without the capacity to support oneself financially, marrying could only be a compelled choice based on financial need or social tradition. 

Mill was a vocal proponent of contraception and advocated for men and women to marry later in life, have children later in life, and live in communities with extended families. 

These steps were taken to reduce the chances of divorce and offer some stability for the children in the event of a divorce. Even if the parents divorced, the child's extended family would be a constant in his or her life. 

Harriet Taylor also wrote on women's issues and fought for policies that would achieve social and political equality. She, like Mill, believed that gender inequity stemmed from societal practices and traditions. But, unlike Mill, she believed that women needed to labor outside the house in order to have a financial partnership. 

Taylor also claimed that women should have the option of being single (and equal footing in the economic world is required for that to be a real possibility). 


Women would have a greater say in family matters if they contributed financially to the family. 


Taylor, however, revealed her class bias by arguing that the family should hire slaves to help with the household chores while the wife works outside the home. 


In the event of a divorce, the woman should be solely responsible for the children. 


Taylor claimed that women should have fewer children in order to lessen the potential load under such a strategy. 

Finally, Taylor acknowledged the need of women participating in the public realm on an equal footing with men in influencing legislation and policy. 

But, of course, in order to do so, women needed to have their voices heard, and in modern democracy, the opportunity to vote is the most visible manifestation of that power. 


These historical voices may still be heard in feminist movements throughout the world. Each in their own way, Mill, Taylor, Wollstonecraft, and Woolf sought societal acknowledgement that women are fully human and deserving of all the rights that come with that position.


~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

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