Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the historic women's reservation bill as a “giant step” towards the empowerment of women and a “celebration of our womanhood.” The passing of the bill in the Rajya Sabha is a momentous, heartwarming step for India; also an inspirational trendsetter for women's empowerment in the entire region.

The movement for women's rights has broken many a fetter, but it has also forged new ones. Women today are the striking power, a great contributor to many working sectors, ready to accept challenges. But do we ever recognise what boundaries they are being forced to cross?

The sexual laws and moral standards have always been stricter for women. The female body was regarded down the ages as a mere vessel for the male creative fluids. Women were the soil in which men planted their seed. This perception was also reflected in religious beliefs. Women were stripped of their creative role and burdened with the responsibility for the Original Sin. The Ten Commandments list wives among a man's possessions. Not surprisingly, therefore, in a traditional Jewish prayer men implored God, “Let not my offspring be a girl, for very wretched is the life of woman,” and they gladly repeated every day: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord our God, for not making me a woman.”

The sacred texts of every major religion enshrine the subjugation of women through myth (Eve causing “the fall of man”) or through code (the Shariah that value a woman's testimony as half that of a man and authorises a man to beat and whip his wife to keep her obedient to him).

Apostle Paul made it clear that the head of the woman is the man, For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Christianity excluded women from priesthood and other church offices. At the same time, they were also expected to remain subservient to men at home. In all societies, the obvious biological difference between men and women is used as a justification for forcing them into different social roles which limit and shape their attitudes and behaviour. A woman, in addition to being a female, must be feminine. Sexual oppression, no matter how harsh or unjustified, has never lacked rationalisation. These may range from simple religious dogmas to sophisticated pseudo-scientific theories. For over a hundred years, the old form of marriage, based on the Bible, “till death do us part,” has been denounced as an institution that stands for the sovereignty of the man over the woman, of her complete submission to his whims and commands, and absolute dependence on his name and support. In addition, women are generally exploited by the media. They become like goods which are sold and bought. For instance, in advertisements we usually see women presenting products; but unfortunately, their bodies are used to attract consumers.

Break barriers

The problem that confronts us today is how to be one's self and yet be in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and still retain one's own characteristic qualities. The modern woman should be enabled to blossom in the true sense — with full respect for her personality, creativity and dignity; all artificial barriers should be broken, and the road towards greater freedom cleared of every trace of centuries of submission and slavery.

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