Women’s Improved Role in Modern Times
BACK in 1906 Czar Nicholas of Russia received from some Russian peasant women a petition that, among other things, stated:
“For generations the women of the peasant class have lived without having any rights whatever. . . . We are not even considered human beings, but simply beasts of burden. We demand to be taught to read and write; we demand that our daughters be given the same facilities for learning as our sons. . . . We know that we are ignorant, but we are not to blame.”
That sad situation is quite in contrast with the description that the Bible gives of a capable and respected woman, holding her out as an example worthy of imitation and praise. (Proverbs 31:10-31) Yet, the description from Russia reflects a truism stated long ago in the Bible by wise King Solomon: “Man has dominated man to his injury.” (Ecclesiastes 8:9) That injury certainly has not been limited to males. The verse might be taken broadly to mean: ‘Men have dominated other men and women to their injury.’ But what a change in the lot of women, as the situation in Russia illustrates!
Today, “the majority of Soviet doctors and teachers are women. Women account for nearly two-thirds the total number of economists and three-quarters of cultural workers. Forty per cent of those working in the sciences are women . . . Out of every thousand women engaged in the national economy, 862 have a higher or secondary (complete or incomplete) education.”—Women in the USSR.
Women in Politics
What has developed in Russia has to a greater or lesser extent occurred in many other lands. The first nation to grant women the right to vote was New Zealand, back in 1893. Between 1917 and 1920, they were given that right in Russia, Great Britain, the United States, and Canada. In Switzerland they had to wait until 1971, although Swiss women could hold political office.
Today, women not only vote but compete with men for political offices. Israel had a woman prime minister, Golda Meir, and so did India, Indira Gandhi. More recently, women have been chosen as prime ministers in Great Britain and Yugoslavia. Of Russia’s Supreme Soviet, 492, or between 30 and 40 percent, are women. A woman is now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in the 1984 presidential campaign, a woman was for the first time a vice-presidential candidate of a major political party. In France women hold some 15 percent of all cabinet posts.
Women in Employment
Instead of signs reading “Men at Work,” many in the United States now read “People Working.” Why? Because of a change in women’s role in the economic sector. The number of women working outside the home has doubled in the past 25 years. Women held but 27 percent of office jobs back in 1970; 14 years later, women held 65 percent of them. For some, holding a job is an economic necessity; for others, it is by preference. In some places, wages for men and women doing identical jobs are gradually becoming more equal.
In Education, Arts, and Religion
Almost worldwide, women have made remarkable progress regarding education. The number of women in schools has increased from 95 million in 1950 to 390 million in 1985. In Spain 25 years ago, there were twice as many illiterate women as men. By 1983 the situation had so improved that 30 percent of the college students were women. Women in Britain reports “a dramatic increase in the number of full-time women university students.”
Over the years, women have figured prominently in the field of music as soloists, both vocal and instrumental. But in the United States before 1935, the only women playing in orchestras were the harpists, a role men seemed to avoid. In contrast, presently 40 percent of those playing in major, regional, and metropolitan orchestras are women.
There has been a similar increase in the field of religion. Many women have enrolled in seminaries, so that in the United States from 29 to 52 percent of such students are women. Women are appearing in pulpits, and there are also women rabbis. Some 11 percent of Swedish pastors are women, and there are Anglican women priests in the Orient. The New York Times (February 16, 1987) said “there are 968 ordained women in the Episcopal Church.”
With What Effect?
So there is no denying that the situation of women has changed dramatically in recent times. You may have seen or personally felt these changes. But the question should be raised: Have all these changes been an unmixed blessing?