Two hundred years ago, an “accomplished woman” in England was one who could sing, play a musical instrument, paint, do embroidery and adhere to socially restrictive etiquettes. A woman could not vote nor inherit her father’s estate while personal property would pass from male to male next of kin. Marriage for a woman was more about securing her financial future with whoever could provide it rather than marrying for love.
How far have we come in two hundred years?
Indeed women in England and around the world have gained so much so far. Yes it was only a century ago that women would get to vote and gain from it all the rights of ownership and gradually work in many professions and even become heads of state. Women can now make their own money and build their personal wealth without needing to secure a husband (how refreshing!). However there is a lot that we need to do to close the gender gap in investments and superannuation levels. Women must take control of their financial future.
Let us not forget that there is a gigantic chasm between developing and developed countries when it comes to women’s rights. Women and girls in many parts of the world are still being married off and sold from as young as ten years of age; millions cannot get access to education and health services; millions get killed the moment they are born for being a girl; millions are stopped from achieving their potential in their chosen fields because they are forced to get married or they are sidelined because of their gender while men less capable take their positions.
Women in Australia are being told “we should be lucky. Look where we are and look where these women in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are”. A valid argument for sure. But it’s not a fair one! Why should women always get this kind of argument? Why don’t the men get “you men should be lucky. Look where you are and look where all these men in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are”. This argument when given to a man doesn’t even make sense. Does it?
Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice refused to marry her cousin, Mr. Collins just to secure her and her family’s future as he was to inherit her father’s estate when he passes away. She knew the stakes were high. If she refused him and her father passes away, her mother and her four unmarried sisters would be out on the streets while Mr. Collins and his future wife would take everything.
What did Miss Bennet do?
Elizabeth, one of Austen’s strongest female characters and I must add one of the strongest female characters in literature the world has ever seen (my apologies for being biased!) said NO to injustice. Elizabeth said NO to male dominance and took a huge risk. She refused to sell herself and more importantly she refused to sell her soul (Note: her father was proud of her stand, but not her mother!). She took a stand because she is a woman of integrity and values.
To every woman out there who feels lucky that she can pursue her career, marry the man she loves (and who loves her back), run for office, climb corporate ladders and build her personal wealth, I say there is still more to do. Let us leave this “you’re lucky in this country” argument and keep working towards equality for one very good reason: the sisterhood. For every push you make in Australia towards equality, this push is reverberating over there in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The pursuit of a noble cause—where men and woman can feel whole and complete together; isn’t it all about love between both of us in the end?—must not be underestimated, taken for granted nor disregarded. Even if we women in Australia get 100% Equality, the “Quest for Equality” is not over yet. It’s only the beginning. For injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere. We all must make an “Elizabeth Bennet” stand and choose integrity. We must choose to take ALL the women with us where no woman is left behind. It’s all about the sisterhood (and the brotherhood). It’s all about the human family.
Happy International Woman’s day my sisters and brothers
Susan Wahhab CPA
Author, Money Intelligence™ - Anchored in Values