By Naima bin Sharif, Mouloud Mammeri University, Tizi Ouzou, Algeria
In the midst of progress in studies about cultural criticism, attention has been paid to women's issues and to women who suffer from marginalisation, exclusion and being dominated in society. However, despite the improvement in the status of women, there are still signs of symbolic violence. This is because of the way women are perceived by society and religious authorities, despite the efforts that organisations and associations make to promote women, raise their social status and return them to the centre instead of the margin.
It is possible that the key factors that influence the way women are perceived by society are cultural inheritance and the influence of religious authorities. Despite the sacrifices that women make for their families at the expense of their own wellbeing, women have been marginalised to the point of exclusion from social development; women also suffer because they are dominated unfairly. They are viewed as men’s private property and as assets; this curse has led to the oppression of women and made them subject to male dominance.
Myths - with all their meanings, descriptions of gods and goddesses, women's relationships to fertility, and stories of misery and being denied immortality - also played an essential role in shaping cultural perceptions of women in various regions. After Adam committed the sin in which the woman participated, and after males became dominant even at the level of the gods and goddesses, people stopped worshipping the Great Mother and began to worship gods.
We learned that in ancient Egypt women enjoyed a higher status than women in other societies, because this society obligated husbands to respect their wives, and it gave women the right to rule and to inherit and freed her from male dominance. While it is important to take these rights into account, we should not ignore how men mistreated maids, female slaves and the women who spent their lives in the service of the royal families and the bourgeoisie, who forced these women into submission and subjection.
Religious authorities in Greece, the Romans, Judaism, Christianity and the extreme Indian religions, including the Manu, disrespected women; in Islam, women were important parts of the family and of society.
The status of women was guaranteed by Divine Justice. The Islamic Sharia grants women full rights so women are not segregated and they see themselves as important members of society. This Divine Justice resulted in a united, coherent and strong society where women knew their value and the significance of their role as a cornerstone of Muslim society and as a pillar of stability.
This study explains that in ancient societies and civilisations, the status and image of women fluctuated; at times, they rose to the ranks of goddesses and deities and, at other times, they were considered as low as animals.
In the ancient world (the Neolithic society and a culture that existed before records were kept), women were honoured and sanctified by society and by religious authorities. Women were dishonoured by the Greeks and Romans, and in Judaism and Christianity. In Japan and China, before the advent of the feudal system, women were the centres of the family. Women were appreciated and respected in Mesopotamian society, in the Ugarit civilisation, in ancient Egyptian society, and in Islam. As educated people, we must rise above the idea that women are inferior and strive to give women a significant role in the social fabric as an inseparable part of society.
In contrast to the social exclusion of women at various times and the neglect of the roles that they play in building and developing society, contemporary societies - especially developed ones - view women as effective members of society. Human development reports indicate that the status of women continues to improve, but that this improvement happens slowly, especially in developing countries.