From the very beginning of human civilization women have always been underprivileged. They had enjoyed equal freedom with men till the time people lived by ‘chase’ or even in their food gathering stage. At that time they were not settled in any particular place and while chasing the animals for food men and women played equal role in all their activities. Mankind was living in smaller groups and on group consisted of more than five hundred or six hundred people. Another important point at that stage was that people did not know that a child was born out of sexual intercourse between man and woman. That sense came to them only after they learnt to domesticate animals.
A big change came in the tribal thinking when they learnt ‘that union between men and women produced children’. Before that, all the children belonged to the tribe and each child had a mother but no father. But after acquiring this new knowledge they started searching for the father of the new born child and the responsibility of rearing up the child was shared between the father and the mother. Although, it gave some relief to the mother but at the same time it snatched away some of her freedom. She becomes the exclusive property of a man. This way, the family system came into existence and when the tribes took to agriculture and settled-life, it was the women’s fate to become confined to home as they had to attend to the children more than the father. These way women got the protection of men but at the same time they lost their economic freedom as the economic activities become the exclusive preserve of men. After losing the economic freedom they virtually became slaves to men. This was the picture of every society from ancient time up to the recent past. A reflection of this can be seen in Manu’s dictum, “In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to their husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a women must never be independent.” Similar dictums can be traced in most of the other religions also and religion being the source of law in all the countries, people observes these laws as their sacred duty.
The problem of women’s slavery has attracted the notice of many modern social thinkers and statesmen. Many secular laws have been enacted in most of the countries of the world. But as the implementation of these laws lies in the hands of men, the plight of women has not changed much from its earlier status. Under Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was established to consider periodic reports from state parties (153 States), regarding their compliance with the provisions of the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 18th, 1979, and came into force on September 2nd, 1981. But not much effect of it has been felt as yet, especially in the developing countries of the world. The reason is very simple. Unless women strongly believe that they are equal to men and in no way inferior to them, their emancipation is not possible.