Atle Hetland Has life become better for women in the West over the last 50 or 60 years? Did feminism lead to the emancipation that was hoped for? Or, perhaps it has all ended in double jobs for women and a stressful life for everyone? The West has changed tremendously due to womens economic independence. Women have massively been getting into the public sector, filling half of the salaried jobs in many countries. True, often in lower jobs, but more and more also mid and top level positions, especially in the government sector, where there are certain ministries and departments with a majority of women, for example, in development aid agencies and immigration departments. Whether it was good or bad depends on whom we ask. But in general, women in the West today have more choice than ever. Life has 'not become easier, perhaps also 'not better, but it has become more equal to the life of men. Women have joined 'the mens world. However, they have not yet changed it - to a more human world for all. Perhaps, that is what the gender equality will lead to in the next generation or two? And perhaps only then the Pakistani women will join? About 50 or 60 years ago, most women in Europe and America did not work outside the home. Today, it is the opposite, most women have salaried jobs and the housework is shared with the husband, well, for the time that women are married, and if the husband is willing to 'help in the house, in easy to run homes where housework statistically on average takes less than an hour per day. Almost 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, sooner or later, but many men and women, especially men, try marriage a second time. In the 1950s, ordinary European women began seeking salaried employment, especially in the urban centres where there were vacancies. Earlier, poor women had to work in factories, as maids and in similar lowly paid jobs. And some women became nurses and school teachers. Women in the primary sectors, living on farms and in fishing villages had always taken part in the familys income generating activities, also having had great responsibility for food preservation, nutrition, social organisation of large families, and so on. Some upper class women, too, could work outside the home, especially in the professions. But remember that, for example, in my home country of Norway, the first woman was only admitted to the university as recently as 1882. Socially, the upper classes always set the standards, and the lower class men and women were often accused of lower moral standards. That was not necessarily true. It was probably just that the lower classes could not cover their tracks in the same way as the upper classes, and the lower classes constituted much larger numbers of the populations. Besides, history has never been written by the lower classes or by women, not even in our time. In the 1960s, women and men from disadvantaged, lower class backgrounds and from the rural areas, began to seek further and higher education. Today, many universities have a majority of female students, and more women continue after the first degree to pursue higher and advanced degrees. But still, in most subjects, the majority of the professors are men. Girls and women do well at school and university, to such a degree perhaps that we soon need to find special support programmes for boys and young men. This is not only the case in the West, but everywhere, it seems. In Iran, for example, 70 percent of university students are women. Another general trend is that most primary school teachers are women. In the private sector, there are few women in top leadership posts and as board members. Well, except for Norway, where a decade old law requires that at least 40 percent of board members in publicly registered companies must be women. Today, 46 percent are women. But it is said that some companies are not doing as well anymore, whether that should be blamed on the women board members is another matter. In most countries in the world, including in the West, there are usually only 10 to 20 percent women board members, or fewer. The Norwegian Government Minister Ansgar Garielsen, a Conservative man, who got the law passed in Norway, would not be very happy with the rest of the West. In Europe and America, when most women have a job outside the home, that also means that most families have two incomes - and two parents working outside the home even when the child or children are small. Remember that in Europe most populations are not growing, which means that a woman on average gives birth to less than two children, and as many as one-third will never give birth, married or unmarried. Life is particularly stressful for young people in the West: They need to do well in education and training; they need to establish a home and family, often with economic constraints; they need to get along in their jobs and careers; and young people also want to take part in social, political and cultural activities. All this makes life stressful, especially if we dont succeed and do as well in all areas as we had wished. The divorce rate is often about 50 percent, and in many countries, a third of the young women do not set aside time to have own children. True, there are many stress factors in daily life in the West, but there are also cushions that make life easier than before. In Europe, health insurance is universal and unemployment benefits are available to all. That also includes a year or so of maternity leave when a child is born. The father, too, gets some time off for paternity leave. Education is of good quality and it is free. Further and higher education is available to all on merit, and it is often free or subsidised. In many countries, over 50 percent continue from secondary school to university. Many adults, especially women take university degree courses in their later 30s and 40s. All this should make people feel less stressed and make life easier, and indeed make it possible for youth and adults to realise their dreams and live a good life. Now then, would anybody in Europe like to turn the clock back? No, very few women, if any would like to do that, even though their life in general has become more demanding and harder. But now women have a clear say in society, in the working life, socially and politically. Most men, too, are also supportive of the current, more equal gender roles. In future, men and women will have to share more equally the caring and social community tasks, so that women are not again trapped to do most of it alone. Much can be learned from the Pakistanis and other Asians ways of caring for each other. In the West, when we have learnt more about this and made our societies more liveable, for women and men, maybe then Pakistanis, too, will embrace the gender equality we are so proud of in the West? Yes, because, in spite of the shortcomings in social organisation and daily life in the West as a result of the women working outside the home, there is no way of going back to the 1950s, simply because life has improved, especially for women. The next steps will have to lead to further improvement of life for everyone, men, women and children, young and old, professionals and 'ordinary people, and so on. In many ways, we live in a historic dream world in the West: We have the economic and social resources to choose and shape the future in ways we have never had before. I hope we seize the opportunity and that we become innovative and imaginative. The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist currently based in Islamabad. Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com