International Women’s Day is being observed across the world. The UAE has also organised special events to celebrate this annual event.

Women’s contribution to human development cannot be overlooked; the progress of any community is measured on a scale of their participation in society. Hence International Women’s Day has always been regarded as a symbol of progress, equality and freedom. Unfortunately, despite the United Nations marking a day annually to recognise the role of women in all walks of life, women continue to be suppressed and denied their rights in many countries.

Most revolutions too — violent or peaceful — have placed women at the back. Women such as as Jamila Bouhired, who fought French colonial rule in Algeria, played a big role in their countries’ revolutions, but were sidelined later.

So many wives of those claiming to be revolutionaries live silent and anonymous existences — save in a few cases. Even Islamic political parties have taken advantage of women’s votes to reach parliament, only to declare that politics is a male bastion.

Women in the eyes of such men are only fit to keep a home, serve their needs and function as some sort of living decor.

It is also rare that such men ever take their wives or daughters out to cultural or social events; they would like everyone to believe that by doing so they are protecting the women. In reality, this is a devastating trend at the personal and community level.

Marches and demonstrations calling for equality and freedom have gone with the wind, as though they are nothing but desert mirages. Sadly, most women associations in the Arab world are in a state of paralysis leaving women defenceless in terms of rights.

There are, however, a few movements that remind us of the French revolution and the women who carried its banner, thus becoming a symbol of resilience.

With the onset of March, bells of freedom are still ringing throughout the Arab world; so will there be a revival of the role of women or will they remain in the ‘age of the harem’? Is there one single street in Egypt named after a woman, other than the Sayida Zainab district ?

Science confirms unequivocally that the brain of a woman is no different from that of a man. In fact, women supersede men in many spheres of life. Nevertheless, there are men, the products of an eastern mindset, who remain chauvinists.

Women are absent from the membership of many Gulf parliaments and councils. They have also found no place in public welfare associations. Man’s keenness for authority and making decisions regarding the community are among the reasons for the exclusion and marginalising of women in society.

Most poets, song-writers, and television sitcom and movie scenarists depict women as beautiful creatures; however, few of them venture to explore the subject of a woman’s intelligence, as though that has become a taboo.

Further, commercial advertisements take undue advantage of women by emphasising a woman’s body.

As it seems, education and its development is far from changing these sets of social values.

Those responsible for suppressing and degrading women — intentionally or otherwise — do not seem to realise that nations are built by the solidarity of men and women together. It is an established fact that development does not take place in any community if half of its force — women — is left out.

Those who play the religious card will not succeed in bringing women back to the pre-Islam era when Arabian customs of burying female infants alive were prevalent.

Dr Mohammad Abdullah Al Mutawa is a professor of sociology.                           – Gulf News