Comparing Cultures: The Development of Women’s Rights in China and Saudi Arabia China and Saudi Arabia are two of the world’s most conservative and traditional societies. Each prides itself on respecting the values of their past, but how well do their cultures respect women? The role of women has changed drastically in the last hundred years across the world. Increased access to education, more equitable inheritance and divorce laws, and protection from violence and persecution are generally agreed on by all societies. The ultimate goals of feminism and the societal structure needed to achieve these goals, however, is not universally accepted. Each nation considers its culture to be the most respectful of women, but equality between the sexes has yet to be achieved anywhere. I will explore the development of women’s rights in China and Saudi Arabia, and present both the benefits and drawbacks of their diverse treatment of women. The first two sections will present the history of women’s rights in China and Saudi Arabia. Section III will use UN documentation to analyze the conditions of women in these cultures today. In conclusion, I will use the United States as a third foil to asses the various interpretations, successes, and failures of feminism today. Each society has achieved different objectives towards women’s rights, and the future of feminism is not the adoption of one country’s policies, but rather a fusion of different policies and traditions from around the world. I. History of Women’s Rights in China
Throughout its 4,000 years of history China has been ruled by numerous dynasties and kingdoms. Despite the long and occasionally divided history, mainland China managed to maintain an impressive amount of cultural continuity. Chinese culture, based on the teachings of Confucius, is strictly hierarchical, traditional, and closed. In the Chinese caste system, women’s rights have never been a primary focus. Confucianism is the core ideology behind Chinese culture, and analysis of the implications of Chinese culture starts here. Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, lived from 551-478 BCE. His teachings focused on human beings as teachable, and capable of achieving moral perfection, given enough hard work and personal sacrifice. Instead of the numerous rites and rituals required by the world’s major monotheistic religions, Confucianism specifies the particular duties for individuals based on their position in a given relationship. According to Confucian ideals, filial piety- based on the respect a child shows their parents- is a virtue that should be held above all else. In any unbalanced relationship- such as son to father, or government official to emperor, or wife to husband- the younger, less experienced and weaker member must obey the older, stronger and more experienced individual completely and without hesitation. While loyalty and respect are underlying values that any society should value, Confucius also demands subservience, docility, and unquestioning deference from the inferior individual in a relationship. The Chinese dynasties understood the long-term implications of this value, and employed Confucianism- and the tenant of filial piety- to create a formal and rigid caste structure. The family unit, with filial piety strictly defining each member’s responsibilities and power, would serve as the model for the entire society. Just as the husband/father/oldest male is the undisputed power in the house, the emperor is the undisputed leader of China. And just as the child and or wife would be expected to follow the commands of their father or husband, the general populous would be expected to follow their political leaders. The tenant of filial piety provided justification for Chinese rulers to continue their authoritarian rule, but it marginalized the rights, opportunities and freedoms of large sections of the Chinese population. The exploitation of the masses under the...
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