The Repression of European Women
By: Martyred Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari
In his commentary on the Civil Law of Iran on page 362, Dr. Shaygan has written: The right of independence that a woman has concerning her property and assets, and which Shi’ite jurisprudence has acknowledged right from beginning is not to be found in ancient Greece or Rome or Japan, or, till a short time ago, in the rights of most of countries. This means that woman has been denied the right to possess her property, just like a minor, a lunatic or someone forbidden by law.
In England, where the personality of the woman was wholly obscured in the personality of her husband, two laws, one in 1870, and the other in 1882, were passed under the name of “The Married Woman’s Property Act” and thus the interdiction was raised from woman. In Italy in 1919 AD, a law removed woman from the category of interdicted persons. In the Civil Law of Germany after 1900, and in the Civil law of Sweden after 1907, a woman has had the same legal capacity as her husband.
“However, a married woman in Portugal or France is still on the list of interdicted persons, although Act 18 of February 1938 in France has amended the limits of the interdiction.”
As you have seen, is still under a century since the first law concerning a woman’s financial independence from her husband (1882 in England) was passed in Europe, and, as they say the interdiction was raised from married women.
Why did Europe suddenly grant financial independence?
Now, how was it that a century ago such an important event happened? Did the human feelings of the men of Europe suddenly come to the boil, and the oppressiveness of their treatment becomes revealed to them?
Listen to the reply to this question from Will Durant. In his The Pleasures of Philosophy, he begins an inquiry under the heading ‘‘Reasons”. There he comments upon the reasons why freedom was granted to the women of Europe, and it is there that we sorrowfully come across a dreadful reality. It is disclosed, that the European woman ought to feel grateful for her freedom and her right of ownership to machines and not to man, and should bow her head to the great cogs of machinery, and not before European man. It was the greed and covetousness of mill owners pushing them to make more profit and to pay less wages which caused them to put up the draft of the Act for the financial independence of women in the British Parliament.
A century ago, in England men found it hard to get work but placards invited them to send their wives and children to the factory gate. Employers must think in terms of profits and dividends, and must not the distracted by the considerations of morals, institutions or states. The men who unwittingly conspired to destroy the home were the patriotic manufacturers of nineteenth - century England.
“The first legal step in the emancipation of our grandmothers was the legislation of 1882, by which it was decreed that there after the women of Great Britain should enjoy the unprecedented privilege of keeping the money they earned. It was a highly moral and Christian enactment, put through by the factory-owners in the House of Commons to lure the ladies of England into attending upon their machines. From that year to this the irresistible suction of the profits motive has drawn women out of the drudgery of the home into the serfdom of the shop.” (pp. 131 — 132)
As you see, it was the capitalists and mill-owners of England who, simply for their material gain, took this step “in the interest of women.”