World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Legal rights of women in history

Article Id: WHEBN0001354653
Reproduction Date:

Title: Legal rights of women in history  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Women's rights, Index of feminism articles, Women's history, Female slavery in the United States, Female education in Nigeria
Collection: Family Law, Feminism and History, Women in History, Women's Rights
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Legal rights of women in history

This illustration, from a medieval translation (c. 1310) of Euclid's Elements, is noteworthy in showing a woman teaching geometry to male students.

The legal rights of women refers to the social and human rights of women. One of the first women's rights declarations was the Declaration of Sentiments.[1] The dependent position of women in early law is proved by the evidence of most ancient systems.


  • Mosaic law 1
  • Egyptian law 2
  • Roman law 3
  • Christian laws and influences on women's rights 4
  • Islamic law 5
    • Education 5.1
    • Employment 5.2
  • Scandinavia 6
  • British Isles 7
    • Ireland 7.1
    • England 7.2
    • Scotland 7.3
    • Wales 7.4
    • Edwardian Era laws 7.5
  • Spain and Aquitania 8
  • Hindu law 9
    • Atharvaveda 9.1
  • Sikh law 10
  • See also 11
  • Historical readings 12
  • References 13
  • 14 External articles

Mosaic law

In the Mosaic law, for monetary matters, women's and men's rights were almost exactly equal. A woman was entitled to her own private property, including land, livestock, slaves, and servants. A woman had the right to inherit whatever anyone bequeathed to her as a death gift, and in the absence of sons would inherit everything. A woman could likewise bequeath her belongings to others as a death gift. Upon dying intestate, a woman's property would be inherited by her children if she had them, her husband if she was married, or her father if she were single. A woman could sue in court and did not need a male to represent her.

In some situations, women actually had more rights than men. For example, captive women had to be ransomed prior to any male captives. Even though sons inherited property, they had a responsibility to support their mother and sisters from the estate, and had to ensure that both mother and sisters were taken care of prior to their being able to benefit from the inheritance, and if that wiped out the estate, the boys had to supplement their income from elsewhere.

When it came to specific religious or sacramental activities, women had fewer opportunities or privileges than men. For example, in monetary or capital cases women could not serve as witnesses. A woman could not serve as a kohen in the Temple. A woman could not serve as queen, the monarch had to be male. A divorce could only be granted by the husband, upon which time she would receive the Ketubah and the return of significant portions of her dowry. The vow of an unmarried girl between the ages of 12 years and 12 years and six months might be nullified by her father and the vow of a wife that affected marital obligations may be annulled by her husband; the guilt or innocence of a wife accused of adultery might tested through the Sotah process, although this only was successful if the husband was innocent of adultery, and daughters could inherit only in the absence of sons.

Egyptian law

In Ancient Egypt, legally, a woman shared the same rights and status as a man – at least, theoretically. An Egyptian woman was entitled to her own private property, which could include land, livestock, slaves and servants, etc.[2] She had the right to inherit whatever anyone bequeathed to her, as well as bequeathing her belongings to others. She could divorce her husband (upon which all possessions belonging to her – including the dowry – were reverted to her sole ownership), and sue in court. Most notably, a woman could do these legal matters without a male to represent her. However, on the whole, men vastly outnumbered women in most trades, including government administrators; the average woman still centered her time around the home and family. A few women became pharaohs, and women held important positions in government and trade.

Roman law

Bronze statuette of a young woman reading (latter 1st century)

Freeborn women of ancient Rome were citizens who enjoyed legal privileges and protections that did not extend to non-citizens or slaves. Roman society, however, was patriarchal, and women could not vote, hold public office, or serve in the military.[3]

A child's citizen status was determined by that of its mother. Both daughters and sons were subject to patria potestas, the power wielded by their father as head of household (paterfamilias). At the height of the Roman Empire (1st–2nd centuries), the legal standing of daughters differs little if at all from that of sons.[4] Girls had equal inheritance rights with boys if their father died without leaving a will.[5]

In the earliest period of the Roman Republic, a bride passed from her father's control into the "hand" (manus) of her husband. She then became subject to her husband's potestas, though to a lesser degree than their children.[6] This archaic form of manus marriage was largely abandoned by the time of Julius Caesar, when a woman remained under her father's authority by law even when she moved into her husband's home. Her husband had no legal power over her, and when her father died, she became legally emancipated (sui iuris).[7] A married woman retained ownership of any property she brought into the marriage.[4] There was little stigma attached to divorce, though it was a point of pride to have been married only once.[8]

A Roman mother's right to own property and to dispose of it as she saw fit, including setting the terms of her own will, enhanced her influence over her sons even when they were adults.[9] Because of their legal status as citizens and the degree to which they could become emancipated, women could own property, enter contracts, and engage in business.[10]

Roman women could appear in court and argue cases, though it was customary for them to be represented by a man.[11] An edict limited women to conducting cases on their own behalf instead of others',[12] but even after it went into effect, there are numerous examples of women taking informed actions in legal matters, including dictating legal strategy to their male advocates.[13]

As in the case of minors, an emancipated woman had a male guardian (tutor) appointed to her. She retained her powers of administration, however, and the guardian's main if not sole purpose was to give formal consent to actions.[14] The guardian had no say in her private life, and a woman sui iuris could marry as she pleased.[15] A woman also had certain avenues of recourse if she wished to replace an obstructive tutor.[16] The practice of guardianship gradually faded, and by the 2nd century the jurist Gaius said he saw no reason for it.[17]

The first Roman emperor, Augustus, attempted to regulate the conduct of women through moral legislation. Adultery, which had been a private family matter under the Republic, was criminalized,[18] and defined broadly as an illicit sex act (stuprum) that occurred between a male citizen and a married woman, or between a married woman and any man other than her husband. That is, a double standard was in place: a married woman could have sex only with her husband, but a married man did not commit adultery when he had sex with a prostitute, slave, or person of marginalized status (infamis).[19] Childbearing was encouraged by the state: the ius trium liberorum ("legal right of three children") granted symbolic honors and legal privileges to a woman who had given birth to three children, and freed her from any male guardianship.[20]

Roman law recognized rape as a crime in which the victim bore no guilt.[21] Rape was a capital crime.[22] As a matter of law, however, rape could be committed only against a citizen in good standing. The rape of a slave could be prosecuted only as damage to her owner's property.[23] Most prostitutes in ancient Rome were slaves, though some slaves were protected from forced prostitution by a clause in their sales contract.[24] A free woman who worked as a prostitute or entertainer lost her social standing and became infamis, "disreputable"; by making her body publicly available, she had in effect surrendered her right to be protected from sexual abuse or physical violence.[25]

Christian laws and influences on women's rights

As a rule the influence of the church was exercised in favor of the abolition of the disabilities imposed by the older law upon celibacy and childlessness, of increased facilities for entering a professed religious life, and of due provision for the wife. The church also supported the political power of those who were friendly toward the clergy. The appointment of mothers and grandmothers as tutors was sanctioned by Justinian.

The restrictions on the marriage of senators and other men of high rank with women of low rank were extended by Constantine, but it was almost entirely removed by Justinian. Second marriages were discouraged, especially by making it legal to impose a condition that a widow's right to property should cease on remarriage, and the Leonine Constitutions at the end of the 9th century made third marriages punishable. The same constitutions made the benediction of a priest a necessary part of the ceremony of marriage.

The criminal law also changed its perspectives on women. Adultery was punished with death by Constantine, but the penalty was reduced by Justinian to banishment to a convent. A woman condemned for adultery could not remarry. A marriage between a Christian and a Jew rendered the parties guilty of adultery.

Severe laws were enacted against offences of unchastity, especially procurement and incest. It was a capital crime to carry off or offer violence to a nun. Women were subject to penalties for wearing dress or ornaments (except rings) imitating those reserved for the emperor and his family. Actresses and women of bad fame were not to wear the dress of virgins dedicated to Heaven. If a consul had a wife or mother living with him, he was allowed to incur greater expense than if he lived alone. The interests of working women were protected by enactments for the regulation of the gynoecia, or workshops for spinning, dyeing, etc.

The canon law, looking with disfavour on the female independence prevailing in the later Roman law, tended rather in the opposite direction. The Decretum Gratiani specially inculcated subjection of the wife to the husband, and.[26] The chief differences between canon and Roman law were in the law of marriage, e[27] as indeed it had been made by the civil power, as has been already stated, in the post-Justinian period of Roman law.

Islamic law

In the early Middle Ages, an early effort to improve the status of women occurred during the early reforms under Islam, when women were given greater rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance.[28] Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later.[29] The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood.[30] "The dowry, previously regarded as a bride-price paid to the father, became a nuptial gift retained by the wife as part of her personal property."[28][31] Under Islamic law, marriage was no longer viewed as a "status" but rather as a "contract", in which the woman's consent was imperative.[28][30][31] "Women were given inheritance rights in a patriarchal society that had previously restricted inheritance to male relatives."[28] Annemarie Schimmel states that "compared to the pre-Islamic position of women, Islamic legislation meant an enormous progress; the woman has the right, at least according to the letter of the law, to administer the wealth she has brought into the family or has earned by her own work."[32] Some have claimed that women generally had more legal rights under Islamic law than they did under Western legal systems until more recent times.[33] English Common Law transferred property held by a wife at the time of a marriage to her husband, which contrasted with the Sura: "Unto men (of the family) belongs a share of that which Parents and near kindred leave, and unto women a share of that which parents and near kindred leave, whether it be a little or much – a determinate share" (Qur'an 4:7), albeit maintaining that husbands were solely responsible for the maintenance and leadership of his wife and family.[33] "French married women, unlike their Muslim sisters, suffered from restrictions on their legal capacity which were removed only in 1965."[34]


Women in Islam played an important role in the foundations of many Islamic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri's founding of the University of Al Karaouine in 859. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosques and madrasahs were established in Damascus, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf (charitable trust or trust law) system. Half of all the royal patrons for these institutions were also women.[35] According to the Sunni scholar Ibn Asakir in the 12th century, there were opportunities for female education in the medieval Islamic world, writing that women could study, earn ijazahs (academic degrees), and qualify as scholars and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters.[36] Ibn Asakir had himself studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. Female education in the Islamic world was inspired by Muhammad's wives: Khadijah, a successful businesswoman, and Aisha, a renowned hadith scholar and military leader. According to a hadith attributed to Muhammad, he praised the women of Medina because of their desire for religious knowledge:[37]

"How splendid were the women of the ansar; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned in the faith."

While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal classes, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrasahs and other public places. While there were no legal restrictions on female education, some men did not approve of this practice, such as Muhammad ibn al-Hajj (d. 1336) who was appalled at the behaviour of some women who informally audited lectures in his time:[38]

"[Consider] what some women do when people gather with a shaykh to hear [the recitation of] books. At that point women come, too, to hear the readings; the men sit in one place, the women facing them. It even happens at such times that some of the women are carried away by the situation; one will stand up, and sit down, and shout in a loud voice. [Moreover,] her ‍ '​awra will appear; in her house, their exposure would be forbidden – how can it be allowed in a mosque, in the presence of men?"


The labor force in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities.[39] Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations[40] in the primary sector (as farmers for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.).[41] Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry,[40] the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery. In comparison, female property rights and wage labour were relatively uncommon in Europe until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.[42]


The early law of the northern parts of Europe is interesting from the different ways in which it treated women. The position of women varied greatly. Before Christianity, women in Scandinavia had a relatively free and independent position.[43]

During the Viking Age, women had a relatively free status in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, illustrated in the Icelandic Grágás and the Norwegian Frostating laws and Gulating laws.[44] The paternal aunt, paternal niece and paternal granddaughter, referred to as odalkvinna, all had the right to inherit property from a deceased man.[44] In the absence of male relatives, an unmarried woman with no son could, further more, inherit not only property, but also the position as head of the family from a deceased father or brother: a woman with such status was referred to as ringkvinna, and she exercised all the rights afforded to the head of a family clan, such as for example the right to demand and receive fines for the slaughter of a family member, unless she married, by which her rights were transferred to her husband.[44] After the age of 20, an unmarried woman, referred to as maer and mey, reached legal majority and had the right to decide of her place of residence and was regarded as her own person before the law.[44] An exception to her independence was the right to choose a marriage partner, as marriages was normally arranged by the clan.[45] Widows enjoyed the same independent status as unmarried women. Women had religious authority and were active as priestesses (gydja) and oracles (sejdkvinna);[46] they were active within art as poets (skalder)[46] and rune masters, and as merchants and medicine women.[46] A married woman could divorce her husband and remarry.[47] It was also socially acceptable for a free woman to cohabit with a man and have children with him without marrying him, even if that man was married: a woman in such a position was called frilla.[47] There was no distinction made between children born inside or outside of marriage: both had the right to inherit property after their parents, and there was no "legitimate" or "illegitimate" children.[47] These liberties gradually disappeared from the changed after the introductions of Christianity, and from the late 13th-century, they are no longer mentioned.[43] During the Christian Middle Ages, the Medieval Scandinavian law applied different laws depending of the local county law, signifying that the status of women could vary depending of which county she was living in.

Under the Civil Code of Christian V from 1683, the law of Denmark-Norway defined and unmarried female under the guardianship of her closest male relative regardless of her age, while a married woman was under the couverture of her husband. The same law terms was applied in Sweden-Finland in accordance with the Civil Code of 1734.[47] Both the Civil Code of 1683 in the case of Denmark-Norway, and the Civil Code of 1734 in the case of Sweden-Finland, remained in place more or less unaltered until the mid 19th-century.

British Isles


Ancient Irish laws generally portray a patriarchal and patrilineal society in which the rules of inheritance were based on agnatic descent. The Brehon law excepted women from the ordinary course of the law. They could distrain or contract only in certain named cases, and distress upon their property was regulated by special rules. In general, every woman had to have a male guardian. Women seem not to have been entitled to the slightest possession of land under the Brehon law, but rather had assigned to them a certain number of their father's cattle as their marriage-portion.[48][49]

However, their legal status was not as low as in some other cultures; and it seems that the status of Irish women improved somewhat with time, especially after the introduction of Christianity. For instance, beginning in the eighth century, female heirs inherited real estate if they had no brothers. These women became known as "heiresses" and, while only a small minority of women living at this time, they could exercise a considerable amount of political and legal influence. If an heiress married a landless husband, she was seen as his legal guardian, leading to a very unusual case of complete gender role reversal. However, most women did not own land and remained more or less dependent on their husbands; under the ancient Brehon laws one could not be counted as a free citizen unless one owned land independently. The holding of political offices, similarly, seems to have been only suitable for men; nowhere in Irish historical tracts is any female High Queen or chieftain mentioned, and warfare and political affairs were generally all-male.

Even with these legal restrictions placed upon women, they retained some legal capacity. The arrival of St. Patrick and the introduction of Christian Roman law affected the medieval Irish view of marriage. By the eighth century, the preferred form of marriage was one between social equals, under which a woman was technically legally dependent on her husband and had half his honor price, but could exercise considerable authority in regard to the transfer of property. Such women were called "women of joint dominion". Adult sons appear to have gained rights under the new Christian laws as well, as surviving texts seem to indicate that sons could impugn bad contracts that would harm his inheritance. Daughters, however, continued to have little or no legal independence, although after the eighth century they could no longer be forced into marriage by their parents.


The laws of Athelstan contained a peculiarly brutal provision for the punishment of a female slave convicted of theft: She was to be burned alive by eighty other female slaves. Other laws were directed against the practice of witchcraft by women. Burning was the punishment specially appropriated to women convicted of treason or witchcraft. A case of sentence to execution by burning for treason occurred as late as 1789.[50]

Monogamy was enforced both by the civil and ecclesiastical law. Second and third marriages involved penance. A glimpse of cruelty in the household is afforded by the provision, occurring no less than three times in the ecclesiastical legislation, that if a woman scourged her female slave to death, she must do penance.

Traces of wife-purchase were still seen in the law of Æthelberht of Kent, which stated that if a man carried off a freeman's wife, he must, at his own expense, procure another wife for the husband. (See also bride kidnapping.) The codes contain few provisions as to the property of married women, but those few appear to prove that they were in a better position than at later dates.

The development of the Leges Henrici Primi.

The old common and statute law of England placed women in a special position. A woman was exempt from legal duties more particularly attaching to men and not performable by a deputy. She could not hold a proper feud, i.e., one of which the tenure was by military service. The same principle appears in the rule that she could not be endowed of a castle maintained for the defense of the realm and not for the private use of the owner. She could receive homage, but not render it in the form used by men.

She could be the constable, either of a castle or a vill, but not the sheriff, except in the one case of Westmorland, where an hereditary office was exercised in the 17th century by Anne, countess of Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery.

In certain cases a woman could transmit rights that she could not enjoy. Edward III's claim to the crown of France rested on such a power of transmission. However, the claim was a breach of the French constitutional law, which rejected the claim of a woman.

By Magna Carta a woman could not accuse a man of murder except of that of her husband. This disability no doubt arose from the fact that in trial by battle she naturally did not appear in person but through a champion.

In some old statutes, very curious sumptuary regulations as to women's dress occur. By the sumptuary laws of Edward III in 1363 (37 Edw. III, cc. 8–14), women were, in general, to be dressed according to the position of their fathers or husbands. At the times of passing these sumptuary laws, the trade interests of women were protected by the legislature.

In some cases, the wives and daughters of tradesmen were allowed to assist in the trades of their husbands and fathers. Some trading corporations, such as the East India Company, recognized no distinction of sex in their members.

At common law a woman could own both real and personal property.[51] However, in the case of a married woman the husband had a life interest in any real property: this continued even after the wife's death, and was known as tenancy "by the curtesy". Personal property passed into the ownership of the husband absolutely, with the exception of certain items of adornment or household use known as paraphernalia.

These rules were circumvented by the rules of equity, as enforced by the Court of Chancery. Property designed for the benefit of a married woman was vested in trustees, and her rights under that trust remained her own and did not vest in the husband.


In Scotland, as early as Regiam Majestatem (14th century), women were the object of special legal regulation. In that work, the mercheta mulieris (probably a tax paid to the lord on the marriage of his tenant's daughter) was fixed at a sum differing according to the rank of the woman. Numerous ancient laws dealt with trade and sumptuary matters. It still survives on the island of Ulva. By the Leges Quatuor Burgorum, female brewsters making bad ale were to forfeit eightpence and be put on the cucking-stool, and were to set an ale-wand outside their houses under a penalty of fourpence. The same laws also provided that a married woman committing a trespass without her husband's knowledge might be chastised like an under-age child.


The second part of the Welsh Law Codes begins with "the laws of women", such as the rules governing marriage and the division of property if a married couple should separate. The position of women under Welsh law differed significantly from that of their Norman-English contemporaries. A marriage could be established in two basic ways. The normal way was that the woman would be given to a man by her kindred; the abnormal way was that the woman could elope with a man without the consent of her kindred. In the latter case, her kindred could compel her to return if she was still a virgin, but if she was not, she could not be compelled to return. If the relationship lasted for seven years, she had the same entitlements as if she had been given by her kin.

A number of payments are connected with marriage. Amobr was a fee payable to the woman's lord on the loss of her virginity, whether on marriage or otherwise. Cowyll was a payment due to the woman from her husband on the morning after the marriage, marking her transition from virgin to married woman. Agweddi was the amount of the common pool of property owned by the couple that was due to the woman if the couple separated before the end of seven years. The total of the agweddi depended on the woman's status by birth, regardless of the actual size of the common pool of property. If the marriage broke up after the end of seven years, the woman was entitled to half the common pool.

If a woman found her husband with another woman, she was entitled to a payment of six score pence the first time and a pound the second time; on the third occasion she was entitled to divorce him. If the husband had a concubine, the wife was allowed to strike her without having to pay any compensation, even if it resulted in the concubine's death. A woman could only be beaten by her husband for three things: for giving away something that she was not entitled to give away, for being found with another man, or for wishing a blemish on her husband's beard. If he beat her for any other cause, she was entitled to the payment of sarhad. If the husband found her with another man and beat her, he was not entitled to any further compensation. Women were not allowed to inherit land, except under special circumstances, but the rule for the division of moveable property when one of a married couple died was the same for both sexes. The property was divided into two equal halves, with the surviving partner keeping one half and the dying partner being free to give bequests from the other half.

Edwardian Era laws

In 1911, under English law, the earliest age at which a girl could contract a valid marriage was 12; boys had to be 14. Under the lnfants Settlement Act 1855, a valid settlement could be made by a woman at 17 with the approval of the court, while the age for a man was 20; by the Married Women's Property Act 1907, any settlement by a husband of his wife's property was not valid unless executed by her if she was of full age, or confirmed by her after she attained full age.

An unmarried woman was liable for the support of illegitimate children till they attain the age of 16. She was generally assisted, in the absence of agreement, by an affiliation order granted by magistrates. A married woman having separate property was, under the Married Women's Property Acts 1882 and 1908, liable for the support of her parents, husband, children and grandchildren becoming chargeable to any union or parish.

In common law, the father, rather than the mother, was entitled to the custody of a legitimate child up to the age of 16, and could only forfeit such right by misconduct. But the Court of Chancery, wherever there was trust property and the infant could be made a ward of court, took a less rigid view of the paternal rights and looked more to the interest of the child, and consequently in some cases to the extension of the mother's rights in common law.

Legislation tended in the same direction. By the Custody of Infants Act 1873, the Court of Chancery was empowered to enforce a provision in a separation deed, giving up the custody or control of a child to the mother. The Judicature Act 1873 enacted that, in questions relating to the custody and education of infants, the rules of equity should prevail.

The most remarkable disabilities under which women were still placed in 1910 were the exclusion of female heirs from succession to real estate, except in the absence of a male heir; and the fact that a husband could obtain a divorce for the adultery of his wife, while a wife could obtain it only for her husband's adultery if coupled with some other cause, such as cruelty or desertion.

Almost all existing disabilities were lifted by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919.

Spain and Aquitania

Women in Christian Spain and Southern France, those regions part of the Visigothic Kingdom (418–721) and its various successor states (Asturias, León, Castile, Navarra, Aragon, Aquitania (Occitania) and Languedoc) Visigothic Law and Roman Law combined to allow women more rights then their contemporaries would enjoy until the 20th century. Particularly with the Liber Judiciorum as codified 642/643 and expanded on in the Code of Recceswinth in 653, women could inherit land and title and manage it independently from their husbands or male relations, dispose of their property in legal wills if they had no heirs, and women could represent themselves and bear witness in court by age 14 and arrange for their own marriages by age 20.[52] In Spain these laws were further codified between 1252–1284 by Alfonso X of Castile with the Siete Partidas.

Hindu law


Women in ancient India used to be very respected. There is no exclusion of women according to the Vedas. Motherhood is considered the greatest glory of Hindu women. The Taittiriya Upanishad teaches, "Matridevo bhava" – "Let your mother be god to you." In this mantra of Brahmcharya Sukta, it is emphasized that girls too should train themselves as students and only then enter into married life. The Sukta specifically emphasizes that girls should receive the same level of training as boys.

Atharva Veda 11.5.18 : "Girls should train themselves to become complete scholars and youthful through Brahmcharya and then enter married life."

Atharva Veda 14.1.6 : "Parents should gift their daughter intellectuality and power of knowledge when she leaves for husband's home. They should give her a dowry of knowledge."

When girls ignore external objects and develops foresight and vibrant attitude through power of knowledge, she becomes provider of wealths of skies and earth. Then she should marry an eligible husband.

Atharva Veda 14.1.20 : "O wife! Give us discourse of knowledge"
The bride may please everyone at her husband's home through her knowledge and noble qualities.

Atharva Veda 7.46.3 : "Teach the husband ways of earning wealth. Protector of children, having definite knowledge, worth thousands of prayers and impressing all directions, O women, you accept prosperity. O wife of deserving husband, teach your husband to enhance wealth."

Atharva Veda 7.47.1 : "O woman! You are the keeper of knowledge of all types of actions (karma)."

Atharva Veda 7.47.2 : "O woman! You know everything. Please provide us strength of prosperity and wealth."

Atharva Veda 14 January 1964 : "O woman! Utilize your vedic intellect in all directions of our home!"

Atharva Veda 1.14.3 : "O groom! This bride will protect your entire family."

Atharva Veda 2.36.3 : "May this bride become the queen of the house of her husband and enlighten all."

Atharva Veda 11.1.17 : "These women are pure, sacred and yajniya (as respected as yajna); they provide us with subjects, animals and food."
Atharva Veda 14.1.20 : "Hey wife! Become the queen and manager of everyone in the family of your husband."

Thoses verses proof that women used to be very respected. These women are pure, sacred, worth being worship, worth being served, of great character, scholarly. They have given subjects, animals and happiness to the entire society.

Atharva Veda 12.2.31 : "Ensure that these women never weep out of sorrow. Keep them free from all diseases and give them ornaments and jewels to wear."

Atharva Veda 14 January 1950 : "Hey wife! I am holding your hand for prosperity."

Atharva Veda 14 January 1961 : "Hey bride! You shall bring bliss to all and direct our homes towards our purpose of living."

Atharva Veda 14 February 1971 : "Hey wife! I am knowledgeable and you are also knowledgeable. If I am Samved then you are Rigved."

Atharva Veda 14 February 1974 : "This bride is illuminating. She has conquered everyone's hearts!"

Atharva Veda 7.38.4 and 12.3.52 : "Women should take part in the legislative chambers and put their views on forefront."

Rig Veda 10.85.7 : "Parents should gift their daughter intellectuality and power of knowledge when she leaves for husband's home. They should give her a dowry of knowledge."

Rig Veda 3.31.1 : "The right is equal in the fathers property for both son and daughter."

The idea of equality was most forcibly expressed in the Rig Veda (Book 5, hymn 61. verse 8): The commentator explains this passage thus: "The wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular."

Atharva Veda 14–1–64 "O bride! May the knowledge of the Vedas be in front of you and behind you, in your centre and in your ends. May you conduct your life after attaining the knowledge of the Vedas. May you be benevolent, the harbinger of good fortune and health and live in great dignity and indeed be illumined in your husband's home."

Rigveda Samhita, part 1, sukta 79, sloka 872 : "The wife should do agnihotra (yagna), sandhya (puja) and all other daily religious rituals. If, for some reason, her husband is not present, the woman alone has full rights to do yagna."

Like wise in so many other mantras a woman has been presented to play an essential role in family and as wife. Similarly she has been given the lead stage in society works, in governmental organizations, and for ruling the nation is also mentioned in Vedas.[53]

Rigevda contains several Suktas containing description of Usha as a God. This Usha is representation of an ideal woman. Please refer "Usha Devata" by Pt Sri Pad Damodar Satvalekar as part of "Simple Translation of Rigveda (Rigved ka subodh bhashya)". Page 121 to 147 for summary of all such verses spread across entire Rigveda. In summary:

  1. Women should be brave (Page 122, 128)
  2. Women should be expert (Page 122)
  3. Women should earn fame (Page 123)
  4. Women should ride on chariots (Page 123)
  5. Women should be scholars (Page 123)
  6. Women should be prosperous and wealth (Page 125)
  7. Women should be intelligent and knowledgeable (Page 126)
  8. Women should be protector of family and society and get in army(Page 134, 136)
  9. Women should be illuminating (Page 137)
  10. Women should be provider of wealth, food and prosperity (Page 141- 146)

Yajur Veda 20.9 : "There are equal rights for men and women to get appointed as ruler."

Yajur Veda 16.44 : "There should be a women's army. Let the women be encouraged to participate in war."

Yajur Veda 10.26 : "In this mantra it is enforced that the wife of ruler should give education of politics to the others. Likewise the king do justice for the people, the queen should also justify her role."


Rig Veda 10–191–3 : O women! These mantras are given to you equally (as to men). May your thoughts, too, be harmonious. May your assemblies be open to all without discrimination. Your mind and consciousness should be harmonious. I (the rishi) give you these mantras equally as to men and give you all and equal powers to absorb (the full powers) of these mantras."

"Women are worthy of worship. They are the fate of the household, the lamp of enlightenment for all in the household. They bring solace to the family and are an integral part of dharmic life. Even heaven is under the control of women. The gods reside in those households where women are worshipped and in households where women are slighted all efforts at improvement go in vain." Manusmriti 3–56

About Sati

Self burning of widows was not sanctioned by the Vedic religion, but was due to other causes.

In the 19th century, Sir Monier Monier-Williams (Indologist and Boden Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Oxford) wrote that "Perhaps the most important point to which Raja Ram Mohan Roy awakened was the absence of all Vedic sanction for the self-immolation of widows (Suttee). It was principally his vehement denunciation of this practice, and the agitation against it set on foot by him, which ultimately led to the abolition of Sati throughout British India in 1819."[55]

The eighth richa (X 18.8) specifically commands a Hindu widow to return alive to her home. H. H. Wilson translates: "Rise woman, and go to the world of living beings; come, this man near whom you sleep is lifeless; you have enjoyed this state of being the wife of your husband, the suitor who took you by the hand." Here again, it is confirmed that X 18.8 actually commands a Hindu widow to return to the world of living beings. Also, this very richa confers upon her full right on the house of her deceased husband (apne putradi aur ghar).

Those who misinterpret the Rigveda to say that it sanctions sati do this mischief by misspelling the last word of richa X 18. 7 as "yomiagne." The last word of this richa is actually "yomiagre". Thus, there is no richa in Rigveda calling for widow burning. Veda, Ramayana and Gita are the three supreme scriptures of Hindus.

Will Durant (1885–1981) American historian says that "women enjoyed far greater freedom in the Vedic period than in later India. She had more to say in the choice of her mate than the forms of marriage might suggest. She appeared freely at feasts and dances, and joined with men in religious sacrifice. She could study, and like Gargi, engage in philosophical disputation. If she was left a widow there were no restrictions upon her remarriage."[56]

Louis Jaccoliot (1837–1890) who worked in French India as a government official and was at one time President of the Court in Chandranagar, translated numerous Vedic hymns and the celebrated author of the Bible in India: Hindoo Origin of Hebrew and Christian Revelation said: "India of the Vedas entertained a respect for women amounting to worship; a fact which we seem little to suspect in Europe when we accuse the extreme East of having denied the dignity of woman, and of having only made her an instrument of pleasure and of passive obedience." He also said: "What! here is a civilization, which you cannot deny to be older than your own, which places the woman on a level with the man and gives her an equal place in the family and in society."[57]

Bhishma Pitamaha also said: "The teacher who teaches true knowledge is more important than ten instructors. The father is more important than ten such teachers of true knowledge and the mother is more important than ten such fathers. There is no greater guru than mother."[58]

Sikh law

Guru Nanak (1469–1539), the founder of Sikhism, spoke against the practices defined in Hindu law. To root out these century-old habits, the Guru spoke clearly and in simple terms to influence the masses. His writings appear in the Sikh Scriptures, which date from about 1499. He is quoted to have said:

Further to reinforce this message of equality among the genders, the Sikh founder Guru says in the Sikh holy book Sri Guru Granth Sahib that God's light shines in both men and women thus: "In the earth and in the sky, I do not see any second. Among all the women and the men, His Light is shining. (3)" (Guru Granth Sahib page 223). To further remove the long-ingrained prejudices of the masses, Guru Nanak also says that both men and women are created by the Lord thus: "He Himself created all women and men; the Lord Himself plays every play." (Guru Granth Sahib page 304) and again "Women and men, all the men and women, all came from the One Primal Lord God." (Guru Granth Sahib page 983). Furthermore, to make sure that people of both the Muslim and Hindu religions were listening, Bhagat Kabir say this: "You fashioned all these men and women, Lord. All these are Your Forms. Kabeer is the child of God, Allah, Raam. All the Gurus and prophets are mine. ||5||" (Guru Granth Sahib page 1349), mentioning that "God", Allah (the Muslim name for God) and Raam (the Hindu name for God) are all honoured.

See also

Historical readings

  • Alice Zimmern, Renaissance of Girls Education in England (1898);
  • A. R. Cleveland, Women under English Law (1896);
  • J. L. de Lanessan, L'Education de la femme moderne (1908);
  • M. Ostrogorski, Femme au point de vue du droit public (1892);
  • Mrs C. P. Gilman, Women and Economics (1899);
  • Miss C. E. Collet, Report on Changes in the Employment of Women (1898; Parl. papers, C. 8794);
  • B. and M. Van Vorst, Woman – in industry (1908);
  • A. Loria, Le Feminisme au point de vue sociologique (1907);
  • Helen Blackburn, Record of Women's Suffrage, in the United Kingdom (1902);
  • Susan B. Anthony, History of Women's Suffrage, in the United States (4 vols., 1881–1902);
  • C. C. Stopes, British Free Women (1894);
  • W. Lyon Blease, The Emancipation of Women (1910).


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Janet H. Johnson. "Women's Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt". Digital collections. University of Chicago Library. Retrieved 3 November 2007. 
  3. ^ A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Citizenship (Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 211 and 268; Bruce W. Frier and Thomas A.J. McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law (Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 31–32, 457, et passim.
  4. ^ a b Frier and McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, pp. 19–20.
  5. ^ David Johnston, Roman Law in Context (Cambridge University Press, 1999), chapter 3.3; Frier and McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, Chapter IV; Yan Thomas, "The Division of the Sexes in Roman Law", in A History of Women from Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints (Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 134.
  6. ^ Frier and McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, p. 20.
  7. ^ Frier and McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, pp. 19–20, 22.
  8. ^ Susan Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 258–259, 500–502 et passim.
  9. ^ Beth Severy, Augustus and the Family at the Birth of the Empire (Routledge, 2002; Taylor & Francis, 2004), p. 12.
  10. ^ Frier and McGinn, A Casebook on Roman Family Law, p. 461; W. V. Harris, "Trade", in The Cambridge Ancient History: The High Empire A.D. 70–192 (Cambridge University Press, 2000), vol. 11, p. 733.
  11. ^ Richard A. Bauman, Women and Politics in Ancient Rome (Routledge, 1992, 1994), p. 50.
  12. ^ Bauman, Women and Politics, pp. 50–51; Juvenal, Satire 6, on women busy in the courts.
  13. ^ Bauman, Women and Politics, pp. 51–52.
  14. ^ Alan Watson, The Spirit of Roman Law (University of Georgia Press, 1995), p. 13; Yan Thomas, "The Division of the Sexes in Roman Law", in A History of Women from Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints (Harvard University Press, 1991), p. 135.
  15. ^ Judith Evans Grubbs, Women and the Law in the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook on Marriage, Divorce and Law in the Roman Empire (Routledge, 2002) , p. 24.
  16. ^ Watson, The Spirit of Roman Law, p. 13; Gaius, Inst. 1.173.
  17. ^ Gaius, Institutes 1.190–1.191.
  18. ^ Severy, Augustus and the Family, p. 4.
  19. ^ Thomas McGinn, "Concubinage and the Lex Iulia on Adultery", Transactions of the American Philological Association 121 (1991), p. 342; Martha C. Nussbaum, "The Incomplete Feminism of Musonius Rufus, Platonist, Stoic, and Roman", in The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome (University of Chicago Press, 2002), p. 305, noting that custom "allowed much latitude for personal negotiation and gradual social change"; Elaine Fantham, "Stuprum: Public Attitudes and Penalties for Sexual Offences in Republican Rome", in Roman Readings: Roman Response to Greek Literature from Plautus to Statius and Quintilian (Walter de Gruyter, 2011), p. 124, citing Papinian, De adulteriis I and Modestinus, Liber Regularum I. Eva Cantarella, Bisexuality in the Ancient World (Yale University Press, 1992, 2002, originally published 1988 in Italian), p. 104; Catherine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 34–35.
  20. ^ Thomas, "The Division of the Sexes", p. 133.
  21. ^ Ariadne Staples, From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins: Sex and Category in Roman Religion (Routledge, 1998), pp. 81–82; Jane F. Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society (Indiana University Press, 1991), p.118ff. Roman law also recognized rape committed against males.
  22. ^ Amy Richlin, "Not before Homosexuality: The Materiality of the cinaedus and the Roman Law against Love between Men", Journal of the History of Sexuality 3.4 (1993), pp. 562–563.
  23. ^ Under the Lex Aquilia; Thomas A.J. McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome (Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 314; Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society, p. 119.
  24. ^ McGinn, McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law, p. 288ff.
  25. ^ Gardner, Women in Roman Law and Society, p. 119; McGinn, Prostitution, Sexuality and the Law in Ancient Rome, p. 326.
  26. ^ obedience to his will in all things
  27. ^ specially in the introduction of publicity and of the formalities of the ring and the k. The benediction of a priest was made a necessary part of the ceremony,
  28. ^ a b c d Esposito (2005) p. 79
  29. ^ Lindsay Jones, p.6224
  30. ^ a b Esposito (2004), p. 339
  31. ^ a b Khadduri (1978)
  32. ^ Schimmel (1992) p.65
  33. ^ a b Dr. Badawi, Jamal A. (September 1971), "The Status of Women in Islam", Al-Ittihad Journal of Islamic Studies 8 (2) 
  34. ^ Badr, Gamal M.; Mayer, Ann Elizabeth (Winter 1984), "Islamic Criminal Justice", The American Journal of Comparative Law (American Society of Comparative Law) 32 (1): 167–169  
  35. ^ Lindsay, James E. (2005), Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World,  
  36. ^ Lindsay, James E. (2005), Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World,  
  37. ^ Lindsay, James E. (2005), Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World,  
  38. ^ Lindsay, James E. (2005), Daily Life in the Medieval Islamic World,  
  39. ^ Maya Shatzmiller, pp. 6–7.
  40. ^ a b Maya Shatzmiller (1994), Labour in the Medieval Islamic World, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-09896-8, pp. 400–1
  41. ^ Maya Shatzmiller, pp. 350–62.
  42. ^ Maya Shatzmiller (1997), "Women and Wage Labour in the Medieval Islamic West: Legal Issues in an Economic Context", Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 40 (2), pp. 174–206 [175–7].
  43. ^ a b Borgström Eva (Swedish): Makalösa kvinnor: könsöverskridare i myt och verklighet (Marvelous women : genderbenders in myth and reality) Alfabeta/Anamma, Stockholm 2002. ISBN 91-501-0191-9 (inb.). Libris 8707902.
  44. ^ a b c d Borgström Eva (Swedish): Makalösa kvinnor: könsöverskridare i myt och verklighet (Marvelous women : gender benders in myth and reality) Alfabeta/Anamma, Stockholm 2002. ISBN 91-501-0191-9 (inb.). Libris 8707902.
  45. ^ Borgström Eva(Swedish): Makalösa kvinnor: könsöverskridare i myt och verklighet (Marvelous women : gender benders in myth and reality) Alfabeta/Anamma, Stockholm 2002. ISBN 91-501-0191-9 (inb.). Libris 8707902.
  46. ^ a b c Ingelman-Sundberg, Catharina, Forntida kvinnor: jägare, vikingahustru, prästinna [Ancient women: hunters, viking wife, priestess], Prisma, Stockholm, 2004
  47. ^ a b c d Ohlander, Ann-Sofie & Strömberg, Ulla-Britt, Tusen svenska kvinnoår: svensk kvinnohistoria från vikingatid till nutid, 3. (A Thousand Swedish Women's Years: Swedish Women's History from the Viking Age until now), [omarb. och utök.] uppl., Norstedts akademiska förlag, Stockholm, 2008
  48. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (10th ed.), 1902, p. 639 
  49. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica (6th ed.), 1823, p. 588 
  50. ^ Burning at the Stake - Capital Punishment UK
  51. ^ Wroath, John (1998), Until They Are Seven, The Origins of Women's Legal Rights, Waterside Press,  
  52. ^ Klapisch-Zuber, Christine; A History of Women: Book II Silences of the Middle Ages, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England. 1992, 2000 (5th printing). Chapter 6, "Women in the Fifth to the Tenth Century" by Suzanne Fonay Wemple, pg 74. According to Wemple, Visigothic women of Spain and the Aquitaine could inherit land and title and manage it independently of their husbands, and dispose of it as they saw fit if they had no heirs, and represent themselves in court, appear as witnesses (by the age of 14), and arrange their own marriages by the age of twenty
  53. ^ (Book: Vagambhraniya, Author: Dr Priyamvada Vedbharti)
  54. ^
  55. Mera Dharma, Author: Priyavart Vedavachaspati (Hindi) Publisher: Prakashan Mandir, Gurukul Kangri University, Haridwar
  56. Book: Rgveda Samhita, Vol XIII, Author: Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati & Satyakam Vidyalankar, Ved Pratishthana, New Delhi
  57. "Usha Devata" by Pt Sri Pad Damodar Satvalekar as part of "Simple Translation of Rigveda (Rigved ka subodh bhashya)", Swadhyaya Mandal, Aundh
  58. Atharvaveda-Hindi Bhashya Part 1 and 2, Author: Kshemkarandas Trivedi, Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha, Delhi
  59. Atharvaved ka subodh bhashya (7–10 chapters), Author: Sripad Damodar Satvalekar
  60. ^ (source: India And Her People – By Swami Abhedananda – p. 280).
  61. ^ (source: Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage – By Will Durant MJF Books.1935 p. 401). For more on Will Durant refer to chapter Quotes1_20 and Hindu Art).
  62. ^ (source: India And Her People – By Swami Abhedananda – p. 253).
  63. ^ Mahabharata, Shantiparva, Chapter 30, sloka 9.

External articles

  • IWRAW – International Women's Rights Action Watch
  • American Civil Liberties Union: Women's Rights
  • Amnesty International Women's Rights
  • Women's Status and War in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Reconsideration
  • Ansar Burney Trust – working for women's rights
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.