Where Is Her Dignity? – Part 1, By LINDA ASIMOLE ELLAH

are you a learner?

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Where lies her dignity? Within or outside her? This piece looks at the dignity of a woman and from where it comes. The opening quote above points to the fact that every human being is born free and is equal in dignity and rights. In a patriarchal (male-controlled) society like the one we live in; we are reminded that a man does not have more dignity than a woman just because he is a man. Hence, a woman is another human being who is born free and has equal dignity and rights just like any man has.

According to Wikipedia, Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake, and to be treated ethically. It is of significance in morality, ethics, law and politics as an extension of the Enlightenment-era concepts of inherent, inalienable rights. So, every woman or man, in all spheres of life, are to be valued, respected and treated ethically just for being human beings. A person’s dignity is a personal right.

And why is this so? This is because the definition of human dignity indicates that, “Human dignity is the belief that all people hold a special value that’s tied solely to their humanity. It has nothing to do with their class, race, gender, religion, abilities, or any other factor other than them being human (www.humanrightscareers.com). So, the first thing about a person is that she or he is human, and that person is highly valued for being so. No other classification matters in the first place.

In the light of this, do these descriptions and definitions around dignity apply to many women in practice?

Dignity in Marriage

Marriage has become a concept that is lived and practiced as one understands. Religion and culture have highly influenced various interpretations, understanding, teachings and customs and practices around marriage. Yet, in all of that, the teachings, interpretations, customs or practices that demean the value of one human being less than the other have led to restlessness, chaotic marriages and relationships.

From what we see, hear and experience around and within our families, when a man marries a woman, what does she become to him? His property? His housemaid? His child bearer? His sex object? His bed warmer? His financial supplier? His caretaker? His beating drum? Or a mere roof-sharer? A combination of these is true to many homes.

Or does she become his equal? His soulmate? His best friend? His confidant? His workmate? His co-financier? His thinking-mate? His teammate? His support?

In marriage, both husband and wife become one, but how this oneness plays out or does not play out depend on several factors. These may include, one’s beliefs and understanding around marriage, personality differences, past experiences around marriage and parenting, upbringing and environment, religious beliefs and inclinations, cultural beliefs and nuances, peer pressure, and personal habits and lifestyles.

Interestingly, education, being well-traveled and exposure to other countries and cultures may not change the hard-ingrained beliefs and understanding a person has about how marriage should be. There are supposedly ‘learned’, highly educated and well-placed men in society who have very skewed understanding of a woman’s place within marriage and in their lives. Hence, they look respectable outside but are lions and wolves in their homes. Unfortunately, society still protects and shield such people.

However, if they can truly understand that, yes, a man and woman become one in marriage, and it simply means treating each other with respect, love, dignity and in service to each other, then a lot will change in our society. There are also women who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. If they too had the right beliefs and understanding of marriage, many of our homes would be better.

As Pope Francis says, “Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.” Men and women need to realize that maltreating another person, is maltreating myself. It just has a way of coming around. There have been so many men who have gone into marriage with a stick in hand, ready to tame, control and subjugate the woman. The lives of such men have ended up more miserable than they ever imagined. Some learn from past mistakes, others continue to claim right, never learn and so wallow in regrets.

Individuality in Marriage/Relationship

That a person becomes married does not mean that they stop being that individual that they were made to be. Does marriage really swallow up all those things that make me different from another human being? No, it does not. So, why do we act and treat the other person like it is supposed to do so?

Someone wrote: “Embracing our individuality is essential for personal happiness. Trying to hide or change who we are to fit someone else’s ideals lessens our self-worth, causing self-esteem to plummet and insecurities to soar. …Encouraging a …person to celebrate their individuality can boost self-esteem, confidence and ultimately, happiness” (www.boots.com). This is it! As your read this quote, are you able to personally relate it to marriage? Do you have a problem with placing this within a marriage relationship? Or even any relationship?

A woman shared with me that her biggest concern is that the troubles in her marriage is affecting her feeling of self-worth, self-esteem and making her feel out of place in her home and workplace environment. Even with this, she is advised to hang on.

Again, someone has highlighted this individuality thus, Maintaining individuality is critical to establishing a long-lasting, healthy partnership. … Personal boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves as individuals in relationships. They protect our sense of personal identity and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others (www.huffpost.com).

A married couple that do not practice this individuality in their marriage can easily go insane with demands and expectations from the other. Men and women have driven the other to their grave as a result of this. When the expectations on a man is excessive, he too gets overwhelmed. My husband used to tell me, “Do what you can and leave the rest.” Over time I learnt to heed that advice rather than grumble and complain.

Even when you marry, you remain you. The best you can do is continue to develop yourself as an individual. Embark on a journey of Personal Growth. This will help you know and understand yourself better, help you set your personal life goals, help you understand what you want for yourself and what you wat out of your life, help you learn new things that will improve your life, help you work towards becoming that better person who can experience inner joy, peace and love, and help you attain your personal purpose in life, in service to humanity. This is what your life is about – Growth and Purpose. Anything that stifles this, be it marriage, religion, environment, relationships, culture, expectations, responsibilities or associations, is worth leaving behind.

Everyone desires happiness. Like Sarah Newton writes, “Unfortunately, society encourages us all to look and act a certain way, and anything that even vaguely goes against those societal norms, is often challenged or ridiculed. This can make it hard to stay true to you – but if you’re not, your happiness will suffer.” Acting like you have forgotten your individuality or surrendering it to another person is to deny yourself happiness. You may rationalize surrendering yourself or your individuality to another human being as much as you want, perhaps for some purpose, but deep down, you may likely never experience happiness.

As an individual, always remember that you are loved beyond measure and that you are never alone. Every challenge has a solution, and every challenge has an end date. You don’t need to sell your dignity for a plate of porridge.

Together We Can… Safeguard Everyone’s Rights and Dignity
So what YOU DO… as an Individual Matter!

(To be continued)

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