The Congress of Women: Personal Rights of Women

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Personal Rights of Women

With respect to the personal protection of woman by law, there has been a change for the better, as the dignity and sacredness of her person is more completely recognized. Severe punishments are inflicted for offenses against women, but still in many instances they are altogether too slight for the gravity of the offense. The "age of consent," which in many states was placed at the age of ten years, has been raised by very recent legislation to fourteen, sixteen, and in some states, eighteen years. For the better protection of women under arrest, police matrons have been placed in the station-houses of some of our American cities, to take charge of such women during the time of their detention. In New York and Massachusetts, by state legislation, all cities having a stated population must provide police matrons. Much of the recent labor legislation is in favor of women. The laws forbidding women to be employed about dangerous machinery, those requiring shopkeepers to provide seats for saleswomen, and the statutes requiring the appointment of women factory inspectors may be cited. As to the law in many states prohibiting women from making a contract to work more hours a week than the time fixed by law, while by the same law a man is free to contract for as many hours' labor as he chooses, one may question whether it does not really work an injustice, since, by interfering with her individual freedom to contract it places her at a disadvantage. An employer prefers to take an employee who is legally free to make agreements for extra work. Therefore, the woman's wages are likely to be decreased and her opportunities for employment lessened by this restriction. A married woman is now protected from the violence of her husband by the legal right given her to prosecute him for assaults upon her. The old theory of the husband's right to chastise his wife has disappeared from English and American law.

In the famous Jackson case in England the Lord Chief Justice, in setting free a woman whose husband had deprived her of her liberty, said, that he did not believe that it ever was the law of England that a husband could restrain his wife of her liberty, and that it certainly is not English law today. In India, under the power of a Christian government, the burning of a widow upon her husband's funeral pyre is forbidden by law, and the day seems not far distant when the seclusion of the zenana and the practice of child-marriages will also disappear. In Japan, where women are more respected than among many Eastern nations, a wife may still be divorced upon the very slightest grounds, even if she talks too much to suit her lord and master. The codes of Continental Europe fail to do justice to woman in respect to her personal protection in the matter of divorce for certain criminal offenses, where the privileges of the man are greater than those of the woman, making it less easy for her than for him to obtain a divorce. This seems to be a vestige of the ancient conception of woman's inferiority.

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