Women have long taken part in humanity’s long road of evolution, but only now are they acknowledged for the critical role they play in shaping society. Now it is more vital than ever to listen to what they have to say.
Generally, women have traditionally been confined to the home, waiting for husbands to return from work. This fits a widely-believed narrative that back in the age of hunting and gathering, it was men who set out on adventures to kill animals and provide for the family, while the women stayed to maintain living quarters and care for children. The social structures then were believed to be predominantly governed by the males, ultimately limiting the role of women in a hunter-gatherer society which has changed little until today.
Yet, recent studies have shown hunter-gatherer societies actually worked on egalitarian principles. While we often picture prehistoric societies as being the genesis of much of gender inequality these days, it turns out they are more likely to have been run equally by both male and female members. Researchers from University College London found in 2015 that men and women had equal influence in ancient societies, a far cry from the patriarchal cultures commonly believed to have been in place.
This is understood to have changed during the advent of agriculture. The arrival of new technologies is said to have been the driving force behind the imbalance, with humans learning to accumulate resources more efficiently for the first time. During this period, men often had several wives and many children. They also received more income and were more likely to bond with male kin. It is through this, the study found, that gender inequality was born.
Alternatively, Marco Kusumawijaya, founder and director of the Rujak Centre for Urban Studies (RCUS), thinks agriculture is one instance in which women began to play an important role in broader society, as it is believed agriculture was indeed founded by women. When the practice began to develop 11,000 years ago, the role of women in communities was heightened. It is believed women had observed seeds growing, before planting them to deliberately grow produce.
Other studies of hunter-gatherer societies suggest hunters (predominantly men) would provide just 10 percent of the total food for the community, while gatherers, largely women, were responsible for the rest. While the dawn of agriculture can rightly be said to have significantly influenced gender relations, it could be considered one of the defining moments celebrating the contribution of women to society.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the role of women in contemporary society is being increasingly recognized. Women today continue to take the lead as we progress towards a more egalitarian society. Terms like ‘alpha females’ and ‘career women,’ for example, show how much attention is given to women reorienting their pathways in life.
As an architect and urbanist, Kusumawijaya thinks women’s ideas and accomplishments must be fully addressed and appreciated in order to gain an accurate understanding of our society.
“Now if we are moving to the urban context, it’s very easy to observe, and the statistics would show that there are more and more women who work outside the house or even inside the house generating income,” Kusumawijaya said in an interview with Indonesia Expat.
“So of course then the city needs to pay attention to women because they become, in a way, more and more functional, not only at home but also in public life, [specifically] when it comes to economic production.”
Kusumawijaya said it is vital to note the role of women in the formation of the places where we live. He says women typically pay more attention to specific details than men do, thanks to a stronger focus on caring for life. This, he says, is due to the ability to bear children which gives women an advantage that can help a city solve problems.
In the ‘Women and Habitat’ discussion hosted by RCUS, key speakers revealed why women’s voices need to be heard. Dr. Pireeni Sundaralingam, a consciousness scientist, addressed why it is important to include women in solving humanitarian issues.
“Our planet is currently facing dramatic challenges. Now, more than ever before, we need to find innovative, creative solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing humanity. If we are to not just survive as a species but also develop and prosper, we need to make sure that we widen our net,” she said.
Sundaralingam believes it is not enough to simply ask both men and women to get involved. She suggests that we must “radically change the way we address problems.” This means that it is not necessarily about increasing the number of people helping solve problems but instead welcoming many different ways of thinking.
“This is where the role of women’s voices and ideas have that potential,” she said.
“When women join the problem-solving space, they are bringing voices and ideas that are radically new. They do not just bring solutions to the table, but stimulate different ways of thinking amongst the people who are already present at the table.”
The way to make women agents of change is to listen to a variety of voices, especially those who have struggled through all sorts of challenges in life. Those who have experienced loss, pain and suffering earn more than the right to be heard. In truth, they are the ones who can provide us with creative solutions that others have yet to discover.