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The development and rising of international human rights standards are one of the most important achievements of the human civilization. Formed under the influence of great bourgeois revolutions, the national law of a number of countries undoubtedly impacted the formation and development of international law principles and norms of human rights. The idea of equal social rights for women and men goes back to the time of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution of the XVIII century. It is connected with the approval of the liberal concept of natural rights and freedoms of a person. Mary Wollstonecraft and Leila Ahmed are outstanding personalities in the struggle for equal rights for women. Nowadays, they are considered important representatives of the feminist movement as their life and work had a great impact on many feminists.
Mary Wollstonecraft is a British writer, feminist, and philosopher of the XVIII century. “She is the first great champion of women’s rights in the modern Western world” (Brody, 2000, p. 6). She is the author of novels, treatises, a collection of letters, books about the French Revolution and parenting, as well as books for children. However, her most famous work is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote it in 1792. The main theme of the work is that women are not creatures standing on the lower level of development in relation to men, but seem so because of the lack of education. She proposes to consider both men and women as intelligent beings and presents a social order based on reason.
At the beginning, Mary Wollstonecraft’s writings were ignored and perceived neither by men nor by women. Only with the emergence of the science feminist critique in the 1960s and 1970s, her works were finally recognized as fundamental to the issue. Their fate reflected the fate of the feminist movement. At the beginning of the 1970s, six major biographies of Wollstonecraft were published representing both her passionate life and the radical and rationalist intentions. Historians considered Wollstonecraft a paradoxical but intriguing figure not adhering to the version of feminism of the 1970s.
In most of her early works, Mary Wollstonecraft turns to the issue of education. She supports the idea of education of children in the spirit of the emerging middle class that values honesty, self-discipline, social contentment, and frugality. In her works, the writer emphasizes the importance of developing children’s intelligence. The ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft have a lot in common with the ideas of the philosopher John Locke. However, considerable attention is given to religious beliefs and feelings, which distinguishes her works from the works of Locke. Her compositions are connected with sensationalism, which was popular in the late XVIII century.
Mary Wollstonecraft supports the education of women. “Wollstonecraft maintained that women should be educated to support themselves, with or without marriage, and that they should have the right to pursue the same professions as men” (Falco, 2010, p. 3). At that time, it was a topic that caused fierce arguments and to which the writer would turn more than once during the rest of her life – especially in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The author argues that educated women are good wives and mothers, thus ultimately contributing to the welfare of the state.
In 1790, Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Men. In this work, she criticizes aristocracy and fully supports the Republicans. Wollstonecraft condemns monarchy and hereditary privileges. In her arguments for the republican virtue, she opposes the emerging spirit of the middle class to a vicious system of manners of aristocracy. Mary Wollstonecraft was influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment and believed in progress. A treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Men is the first political as well as the first feminist work of Wollstonecraft. Many historians argue that in this work, she found the subject she focused on during the rest of her career. “This was the essay that has made Wollstonecraft famous” (Brody, 2000, p. 6). This work has brought fame to her.
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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In this treatise, Wollstonecraft writes that women should receive education based on their position in society. Then, she redefines this position arguing that women are necessary for the nation as they bring up children and could be not just wives but also comrades for their husbands. Instead of seeing women as a useless decoration in society or property acquired in marriage, Mary Wollstonecraft believes that they deserve the same rights as men.
According to Wollstonecraft, currently, the majority of women are stupid and superficial not due to the congenital lack of intelligence, but rather because men have denied them access to education. The author focuses on explaining the constraints faced by women because of imperfections of education: “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adore its prison” (Wollstonecraft & Lynch, 2009, p. 118). She means that women could achieve more if from the early age, all their attention would not be directed to beauty and gloss.
In her work, Wollstonecraft criticizes false sensibility. She writes that women, who are very sensitive, do not think efficiently. Mary affirms that they make harm not only themselves, but also the whole civilization. These women will not enhance the development of civilization – a popular idea in the XVIII century. On the contrary, they will destroy it. Mary Wollstonecraft does not believe that the mind and senses must exist independently; rather, they should complement each other.
In addition to her main philosophical arguments, Wollstonecraft offers a specific education plan. She claims that all children should be sent to the village day school. They should also receive primary education at home. She also believes that learning should be mutual as men and women, whose marriages are “cement of society”, should be formed by sample. In her work, Mary Wollstonecraft refers to the middle class. She described it as the most natural state. In many ways, the book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman expresses bourgeois notions of the world, encourages modesty and entrepreneurial of the middle class, and attacks the uselessness of aristocracy.
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Although Wollstonecraft summons for equality of women and men in certain areas of life, she does not obviously assert that men and women are equal. Her polysemantic opinion regarding gender equality made it complicated to determine Wollstonecraft as a feminist in the modern sense of the word, in particular because this word and concept was unavailable for her.
Nowadays, the feminist movement is developing not only in the Western countries, but also in the East. Islamic feminism is an idea of gender equality as an integral part of the writings of the Koran as equality of all people. It calls for the introduction of gender equality in the country as well as everyday life. One of the most famous representatives of this movement in Islamic countries is Leila Ahmed. She is an Egyptian writer and an outstanding supporter of the so-called Islamic feminism. She is also considered the first women studies professor at Harvard School.
Leila Ahmed insists on full equality of all Muslims regardless of their gender in public and private life. “Ahmed maintains that Sura 33:35 forthrightly proclaims the equality of men and women under God” (Armajani, 2004, p. 41). She attaches great importance to the reliance on the cultural achievements of Europe in search of those elements in Islam that can contribute to the progress of the Muslim community including the women’s issue. In her work Feminism and Feminist Movements in the Middle East, Leila Ahmed argues that feminism in Turkey, Egypt, and Algeria was introduced from the West. Leila Ahmed strongly focuses on globality of Islam and its message to all peoples. The Koran calls for equality between believers. It categorically condemns racial discrimination and establishes ethical considerations as level differences.
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Leila Ahmed distinguishes two types of Islamic feminism, which originated in Egypt in the early twentieth century. There were modernist feminists who opposed the veil, but were for the voting rights for women and a dialogue with the West. Also, there were Islamic feminists who supported the veil but were the opponents of Westernization. Both trends have influenced the formation of Islamic feminism. Leila Ahmed has already published the book called A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. In the book, the author analyzes the symbolic character of the hijab. She emphasizes the amazing growth of the popularity of the hijab around the world. In her opinion, many Muslim women decide to wear it out of a sense of pride and as a symbol of Muslim belonging. Leila Ahmed also links the revival of the hijab to Islamic activism. She suggests that it stands for a conservative form of Islamic feminism. Leila Ahmed’s researches contradict a widespread opinion that Muslim women are usually made to wear the hijab. She insists that in most cases, to wear the hitjab is their wish (Golley, 2007).
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Both feminists – Leila Ahmed and Mary Wollstonecraft – made a significant contribution to the feminist movement around the world. However, they have quite different opinions on the issue of feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft completely rejected traditions and belonging to one or another culture. Unlike her, Leila Ahmed focuses on belonging to Islam with reliance on the cultural achievements of Europe.