"Where women are honored there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored no sacred rite yields rewards," declares Manu Smriti (III.56) a text on social conduct.
"Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands and brothers-in-law, who desire their own welfare." (Manu Smriti III, 55)
" Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers." (Manu Smriti III, 57).
"The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely as if destroyed by magic." (Manu Smriti III, 58)
" Hence men who seek their own welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with gifts of ornaments, clothes, and dainty food." (Manu Smriti III, 59)
Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1860-1888) Indologist and head of the Oxford's Boden Chair, wrote: "Indian wives often possess greater influence than wives of Europeans." He is not a true Hindu who does not regard a woman's body as sacred as the temple of God. He is an outcast who touches a woman's body with irreverence, hatred or anger."
"A woman's body," says Manu the law giver, "must not be struck hard, even with a flower, because it is sacred." It is for this reason that the Hindus do not allow capital punishment for women.
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." No other Scripture of the world have ever given to the woman such equality with the man as the Vedas of the Hindus. The Old Testament, the Zend-Avesta and others, have made woman the scapegoat for all the crimes committed by man. The Old Testament, in describing the creation of woman and the fall of man, has established the idea that woman was created for man's pleasure; consequently her duty was to obey him implicitly. It makes her an instrument in the hands of Satan for the temptation and fall of the holy man with whom she was first enjoying the felicity of paradise.
The 126th hymn of the first book of the Rig Veda was revealed by a Hindu woman whose name was Romasha; the 179 hymn of the same book was by Lopamudra, another inspired Hindu woman. There are a dozen name of woman revealers of the Vedic wisdom, such as Visvavara, Shashvati, Gargi, Maitreyi, Apala, Ghosha, and Aditi, who instructed Indra, one of the Devas, in the higher knowledge of Brahman, the Universal Spirit. Everyone of them lived the ideal life of spirituality, being untouched by the things of the world. They are called in Sanskrit Brahmavadinis, the speakers and revealers of Brahman.
When Sankaracharya, the great commentator of the Vedanta, was discussing this philosophy with another philosopher, a Hindu lady, well versed in all the Scriptures, was requested to act as umpire. It is the special injuction of the Vedas that no married man shall perform any religious rite, ceremony, or sacrifice without being joined in by his wife; the wife is considered a partaker and partner in the spiritual life of her husband; she is called, in Sanskrit, Sahadharmini, "spiritual helpmate." This idea is very old, as old as the Hindu nation.
In the whole religious history of the world a second Sita will not be found. Her life was unique. She is worshipped as an Incarnation of God. India is the only country where prevails a belief that God incarnates in the form of a woman as well as in that of a man. In the Mahabharata we read the account of Sulabha, the great woman Yogi, who came to the court of King Janaka and showed wonderful powers and wisdom, which she had acquired through the practice of Yoga. This shows that women were allowed to practice Yoga. As in religion, Hindu woman of ancient times enjoyed equal rights and privileges with men, so in secular matters she had equal share and equal power with them. From the Vedic age women in India have had the same right to possess property as men; they could go to the courts of justice, plead their own cases, and ask for the protection of the law. Those who have read the famous Hindu drama called Shakuntala, know that Shakuntala pleaded her own case and claimed her rights in the court of King Dushyanata. Similar instance are mentioned in the 10th book of the Rig Veda. As early as 2000 B.C. Hindu women were allowed to go to the battle fields to fight against enemies. Sarama, one of the most powerful women of her day, was sent by her husband in search of robbers. She discovered their hiding place and then destroyed them. (source: India And Her People - By Swami Abhedananda - p. 255-267).
Women must be honored and adorned by their father, brothers, husbands, and brother-in-law who desire great good fortune. Where women, verily are honored, there the gods rejoice; where, however, they are not honored, there all sacred rites prove fruitless. Where the female relations live in grief -- that family soon perishes completely; where, however, they do not suffer from any grievance -- that family always prospers. ..
Her father protects her in childhood, her husband protects her in youth, her sons protect her in old age. The father who does not give away his daughter in marriage at the proper time is censurable; censurable is the husband who does not approach his wife in due season; and after the husband is dead, the son, verily is censurable, who does not protect his mother. Even against the slightest provocations should women be particularly guarded; for unguarded they would bring grief to both the families.
(My own understanding is that protection is also a form of service.)