Feminism is a belief or idea which seeks to promote the equal opportunities for women in a variety of fields, including education, economic empowerment, professional development, health, and political involvement. It is a social movement which stems from the assertion that the male gender has dominated these fields at the expense of their female counterparts. (Basu, 2018)
Feminist campaigners have argued that women’s rights, for example, to participate in politics, land public appointments, education, or pursue a desirable career, has not been given similar attention like it has been the case with men (Johnson, et al. 2013). They have affirmed that, whereas men appear to have an almost natural path of access to such opportunities, for women it has often been a case of the struggle for consideration and recognition. Women, they opine, have had to put twice as much effort as men to earn their place at work for equal pay, claim legal rights to own property, get elected into political positions and participate in enterprise development. (Daymond, 2013)
It might be essential to examine historical perspectives feminism movements to find a position in this deliberation. Traditionally, both male and female gender, appear to have been socialized into defined roles among all the communities of the world. From a tender age, boys and girls got different upbringing; the argument is that, regarding physical structure, they are different. Equally, regarding capability, either gender is differently enabled, with men considered physically and emotionally stronger (Basu, 2016)
Opinion has often been divided as far as that assessment and its implication is concerned, but since time immemorial, men and women have played different roles in the family and other social spheres. However, as civilizations moved from one epoch to another, the parameters used in judging gender roles and allocating opportunities have come under scrutiny, thereby posing a substantial question whether we should consider a departure from tradition. (Johnson, et al 2013).
It is on the basis of such consideration and re-evaluation, that feminist proponents have risen and chosen to deviate from the norm, staking a claim to efforts at bridging the gender disparities and accord women the opportunities that they deserve in life (Luke, et al. 2014). From the onset of the 19th century, feminist ideologies started to emerge in western societies demand equality in marriage, parenting responsibility and property ownership. Initially active in the United Kingdom and the United States, such ideologies quickly spread to mainland Europe and other British spheres like Australia and New Zealand (Basu, 018).
As the campaigns spread into other regions, it also began to widen in scope, and many feminist proponents began to spearhead sexual, reproductive and economic rights for women. Countries like Australia and New Zealand started to enact constitutional rights for women to participate in political voting (Luke, et al. 2014).
Feminist campaigners in the US initially began with calls to abolish slavery, before going full-fledged on women’s rights, and were hugely influenced by Quaker theology which affirmed that all people, men, and women are equal before God (Basu, 2014). This first campaigns for political inclusivity for women came to be known as First wave feminism and were referred to as suchoerder to differentiate them with another category of drives which were mainly concerned with social justice and cultural integration in addition to political rights for women. This second category was therefore referred to as ‘Second wave’ feminism. Soon countries like China and the Arab nations were to follow with legal and social reforms aimed at achieving women’s rights integration into their systems (Daymond, 2013).
In France for example, where women’s rights campaigns had only started around early 1900, legislative amendments of 1944 brought about the awarding of full citizenship to women, who had previously been considered as inferior to their male counterparts (Basu, 2016). In the larger Europe, much of the women’s rights gained momentum in the mid-twentieth century with countries like Switzerland only granting women the rights to vote in social issues as late as 1991. In other European countries like Liechtenstein, women s rights were only adopted in 1984 after nearly three attempts at national referenda had failed (Basu, 2018).
Legislations in most of the European countries under the Family Law, forbade women from seeking work unless by permission from their husbands. Such legislation also prohibited prosecution of husbands on the accusation of rape by their wives. Only much later did it become a criminal act for men to be accused of marital rape from the latter part of most Western countries (Daymond, 2013). In many parts of the world, these freedoms and rights are not yet anchored in law, and feminist proponents in these countries grapple issues such as gender-based violence which still is considered acceptable in such parts of the world.
In most African countries, feminist proponents have been at the forefront of agitating against violence against women, which in traditional societies was considered acceptable. Husbands were believed to have the right to discipline their wives and limit their participation in certain aspects of life in society. Although in some traditional communities women rose to become leaders or tribal queens, the majority were yet to receive full social status and remained a few rungs below men in the social order (Daymond, 2013).
In the pursuit of formal education, most communities considered it a waste of resources to educate girls. The premise being that,t once the girl is married off, they would be of particular benefit to the community that raised them, anyway. Furthermore, in their new home, they wouldn’t be in a position to put their education to any good use since they are provided for by their husbands. In cases where women were able to engage in meaningful economic activities, they had to contend with lower pay as well, compared to the men (Luke, et al 2014).
In Egypt, former President Nasser engineered a state feminist policy which granted women the freedoms to participate in political elections but denied them any form of political activism. However, with Islamic conservatism being on the rise in recent years, many of these Islamic states have moved further away from feminist ideologies. For example, in Iran, after initial activism in feminist ideologies were espoused by the Family Protection Law, they were later banned by state and in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution which introduced Sharia Law (Daymond, 2013)
Women and Feminist Ideologies
What has been the driving force behind such feminist ideologies? Further, how did many women view feminist ideologies at their initial conception? These are some of the questions to be grappled with in examining feminist ideologies. Initial feminist ideologies were considered to have been biased in design as their ideas were tailored to an upper middle class of citizens and some cultural perspective thought to lean towards white thinking. The emergence of other feminist idealists and proponents came on board on argued that they needed a different model which looked at core women issues, not necessarily from white middle-class perspective (Luke, et al. 2014).
The initial campaigns were said to have espoused attitudes of college-educated women while ignoring the vast majority of uneducated women or the other lot lacking college education but who felt they too had grievances which needed to be agitated (Johnson, et al 203). Moreover, black women, for example, who joined the bandwagon of gender campaigns felt detached from the issues raised by their white counterparts. They felt there needed to be a platform that would speak to more ethnic or culture-specific groups and take into account their different inclinations (Basu, 2016).
Their concerns appear to have been justified since a great deal of disconnect was realized with the so-called second wave feminist movements. Their focus on social rights exposed a massive divide between different classes of women(Basu, 2018). As the issues around feminist movements expanded, there are those who felt that all women’s problems with their male counterparts are ingratiated into politics. They felt that political power was at the center of every struggle for feminist recognition. This has given rise to the emergence of ‘Third Wave Feminism.'(Johnson, et al 2013)
From the aforementioned, it can be inferred that many women had initially felt grossly ignored by the on-going feminist campaigns of the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is because whereas it was led by college-educated white women, their campaigns were projected as universally targeting concerns for all womenfolk. Even among the white communities of the western civilizations, there were gaps with those who had college education on the one hand and those who did not, on the other (Daymond, 2013).
In Asian and African countries, furthermore, the context of these campaigns was thought to take a completely different dimension as their immediate concerns were different. From African-American women whose first major concerns were civil liberties and economic empowerment, to Asian Islamic women who were concerned religious and social rights. The political nature of the campaigns also came with sectoral interests and political leanings with liberalism and conservatism playing essential roles (Luke, et al. 2014).
This meant that the various interest groups had to be taken into consideration and that to achieve any meaningful gains, each of them had to be brought on bought. Politics play an important part because there are those who view the capitalist hegemony in the corporate industry is part and parcel of the oppressive regime which they need to reform (Basu, 2018). However, there are those who argue that gender roles are socially and intrinsically intertwined with the political dispensations and can therefore not be separated from one another.
Meaningful feminist progress can only be achieved by taking into account all these particular interest groups and bringing them on board. Where different groups feel left out, then they would not feel part of the deliberations. Moreover, with several emerging social trends like sexuality put a different dimension to this campaigns (Luke, et al 2014).
In other parts of the world, culture has been a significant perspective on progress or otherwise of the feminist campaigns. In much of the Muslim communities, traditional perceptions of gender relations and gender roles are much more solidly grounded with most of the people forming established ideologies, which would take long to transform. This is coupled with religious beliefs which have been in existence for ages. Women on their part have come to accept these traditional perceptions as part of their orientation (Johnson, et al. 2013.)
In Africa, traditional beliefs form an essential part of the cultural setup of the community and the belief system. Girls and boys being integrated into the societal system in different ways (Luke, et al. 2014). The traditions are much more ingrained and breaking barriers present a much bigger challenge which requires communal effort. Where the womenfolk accept the status quo, it becomes even more of a problem that conventional feminist campaigns cannot solve. Therefore in societies like these, there are many obstacles which have to be overcome (Basu, 2018)
More challenging issues are those around poverty and economic deprivation which revolve around the much-maligned violence against women. In communities which are poor, men tend to vent their collective anger on women, probably unable to face up to their inadequacies. Such issues require much more tact as they involve very delicate relationships between men and women. In the traditional setup, the men were more confident because they had the means to provide for their families (Johnson, et al 2013).
When economic the dynamics changed, and the means to economic gains also changed, men found themselves in very precarious positions where they could no longer exercise absolute authority over women. Control of financial resources is therefore at the very heart of these feminist campaigns, and to make tangible progress then, economic empowerment forms a critical part of them (Luke, et al 2014). What’s more, as women have slowly but surely asserted themselves by staking a claim to a space in the economic opportunities, they have become more inclined to propagate a different kind of campaign.
It is important however to note that women have had emphatically asserted themselves in other spheres of life like music, arts, and sports. Where individuals rely on their talents, it becomes a lot easier to achieve gender recognition (Basu, 2018). This is especially so because it involves individual effort and the reward system does not necessarily rely on public acceptance. In some areas like literature, there are obstacles to overcome since women writers may still have to contend with a male-dominated publishing industry (Daymond, 2013).
All in all, it is generally accepted that a lot more effort needs to be put in place to improve on measures of equality. Whether by females or moles, gender equality is an idea whose time has come (Basu, 2016). If it is in regards to ability, womenfolk have proved that given an opportunity, they can achieve their best. There should, therefore, be no bias regarding gender in granting breaks whether in politics, sports or economic empowerment.
- Luke, Carmen, and Jennifer Gore. Feminisms and critical pedagogy. Routledge, 2014.
- Basu, Amrita. The challenge of local feminisms: Women’s movements in global perspective. Routledge, 2018.
- Daymond, Margaret J., ed. South African Feminisms: Writing, Theory, and Criticism, 1990-1994. Routledge, 2013.
- Basu, Amrita. Women’s movements in the global era: The power of local feminisms. Hachette UK, 2016.
- Johnson, Janet Elise, and Aino Saarinen. ‘Twenty-first-century feminisms under repression: Gender regime change and the women’s crisis center movement in Russia.’ Signs Journal of Women in Culture and Society 38.3 (2013): 543-567.