Throughout time, feminism has learned a valuable lesson. The grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s where you water it. To achieve equality, it has been evidenced many times, that will not happen by letting others do the work for you. Women have stood up against the patriarchy and decided to take matters into their own hands, over several centuries now. This way, they have been able to make fundamental changes in society. We look back fondly at where women’s rights were 400 years ago in comparison to today’s modern-day and age, yet, some question whether or not true equality has ever been achieved. Nevertheless, there has been a long-running group of powerful women, amending the world we live in towards equality through constitutional breakthroughs.
Where did it start?
The women’s rights issues are not only battled during the last decades, but it has a long history throughout different centuries. The issues involve discrimination, violence against women, inequality in the work environment and more. Women faced the first issues in ancient Rome. Roman families were male-dominated, women were viewed as subordinates who took care of the household
and children. After the loss of the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C, women inherited the wealth of their husbands who lost their lives in the battle. The Oppian law was established to limit the number of gold women can possess, it as well required that all funds of wards, single women, and widows be deposited with the state (Reese, n.d). Other restrictions were established like that women cannot wear dresses with purple trim and cannot ride a carriage in Rome and towns near Rome. The Oppian law and other restrictions against women lead to protests in the streets when the majority of the Tribunal veto the proposed repeal of the Oppian law. The protest resolved into the withdraw of the veto and the approval of repealing this law (Reese, n.d).
The individuals who collaborated included men and women, to achieve equality for women and improving the living standard of women as a social group (Council of Europe, n.d). The women’s movement, also known as the feminist movement, can be categorized into multiple waves (Burkett, 2020). The first, second and third wave already occurred, whereas at the moment the society is experiencing the fourth wave. Each wave focuses on another goal regarding different issues created by society.
The first wave occurred in the 19th and early 20th century and focuses on women’s suffrage and the Seneca Falls Convention (History,2021). Different legal issues including gaining women’s suffrage were faced by the movement. It became a worldwide movement at the end of the 19th century since women faced the same issues in other countries. The Seneca Falls Convention was the first milestone within the United States of America, which addressed the issues women were facing within their daily life. In the 19th-, early 20th century multiple civil and political rights were restricted to women, which includes the right to receive the child’s custody, to own property, access to education, and the right to vote. New Zealand was the primary country to grant women the right to vote.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal” -Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1848
The second wave focuses on women’s liberation in the 1970s. Other than during the first wave, the feminist movement was focused on every area of a women’s experience. This involves politics, work, family, as well as sexuality (Burkett,2020). On August 26, 1970, a women’s strike for equality took place. The strike focused on equal opportunities for women within the work environment, more political rights and social equality in relationships. The right to have an abortion and free childcare were also discussed (Codsi,2015). In the 1970s women did not experience the same freedom and rights as men. In 1972 the Equal right Amendment was established in the United States of America (History,2021).
The third wave did not revolve around a specific goal, which the movement wanted to achieve. It started within the early 1990s. Women already had more opportunities compared to the first and second wave, because the accomplishment of both waves was granted to the society. Within this wave awareness of different topics were increased, like race, class, gender and sexual orientation (Council of Europe,n.d). The movement was facing different failures and backlashes against different initiatives and movement. In the previous waves, an image was created that the issues regarding women’s rights were only accurate to white women of the middle and high class. Within this wave, diverse groups and identities of women were included. Various issues were examined related to women on an international basis (Drucker, 2018).
The fourth wave began around 2012 and focuses on Cyberfeminism and networked feminism. The definition and meaning of this wave are still unclear. This wave resolved through the third wave and refers to feminism by using the internet, cyberspace and new media technologies (Council of Europe,n.d). The online environment is used nowadays to increase awareness as well as to create a better understanding of specific topics. An example where the fourth wave was used is the #metoo movement of 2017.
What are the constitutional breakthroughs?
Since the establishment of the United Nations, gender equality has been considered one of the most essential aspects of human rights. The Charter of the United Nations, which was adopted in 1945, sets out as one of its goals ‘’to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, [and] in the equal rights of men and women’’ (United Nations,1945).
Additionally, Art. 1 of the Charter sets out that the promotion of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, is to be considered one of the main purposes of the U.N.. It prohibits the ‘’distinction as to race, sex, language or religion’’. This is repeated in Art. 13 and Art. 55 (United Nations, 2014).
In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified, which too, signified the equal rights, privileges and liberties of men and women. What should be noted, is that whilst drafting the Declaration, there was quite the discussion surrounding the use of the term ‘’all men’’ as opposed to a gender-neutral term. At last, the Declaration was adopted along with the usage of the terms ‘’everyone’’ to solidify that the Universal Declaration was purposefully intended for everyone.
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai
Following the adoption and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), two treaties were drafted, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Alongside the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, these made up the International Bill of Human Rights (United Nations, 2014). When states decide to ratify these two Covenants or any other human rights treaties, they become legally binding. In addition, states also regularly communicate with bodies of experts, which provide exhortations on the steps necessary to convene the requirements and obligations set forth by the treaties. These bodies also supply authoritative expositions of the treaties and, when States agree, also examine individual accusations of violations of the treaties (Morsink, 1991).
Where do we stand today?
And even after all these battles, feminists still have to raise their voices to spread awareness today. Even though the feminist movement and many other partakers have been fighting against gender inequality
and for women’s rights, today’s world has a lot to learn. Many women all over the world are still not safe, although the overall situation improved ever since the feminists started to fight for their rights. So, the current situation is tense, especially after the most recent incident that occurred in London, where a woman was abducted and murdered on her way home and women all over the world are now, once again, protesting for women’s safety and a fair world for all genders (Hinsliff, 2021). And the most shocking fact is, that this incident was not an exception, women’s rights for safety and security are violated every day and 35% of all women worldwide have been the victim of rape, sexual violence or other assaults (UN Women, 2021).
So, it seems like feminism and people who stand up are still very much needed nowadays. Even though some people assume, that feminists are “only angry lesbians” or “women who believe women are better than men”. But it is not about that, it is about the fact, that feminists believe in the fact that women are not victims and that all genders have the right to equal political, economic and social power. And that is exactly where the difference between theory and practice lays. Women can vote, but still hold less than 20% of the seats in the U.S congress and women are also allowed to work in all fields these days, but the pay gap (23%) between men’s and women’s wages remains.
Boys are still being taught to be strong and girls to be cute, women are still expected to act and look a certain way and when it comes to childcare, women are the first ones to be expected to stay at home (Cavanagh, 2017). Thus, the fundamental view on gender roles and the role of women in society still need some modification towards an equal future. For these reasons, feminists frequently use events like parades, protests, demonstrations, marches and rallies to spread awareness to the topic of gender inequality and women’s rights issues. The U.S.A witnessed the Women’s March after Donald Trump’s installation in office with millions of protestors and these days, there are feminist protests in over 50 countries worldwide. Spanish feminists formed the biggest European protest in 2018 with the strike for women’s equality, Switzerland witnessed the biggest strike since 1918 with the swiss women’s strike in 2019 and Poland prevented the total ban of abortions in 2016 (Susemichel, 2020).
In the end, the feminist movement affected women’s rights positively over the last centuries. Although women are legally equal to men in most countries, and laws and declarations prevent the discrimination of women, there is a long way to go until all humans can feel safe and equally treated worldwide. Feminism is not a small movement of angry women that are frustrated by staying at home cooking and cleaning, it is a movement that supports women to claim their rights and to empower those who have been oppressed for decades and even centuries. Women have been confronted with issues regarding their rights ever since gender has been communicated openly. All women from ancient Rome to today has been confronted with gender inequality and for decades now, important feminists been raising awareness and fighting back. Women like Malala Yousafszai, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and many more have been smoothing the way for today’s feminist movement Feminism is not about taking away something from someone, it is about equally sharing. Thus, with the history of feminism, women’s rights issues and the constitutional breakthroughs in mind, the future of women, their perception and gender role and how much longer the feminist movement is needed lays in our hands.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” -D. Anderson
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