The Financial Express

What makes a feminist?

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Can you think of a time when women did not have their own passport, could not vote and work in the military, or serve in a Jury? They didn’t even have the right to file for divorce or sue for sexual harassment.

Only a hundred years ago, this was the cogent reality.

Girls today must feel relieved, at least to some extent, thinking how lucky they are to be born or living in the 21st century, and being able to enjoy all those rights like men.

Even though it’s 2021, women are still struggling to establish their equal rights worldwide. Women have come across a long way but the path seems endless.

Women still make less money than their male counterparts being in the same job designation; they are underrepresented in the government; they shoulder more of the household burden; and women are deemed unworthy to become a marriage registrar in Bangladesh.

The grievances are the manifestations of feminism.

It is more like common sense than a movement. Feminism actually strives to achieve social, economic and political equality of all sexes.

Feminist history is often divided into three waves. The primary wave, occurring within the 19th and early 20th century, was principally involved with women’s right to vote. The second-wave feminism of the 1960s-1980s targeted problems with equality and discrimination.

The third-wave feminism began in the early 1990s, responding to perceived failures of the second wave and to the backlash against the second-wave initiatives. However, some of the feminists believe, we live in an era of the fourth wave where feminism is ever-rising.

A YouGov survey finds that 30 per cent of Americans now identify themselves as feminists, compared to 26 per cent in 2016. In the UK, about 27 per cent of women say ‘yes’ when asked if they were a feminist.

In Bangladesh, the number of those who consider them as feminists is also rising significantly. Why not? Every literate and dignified girl and each broad-minded man should perceive and believe in feminism.

The concept of feminism is not inherent. It develops from seeing, suffering, perceiving and experiencing. Several factors can be marked responsible for this process of development.

Thirst for equity

The most basic instinct of human beings is to hymn for equity. After all, equity makes sense always, doesn’t matter how you look at it. Most of the women aspire to be a feminist from the belief of equity. The urge to fight for equal rights, equal salary, and equal benefits often gives birth to a feminist.

Sexual assault, domestic violence

A report by the World Health Organization on ‘Violence Against Women’ states that nearly one-third of the world’s women are being subjected to sexual violence. Seven per cent of women in the world have been victims of rape, regardless of their age.

In person, encounters with rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, workplace assault and such menaces encouraged women to understand how their personal lives reflected sexist power structures every now and then.

Marwa Kazi Mohammed, co-founder of a nonprofit organisation named ‘The Resistance- a Feminist Network’, thinks that her personal grudges against misogynistic society, traumatic experience of molestation by a close relative and strangers have deep association with her present stronger self. Those incidents have shaped her ideologies and she is now more vocal and active against the wrongdoings and injustices of patriarchal society.

Open podium

In an interview with a US-based newspaper Times Union, Michelle Napierski-Prancl, chair of the department of history and society at Russell Sage College, said, "Social media has been a real avenue for women's voices, feminist voices, to be heard."

We live in a new age of feminism where women can share their thoughts and can be vocal about something on the internet. In earlier times, feminists had very limited options to spread their thoughts/messages. They had to either write books or go to the press to establish their feministic opinions.

Maisha Mahjabeen Priooty, an Instagram influencer, and her followers have helped each other grow more awareness about the issue. “Even though I was a feminist before getting into the social media and preached about feminism on my platform, my mass audience has helped me in circulating my thoughts. The majority here is very positive about feminism,” she said.

Desire for independence, legal protection

Be it physical, financial, or vocal, freedom is the last thing every human soul would want to lose. Independence makes a human powerful. Women have long been seeking independence and they are still striving for that. Not being able to travel anywhere safely, not being able to express thoughts, or experiencing pay gaps in the workplace, more often than not encourage a woman to adopt feminism.

Feminism might be one of the most controversial and questioned ideologies ever, but for those who have actually fathomed the concept, this is just another battle for human rights; similar to fighting against poverty, slavery, racism and so on.

Practicing feminism doesn’t necessarily mean you always have to be loud and protest being at a rally. It simply starts with self-awareness, self-care and care for others. When you are courageous, inclusive, ready to share your powers with others and you show zero tolerance to injustice, you have already evolved as a feminist; not by the label, but by actions.

Feminism or no Feminism, equity and a safe environment for women is a must and there’s no second thought. The sooner we realise that and act on it, the better.

Kaniz is a student of Geography and Environment at the University of Dhaka.

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