Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerned with the experiences of women. It is especially concerned with the social, political, and economic inequalities between men and women. In simple words, feminism is the belief in social, political, and economic equalities of the sexes and the movement organized around this belief.
Feminism commonly encompasses issues like right to safe, violence within a domestic partnership, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, street harassment, discrimination, and rape. Many feminists argue today that feminism is the grass- root movement that seeks to cross boundaries, based on social classes, race, culture, and religion; is culturally specific and addresses relevant to women of that society and debate the extent to which certain issues, such as rape, incest, and mothering are universal.
Advocates of equality of sexes and rights of women can be found throughout history. Exempli-gratia, Empress Theodora of Byzantium was a proponent of legislation that would afford great protections and freedoms to her female subjects, Christine de Pezan, the first professional female writer, advanced many feminist ideas as early as the 1300s, in the face of attempts to restrict female inheritance and guild membership. However, feminism as a widespread philosophy and social movement would not solidify for several more centuries.
The history of feminism reaches far back before the 18th century, but the seeds of feminist movement were planted during the later part of that century. The earliest work on the so-called “women question” criticized the restrictive role of women, without unavoidably claiming that women were disadvantages or that men were to blame.
Prior to 1850:
Feminism as a philosophy and movement in the modern sense is often dated to the enlightenment with such thinkers as Lady Mary Woertley Montegu and the Marquis de Condorcet championing women’s education and many liberals, such as Jeremy Bentham, demanding equal rights to women in every sense. The first scientific society for women was founded in Middleberg, a city in the south of the Dutch Republic, in 1785. Journals for women, which focused on issue like science, became popular during this period as well.
Late 19th century:
The movement is generally said to have begun in the 18th century as people increasingly came to believe that women were treated unfairly under the law. The feminist movement is rooted in the West and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The organized movement is dated from the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The footprints of movement during this period were mostly found in Britain in form of Women’s social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the founders of suffrage movement, which aimed to reveal the institutional sexism in British Society. In France, the movement after fall of conservative Luis Phillip exploded throughout Paris. However because of the emergence of a new, more conservative government in 1852, Feminism in France would have to wait until the Third French Republic
Many countries began to grant women the vote in the early years of the 20th century, especially in the final years of the First World War and the first years after the war. The reasons for this varied, but included a desire to recognize the contributions of women during the war, and were also influenced by rhetoric used by both sides at the time to justify their war efforts. For example, since Wilson's Fourteen Points recognized self-determination as a vital component of society, the hypocrisy of denying half the population of modern nations the vote became difficult for men to ignore.
In both World Wars, manpower shortages brought women into traditionally male occupations, ranging from munitions manufacturing and mechanical work to a female baseball league. By demonstrating that women could do "men's work", and highlighting society's dependence on their labor, this shift encouraged women to strive for equality. In World War II, the popular icon Rosie the Riveter became a symbol for a generation of working women.
One problem feminists have encountered in the late 20th century is a strong backlash against perceived zealotry on their part. This backlash may be due to the visibility of some radical feminist activism that has been inaccurately perceived as representing the feminist movement as a whole. Many women, and some men, have become reluctant to be identified as feminists for this reason. Outside of the West, feminism is often associated with Western colonialism and Western cultural influence, and is therefore often delegitimized. Feminist groups therefore often prefer to refer to themselves as "women's organizations" and refrain from labeling themselves feminists.
Feminism in India- Women empowerment:
In the early 20th century the world had started realizing the contribution of women, their efficiency and effectiveness in every aspect of life. The reason for this varied, but during both the world wars by demonstrating that women could do men’s work they showed the society’s dependence on their labor. After both the world wars they started striving for equality.
The democratic process in India created awareness among the women about their spiteful conditions. The principle of gender equality is enshrined in the Indian constitution in its preamble, fundamental rights, fundamental duties, and directive principle. The constitution of India not only grants equality to women, but also empowers the state to adopt the measures of positive discrimination in favor of women. The Indian government has passed various legislations to safeguard constitutional rights to women. These legislative measures include, the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), the Hindu Succession Act (19560, Dowry Prohibition Act (1961), Equal Remuneration Act (1976), Child marriage Restraint Act (1976), Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (1986), Prenatal Diagnostic technique (Regulation and Prevention of Measure) Act (1994).
The 73rd and 74th Amendments (1993) to the constitution of India provided for reservation of seats (at least one-third) in the local bodies of panchayats and municipalities for women. Another constitutional amendment (84th constitutional amendment Act, 1998) reserving 33 percent seats in parliament and state legislatures are in pipeline.
Apart from these, various welfare measures have been taken up by the government from time to time to empower to the women. They are the support to training for – Employment Program (1987), Mahila Samriddhi Yojana (1993), the Rastriya Mahila Kosh (1992-93), Indira Mahila Yojana (1995), and Balika Samriddhi Yojana (1997).
The Indian government in 1953 established a Central Social Welfare Board with a nation wide program for grants in aid for women. The separate department of women and child development was set up at the centre in 1985 to give a distinct identity and to provide a nodal point on matters relating to women’s development. National Commission on Women was created by an Act of parliament in 1992.
Beside these India has also ratified various international conventions and human rights instruments committing to secure equal rights of women. Key among them is ratification of the convention of Elimination of All Form of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993.
The women issues have received tremendous attention in the planning circle and in wide intellectual discussions and forums at national and global platforms. However the existing lacuna in the formulation and execution of the policies has not changed the grass root situation to a great extent.
The emancipation of women is not a simple issue. Above provisions surely ensure of legal protection of women’s rights, but socio-economic rights of freedom and decision-making is still not realized to the extent of social empowerment. One of the reasons is the rigid patriarchal structure of the Indian Society. The rate of illiteracy among women hampers the awareness and the claims of such provisions. The distinct socialization of girls from the beginning also contributes to the easy acceptance of suppression by women.
The changing trends of education and employment among women have relatively transformed the situation towards the positive direction. However the nature of problem has also changed its direction in the sense that crime against women in the working places are at steep rise. The workable and pragmatic commitments of the Government of India at various forums and National Policy for the empowerment of women can prove to be a milestone in ensuring women’s rights and facilitate women empowerment.
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