The women’s movement has come a long way over centuries of struggle. Yet women’s rights are threatened today both in the Global North and South, with implications for the future directions, strategies, and tactics of feminism.
In the developed democracies of the Western world, we see a backlash aimed at denying or limiting women’s rights (e.g., the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in the United States, which has drastically affected women’s rights to bodily autonomy and health care). At the same time, the ascension of right-wing quasi-authoritarian populist movements and leaders in the Western world (such as Donald Trump in the US or Viktor Orbán in Hungary) reflects the entry of gender-based conspiracy theories into mainstream politics. These target the supposed threat of global(ist) forces that aim to impose a “woke agenda” upon entire societies – an agenda that includes feminism. In this respect, the American “culture wars” have gone global, impacting Western societies by transforming local conservative and reactionary groups and parties into a powerful and interconnected global movement, with a relatively unitary discourse that is, among other things, hostile to feminism.
A major factor underlying these trends is the global use of digital technologies (particularly social media). As mentioned in the previous section, we saw above, these technologies have served as an empowering tool connecting feminist activists across borders and cultures and enabling them to share information, discuss strategies, and mobilize for civic and political action. Yet they have also enabled and empowered forces of anti-feminist backlash.
Meanwhile, the Global South has seen the (re-)emergence of grassroots women’s rights movements, perhaps best illustrated by the anti-governmental protests in Iran triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the Morality Police (the Gasht-e Ershad). But here too, feminist activism is facing a strong backlash from undemocratic, illiberal regimes trying to silence women’s voices. The Iranian case is not an exception, but arguably illustrates a global trend. From Hungary and Russia to China and Myanmar (just to name a few), we are witnessing targeted governmental action against women’s rights and movements that usually result in arrests, physical violence towards activists, imprisonment, and even death.
To face these challenges, feminists today need to reassess their strategies regarding political messaging, revise their tactics for civic and political action and mobilization, and renew their ideological stance in light of new circumstances. Feminism may be threatened – but then again, it always has been. Feminism’s past thus points the way to its future, testifying to its proven ability to react, adapt, include, assert and mobilize its base in order to successfully challenge hegemonic patriarchal power structures.
- By looking at the status of women in your country, evaluate how feminism could inform policies for the betterment of women.
- What contemporary issues seem most pressing for feminists to address, in your view? How might feminists go about effecting change in these areas?
- Why should cis-gendered, male-identified persons be feminists? Or should they?
- Iran- MEPs want EU to sanction officials responsible for Mahsa Amini’s death © European Parliament is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license