“We cannot all succeed if half of us are held back”.
The word ‘Feminism’ seems to refer to an intense awareness of ones identity as a woman and interest in feminine problems. Charles Fourier , a Utopian Socialist and French philosopher, is credited with having coined the word “feminisme” in 1837.
Feminism encompasses a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women . This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates the rights and equality of women.
According to Janet Richards,
“The essence of Feminism has a strong fundamental case intended to mean only that there are excellent reasons for thinking that women suffer from systematic social injustice because of their sex, the proposition is to be regarded as constituting feminism” .
Feminism is a movement,that translates to a group working to accomplish specific goals. Those goals are social and political change implying that one must be engaged with the government and law, as well as social practices and beliefs. And implicit to these goals is access to sufficient information to enable women to make responsible choices.
Feminist campaigns are generally considered to be one of the main forces behind major historical changes for women’s rights, particularly in the West, where they are nearuniversally credited with having achieved women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English , reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property .
The history of the modern western feminist movements is divided into three “waves”. Each wave dealt with different aspects of the same feminist issues
Firstwave feminism was a period of activity during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the UK and US, it focused on the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. By the end of the nineteenth century, activism focused primarily on gaining political power, particularly the right of women’s suffrage ,though some feminists were active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive , and economic rights as well
This first phase of feminism in India was initiated by men to uproot the social evils of sati (widow immolation), to allow widow remarriage, to forbid child marriage, and to reduce illiteracy, as well as to regulate the age of consent and to ensure property rights through legal intervention. In addition to this, some upper caste Hindu women rejected constraints they faced under Brahminical traditions. However, efforts for improving the status of women in Indian society were somewhat thwarted by the late nineteenth century, as nationalist movements emerged in India. These movements resisted ‘colonial interventions in gender relations’ particularly in the areas of family relations. In the mid to late nineteenth century, there was a national form of resistance to any colonial efforts made to ‘modernise’ the Hindu family. This included the Age of Consent controversy that erupted after the government tried to raise the age of marriage for women. Several Indian states were ruled by women during British colonial advance including Jhansi ( Rani Laxmibai ), Kittur ( Rani Chennama ), Bhopal (Quidisa Begum) and Punjab ( Jind Kaur ).
Secondwave feminists see women’s cultural and political inequalities as inextricably linked and encourage women to understand aspects of their personal lives as deeply politicized and as reflecting sexist power structures. The feminist activist and author Carol Hanisch coined the slogan “The Personal is Political”, which became synonymous with the second wave. The 1920s was a new era for Indian women and is defined as ‘feminism’ that was responsible for the creation of localised women’s associations. These associations emphasised women’s education issues, developed livelihood strategies for workingclass women, and also organised national level women’s associations such as the All India Women’s Conference. AIWC was closely affiliated with the Indian National Congress. Under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi , it worked within the nationalist and anticolonialist freedom movements.
Women’s participation in the struggle for freedom developed their critical consciousness about their role and rights in independent India . This resulted in the introduction of the franchise and civic rights of women in the Indian constitution. There was provision for women’s upliftment through affirmative action , maternal health and child care provision equal pay for equal work etc. The state adopted a patronising role towards women. For example, India’s constitution states that women are a “weaker section” of the population, and therefore need assistance to function as equals. Thus women in India did not have to struggle for basic rights as did women in the West. However, the utopia ended soon when the social and cultural ideologies and structures failed to honour the newly acquired concepts of fundamental rights and democracy.
Thirdwave feminism arose as a response to the perceived failures and backlash against initiatives and movement created by second wave of feminism during the 1960s to 1980s, and realization that woman are of, many colours, ethnicities, nationalists, religions and cultural background. The third wave embraces sees diversity and change. In this wave there is no allencompassing single feminist idea. Third wave feminism seeks to challenge or avoid what it deems the second wave’s “ essentialists’’ definition of feminity, which often assumed a female identity and overemphasized the experiences of uppermiddle class white woman. Third wave ideology focusses on more poststructuralism interpretation of gender and sexuality. Third wave theory usually incorporates elements of queer theory; antiracism and womanofcolor consciousness; womanism; girl power; postcolonial; postmodernism; transnationalism; ecofeminism; individualist feminism; new feminist theory, transgender politics, and a rejection of the gender binary.
In India, post independence feminists began to redefine the extent to which women were allowed to engage in the workforce. Feminists in the 1970s challenged the inequalities that had been established and fought to reverse them. These inequalities included unequal wages for women, relegation of women to ‘unskilled’ spheres of work, and restricting women as a reserve army for labour. In other words, the feminists’ aim was to abolish the free service of women who were essentially being used as cheap capital. Feminist classconsciousness also came into focus in the 1970s, with feminists recognising the inequalities not just between men and women but also within power structures such as caste, tribe, language, religion, region, class etc. This also posed as a challenge for feminists while shaping their overreaching campaigns as there had to be a focus within efforts to ensure that fulfilling the demands of one group would not create further inequalities for another. Now, in the early twentyfirst century, the focus of the Indian feminist movement has gone beyond treating women as useful members of society and a right to parity, but also having the power to decide the course of their personal lives and the right of selfdetermination.
In conclusion, the study shows feminism is a struggle for equality of women. The agonistic definition of feminism sees it as the struggle against all forms of patriarchal and sexiest aggression.