Patriarchal societies subsumed women’s identities into those of the men in their lives. They were identified as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers with no individual identity of their own. Their roles in these relationships defined them and more often than not, women had no agency of their own and were considered property of their men.
As I shared in a previous post of mine, once humans started to progress from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies they started to settle down which led to a sense of ownership and passing down of property. Women, the bearers of heirs had to be protected for the survival of the tribe. Due to high mother and infant mortality rates, and the fact that a woman was bearing a child almost every two years and was in a vulnerable position – she became a possession that needed to be protected and slowly came to be regarded as the property of men.
These behaviours and societal structures from centuries ago took root and gave birth to gender unequal practices that practically took away all rights from women and relegated them to job of running homes and producing babies. Women had no legal rights, no education, no property rights and so on.
Slowly as consciousness grew, so did the demand for equal rights for women. After World War II, lives of women in developed countries changed dramatically. Due to the advancement of science, life expectancy increased, household gadgets made housework lighter and a large number of jobs in the service sector emerged. However, gender inequalities remained.
Women’s movement rose in the U.S. While first-wave feminism of the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on women’s legal rights, such as the right to vote, the second-wave feminism of the “women’s movement” peaked in the 1960s and ’70s and touched on every area of women’s experience—including family, sexuality, and work.
Women’s movement in India also goes back a hundred years, the first phase, beginning in the mid-19th century, initiated when reformists began to speak in favour of women rights by making reforms in education, customs involving women etc. The second phase marks the induction of women in the nationalist movement (Gandhi incorporated women’s movements into the Quit India movement), the Constitution’s promise of gender equality – Indian women had the right to vote from the beginning. The third phase, post-independence, has focused on fair treatment of women at home after marriage, in the work force, and right to political parity.
These women’s movements, all non-violent brought much needed change to society and to our lives. If today we have some agency on our body – we have the right to birth control, or the right to vote or work, wear clothes we like, have laws in place that protect women, we have the early feminists to thank for that.
However, we all know very well that there is much to be done and women still continue to face challenges on all fronts. Moreover, gains that have made are not accessible to or enjoyed by all women. Those of us who have gained from these past movements are still some of the more privileged ones.
Now it is our duty to take this forward and make lives better for the future girls – across the globe.
This post is a part of #blogchatterA2Z.