Feminism is currently in a backslide in the U.S. And around the world, there are increasingly more attacks on women’s liberties and lives – even in democracies like ours. The war on women is global. And so is the fight against it. You spoke up in the comments of our ‘Death of Feminism’ video in droves – and you were right. A purely American lens on feminism leaves out the majority of the world, and the struggle for women’s liberation hasn’t ended.
Thanks to social media and our increased accessibility to global news, we’re witnessing havoc wreaked against women on an international scale at a speed and volume that was not possible in any other century. But with our liberties—and the liberties of women in our global community—being threatened, we can’t afford to burn out now. Here’s our take on how the global war on women has reached a breaking point – and how we can fight back by learning from other women in similar positions around the world.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade confirmed what many had been fearing – feminism is currently in a backslide in the U.S. And the international backdrop of this decision is a bleak one. Around the world, there are increasingly more attacks on women’s liberties and lives – even in democracies like ours. The war on women is global. And so is the fight against it.
“Women, life, freedom! Women, life, freedom!”- Vice News
You spoke up in the comments of our ‘Death of Feminism’ video in droves – and you were right. A purely American lens on feminism leaves out the majority of the world, and the struggle for women’s liberation hasn’t ended. Globally – it’s seeing wins and losses. While a literal war wages on in Ukraine, women are disproportionately impacted – as gender gaps in food and finance are widened and gender-based violence has increased. Women in Afghanistan are being banned from public places, such as parks and gyms, and more recently – have been suspended from attending their universities.
In Argentina, activists fought against anti-abortion laws and gendered economic violence – and helped secure the legalization of abortion, while 91 million women live in countries where abortion is prohibited for any reason. And nothing has brought the global war on women to the forefront quite like the protests gripping Iran – where a wave of fury was unleashed in reaction to hijab laws and police brutality – and the public as a whole continues to rage.
Autocracy and patriarchy are on the rise – it seems as a direct response to some of the progress we’ve made in recent years. Harvard Kennedy School researchers, Zoe Marks and Erica Chenoweth stated, “The backlash against feminist progress that’s overtaking the U.S. is part of a global trend. Free and empowered women are a threat to authoritarianism worldwide—and the autocrats know it.”
New fights are cropping up so quickly and with such intensity, it can be difficult to keep track of it all. Thanks to social media and our increased accessibility to global news, we’re witnessing havoc wreaked against women on an international scale at a speed and volume that was not possible in any other century. But with our liberties—and the liberties of women in our global community—being threatened, we can’t afford to burn out now.
Here’s our take on how the global war on women has reached a breaking point – and how we can fight back by learning from other women in similar positions around the world.
CHAPTER 1: America – The Struggle Starts At Home
The US has historically been known as a beacon for democracy and women’s progress – so recent developments like the overturning of Roe v. Wade sparked fears that the American government was waging a new war against women. But in reality, this war and the erosion of gender equality has been ramping up for years. Back in 2017, the OECD reported: “The lack of paid parental leave and inadequate access to good-quality, affordable childcare means that many American women cannot fully participate in the economy and in society.”
And in response to the host of glaring problems still facing women – specifically the fact that they’re continuously subjected to sexual assault – a new feminist revolution was kicked off.
#MeToo began with one Black American woman – Tarana Burke – and then rippled across the world. India, China, Mexico, Australia and Nigeria all repurposed the movement to shed light on issues relevant to their experiences, like #Sex4Grades, a Nigerian and Ghanian callout against students experiencing sexual harrassment from professors, or #LetHerSpeak in Australia, which pushed back against sexual assault on campus and challenged the gag order that prevented victims from self-identifying publicly or speaking about their assault. But, as important as these movements were and are, the popularity of feminism came at a cost.
The once potent political movement was co-opted quickly by rich, cisgendered white women who become the face of the movement in America despite the fact that they benefit the most from the system of patriarchy. And once women of color and other marginalized women weren’t the focus, feminism shifted from radical to palatable. It became something often used for aesthetics, marketability and posturing.
Maria Wantnabe: “Unfortunately this privileging of collective choice leaves behind all of the women who aren’t able to “choose” the most subversive options. Choice feminists champion individual choice while ignoring the gendered patterns of the collective choices of women.”- marinashutup
And when the culture pendulum swings in one direction, it often swings back toward the other.
Once feminism lost some of its appeal here, conservative ideals started cropping up more and more. Women-led communities, like TikTok’s “trad-wives” and “stay-at-home girlfriends” are using the leftovers of choice feminism to further their rigid and conservative approach to relationships. In fact, it’s a tactic for authoritarians to get women like this to support their backwards movements – by putting wifehood and motherhood at the forefront to seem more appealing. And despite the fact that men still have overwhelmingly more political and economic power – the popularity of feminism led many cis-het men to feel like their lives and masculinity were under attack. So they started to resist and retaliate. Enter: the self-proclaimed “alpha male” – a new, alarmingly popular trend amongst young men.
Outside of social media, the non-virtual world isn’t faring any better. The economic, physical, and social impact of COVID-19 on women has been immeasurable. In the first ten months following the nationwide shelter-in-place order, more than 5 million women lost their jobs. And only a fraction have gotten them back. Women reentered the world and were met with new voting restrictions that impacted them disproportionately – and had their bodily autonomy stripped away.
To push back – we need a recalibration of feminism that puts intersectionality at the forefront. We can start by reorienting ourselves on what feminism actually is: the political, social and economic liberation of women – and by taking a look outside our own borders.
CHAPTER 2: The Global Fight Rages On
While feminism might be having a sort of mid-life crisis in the United States, it’s alive and well in many parts of the world – as women are finding new ways to fight back against structural oppression. For that reason, we should look to them for our next steps.
The death of Mahsa Amini, who was taken into custody by Iran’s “morality police” for how she wore her headscarf and died shortly after, has become a catalyst for what some are calling Iran’s “George Floyd” moment. Iranian women have been enraged by her death, taking to the streets by the thousands and burning their the hijabs in mounds. The phrase “Women. Life. Liberty.” is being shouted by all women—from young girls to old women. After months of civil unrest, Iran has displayed a mixed response to the protests – with some officials hinting that the morality police may be abolished while others say this is far from the truth. Iran’s protests are still being covered worldwide because women are taking to the streets and refusing to be compliant in any sense of the word. In fact, they’ve increased their organizing. Iranian women also have a razor-sharp focus on what they want—to be liberated and safe as they move through their day, to dress as they please without needing their government’s permission. And they’re making huge sacrifices to ensure that, including jail time and, in a few cases, their lives.
In China, the government effectively censored women during the #metoo movement and since the movement took hold in 2018, some of its figureheads have been detained or gone missing under mysterious circumstances. Research suggests some of the violence stems from China’s previous birthing policies – promoting male babies over female babies. Lena Edlund of Columbia University and her co-authors found that in China, for every 1% rise in the ratio of men to women, violent and property crime rose by 3.7%.” But women like Yuan Feng – who’s working to end domestic violence in China – continue to speak out despite the censorship and targeted harassment they experience. Feng says, “The root cause of domestic violence is gender inequality. If we don’t tackle this issue, we can only solve the symptoms, we cannot treat it.” And the creativity Chinese women are using to evade censorship is nothing short of genius.
“Feminists have been using the emojis for rice and bunny, pronounced ‘Mi tu’ in Mandarin, as one of many homphones to avoid evade censors. It became a symbol of the movement.- BBC News
By considering their oppressors’ tools, they’ve learned how to side step these measures.
Closer to our border, women are experiencing some of the highest rates of femicide in the world – leading to an epidemic of violence towards women in Latin America. But the women in these countries are fighting back. In Argentina, Mexico, and Columbia, abortion has recently been decriminalized thanks to their political movement the “Green Wave”. And the “Ni Una Menos” collective Women have broken through hundreds of years of conservative dogma for their reproductive freedom by staying vigilant, organized and insistent. They hold widespread and sustained protests and strikes, while ensuring the queer, indigenous and low-income women are centered.
In Mexico, abortion pills are hundreds of dollars cheaper and far more easily accessed than in some parts of America, making traveling to Mexico a potential solution for people in states by the U.S.-Mexico border, where abortion has been banned since the fall of Roe v Wade. Reproductive rights advocates in Mexico are already working with the women of Texas to secure safe and home-bound abortions. This is the future of feminism. Women working across borders, both figurative and literal, in solidarity with one another for their liberation. On an international scale, women are rejecting the conservative limitations that impact their bodily autonomy—whether that’s their ability to have an abortion, wear certain clothes, or simply exist in public spaces. Despite the conditions they’ve been subjected to, these women keep organizing and continuing their fights. And, in the case of many of these countries, they are winning.
CHAPTER 3: If We Fail Women, We All Fail
The fact that these women-led movements have seen so much success actually makes a lot of sense. According to Foreign Affairs, “historically, movements that feature women in large numbers are more likely than those that are male dominated to lead to democratic breakthroughs.”
There’s an undoubtable connection between the prioritization of women and the success of a movement – or even an entire nation. According to the Economist, nations who more strongly oppress women are statistically more violent and less stable. In places where or times when women are forced out of education or pushed into polygamous marriages, they are more vulnerable to domestic violence and less visible in high-level decision-making in their countries – which inevitably creates dangerous living conditions for the entire population.
Hillary Clinton: “Women’s equality is not just a moral issue it’s not just a humanitarian issue it is not just a fairness issue it is a security issue” TED Talks
And the reverse is true as well – when women are free and educated – nations see positive results. Just look at a place like Afghanistan – where in the early 2000s, after Taliban rule was toppled – female enrollment in school skyrocketed from 0% to 80%...and infant mortality rates fell dramatically.
But now that progress is in jeopardy – and Afghan women are refusing to go backwards. Strengthening women’s meaningful participation in peace processes has been shown to build lasting peace. And women could even hold the key to solving world hunger. Feed the Future – the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative – conducted research that found “[women] make up nearly half the agricultural workforce in developing countries and, when they have equal access to land and other inputs, their yields can improve by 20–30 percent, feeding up to 150 million more people.” And yet – in many countries, women are prevented from owning land or rising to leadership positions in the agriculture industry – preventing us all from seeing progress.
Right here in America, we’re experiencing firsthand what happens when women are sidelined in the economy. During and post-pandemic, we lost women in the American workforce in staggering numbers, and the impact of that in female-led industries, like teaching or nursing, are still being felt.
Failing women is clearly not an option – so we need to focus on goals that will impact women across the board: like racial equity, reinforcing community-based care, and reducing domestic violence. UN Women has suggested solutions like women participating in the legal reform process and increasing the presence of programs that educate women and men about women’s rights and the threat of violence against women. And perhaps most notably – they stressed the importance of organizing to raise our voices – stating that “media can be a doubly-powerful tool, spreading messages of gender equality and women’s empowerment at the grassroots level, all while bringing women together to build and strengthen networks of peacebuilders and decision-makers.”
As Harvard researcher Erica Chenoweth states, “[T]he United States must see these assaults on women’s equality as assaults on democracy…[we] cannot afford to treat these issues as separate any more.” And we not only have a responsibility to protect women here in America, but around the world. We don’t experience the level of repercussions that women in other countries face – personally, economically and politically. That privilege coupled with the fact that decisions made here by our legislators embolden other countries to push their anti-woman agendas heightens our responsibility.
Feminism earned us the ability to vote and, for many, economic independence and bodily autonomy. What we are witnessing should not be the death of feminism – but the beginning of a shift for feminism’s next iteration. The red wave turned red \flop of the 2022 midterms went against decades of predictive data; women are secretly opening their homes to other women seeking abortions, that are fleeing their own state’s restrictions and the level of confrontation that women are demonstrating globally are positive signs of a better future. The feminist movement in America can take its shortcomings of the last decade to fuel a reemergence where we are better organized, more intersectional, and more intentional in our actions.
Kim Drew Wright: “When you say in order for this to happen, women must step up and lead - women will stand up.”- TEDx Talks