Feminism is not a rare term. In fact, despite it only really existing for around 50 years, I’d say it’s now a part of household vocabulary. Most people, at some point, have heard or used the term feminism, and many women today would consider themselves a feminist. Now, I am no exception, believe me. I grew up with a mother who wrote her thesis on feminism and a father who occasionally mansplains feminist ideology to me. I eat, sleep and breathe feminism, and I assumed everyone else did as well, but not everyone does. The feminism that people outside the West live with is incredibly different to what I grew up talking about.
The definition of feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. And, whilst in pretty much all countries there are movements for equality, what is being fought for varies so much internationally that they can barely even be grouped together. The feminist movement’s focus in the West has been for equal treatment, equal pay and fighting against the Pink Tax (all important issues), while in other parts of the world people are protesting to prevent child marriages, fighting to keep girls in school after they start their periods and marching against the oppressive control of women’s bodies. Women’s issues across the globe are not the same.
A key difference between “Western feminism” and other movements is that a lot of the time, we are marching for better treatment, whereas others are marching for humane treatment. Women are treated much better in England than in Chad or Sierra Leone or Pakistan. The treatment that women are fighting to improve here is a dream to some of these women. We ask to make sanitary products free; they dream about having access to basic sanitation. In Afghanistan, there are women who risk execution to hide their daughters from their husbands – many who were married before they even hit puberty. Countries in central Africa are still trying to pass laws to prevent FMG.
I want to pose a question: does the feminist movement in the West hold any weight in comparison to what these women face? Can we really help fight to prevent these abuses in ways other than raising awareness and giving financial support if we will never understand the experiences of the women in these countries?
As I make these points, I wonder if feminism can even be seen as an equivalent ideology outside the West. A lot of these protests and movements that I’ve talked about are fighting for survival -for the right to live – rather than fighting for equal treatment as we are seeing in the West. Let’s look at what a lot of feminists in the West do to exercise their equal treatment: they might not shave, not wear makeup, wear pink to the office to point out that you can look pretty whilst having high powered jobs.
These are all important and somewhat effective at achieving the aims we are trying to fulfil, but they don't equate to what women in the countries mentioned above face. So, I can’t help but think that, maybe, feminism is purely a Western concept, and only really unique to developed countries.
This is not to say that all countries in Europe and North America are equal when it comes to gender and all countries in Asia, Africa and South America are living in the 1800s. Women across the world face all kinds of challenges. In Poland, abortion (unless the woman’s life is in danger) is illegal and in the USA Roe v Wade was overturned, meaning abortion is no longer a constitutional right. The Philippines is in the top ten most equal countries according to the Gender Equality Index. I do, however, think it’s important to acknowledge the differences and diversities of feminism internationally, and what it means in different societies. The progression of society is not a uniform movement, and, perhaps, we need to realise that different countries move at a different pace when looking at equality.