Every day women are making ground-breaking contributions to their fields and society. With the first International Women’s Day of the new decade upon us, it seems the perfect time to look at some of womankind’s greatest achievements and remind ourselves why women must continue to be celebrated.
Naturally, women’s greatest achievement has to be feminism. Feminism is historically divided into four eras or ‘waves’, as one generation sought to build on the progress of their predecessors, with each achieving something new. Over the years we’ve seen feminism evolve to become more inclusive, persevere to fight for equality and become more powerful than ever before. Today we celebrate a movement that has changed the lives of women worldwide. Today we celebrate women.
First Wave Feminism– dates back to the era of the Suffragettes when womens’ focus was on gaining legal rights particularly the right to vote. In the UK, the vote was won in 1918 and this was followed by other legislation such as that which prevented marriage being a barrier to a woman’s ability to work outside the home.
Second Wave Feminism– more cultural, arising alongside the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, with the two meeting around issues of sexuality and reproductive rights. Second Wave Feminism also drew attention to inequalities in the home like domestic abuse, marital rape and custody laws.
Third Wave Feminism– began in the 1990s using individual narratives to highlight the subtler inequalities that persisted in society such as the glass ceiling, poor maternity leave policies and access to contraceptives. We also saw a rise in women taking a stronger stance in film and television as well as fashion and music using their platforms to own their sexuality, highlight inequality and the birth of terms like ‘Girl Power’ ‘Independent women’ and ‘Women on top’.
Fourth Wave Feminism– beginning in 2012, it’s focussed largely on the sexual harassment and objectification of women, as well the inclusion of women from different ethnic backgrounds and the understanding that although the fight for equality is tough for the white woman – it’s tougher for black, hispanic and asian women. The use of social media and the internet has enabled for movements like the ‘Me too’ movement to mobilise against inequality and abuses of power. Only time will tell whether #MeToo becomes viewed as part of Fourth Wave Feminism or as a social and political movement in its own right. Either way, Weinstein’s conviction on 24th February 2020 marked a positive step towards change.
In Science and Technology – women have revolutionised many areas. Marie Curie is widely regarded as one of the first and perhaps most significant female scientists in history, being the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for her work on radiation which laid the foundations for many further discoveries. Great women also introduced the world to the greenhouse effect, the structure of DNA and more practical inventions such as central heating, windscreen wipers and the dishwasher.
In Politics – an area where women have been making steady progress over recent years. The rise of women in politics has largely been led by a few revolutionary individuals. In international politics, we can look to women like Benazir Bhutto who was the first woman to lead a Muslim majority country, and Indira Ghandi who remains the only woman to become Prime Minister of India. Most strikingly in these cases, while these women overcame society’s prejudices enough to be elected Prime Minister, they were never universally accepted as powerful women and sadly were both assassinated, but not before becoming role models for the women of their respective countries.
So much has been achieved by women over the last 100 years but as we enter a new decade there is no doubt that the best is yet to come. Women must continue to be celebrated as we fight for equality and smash through the remaining barriers that prevent us from fulfilling our potential.
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Words by Louisa Merrick – White