By Nora Strømme
In 2017 the word “feminism” was chosen as the word of the year by Merriam-Webster. Although the movement has gained significant attention across the world, few identify themselves as feminist because of the negative connotations. The word “feminism” has evolved from being associated with femininity to be a word with a powerful force. Yet, modern feminism would be a stronger movement if they used the universal declaration of human rights as it’s tool of resistance. After all, on the fact that no one gets to be a non-human person, and excluding women is a fundamental violation of the declaration.
What is feminism?
Defining feminism is simple: it is a movement fighting for gender equality. Yet, people often define it as a man-hating and anti-shaving movement instead of what it really should be about, equality. When feminism was coined, it was a movement that focused on women’s suffrage that did not include everyone and was seen as a mainly western movement. Today’s feminism, modern feminism, can be defined as a global movement that is accepting diversity and which its goal is equality. As a matter of fact, the feminist fight falls into the biggest and unrenounceable fight for human rights since it is about removing the belief that one gender should be excluded and oppressed. But renaming the movement to “equalism” or “genderism” would – as rightly put by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – deny the specific and particular problem of gender.1
Why is it needed?
Despite countless conventions and implementations emphasizing the importance of women’s rights and gender equality progress on a global scale has been slow and uneven. Currently the EU has repealed discriminating laws, but laws limiting women keep on existing or are being proposed on a national level. The pathway to accelerate and achieve gender equality is evident. Companies must treat people with respect and offer equal opportunities, while governments must create policies that will provide the same opportunities for all genders. However, reality is that some countries are instead accelerating backwards.
While feminism provides women with a social safety net when life does not work out perfectly, it cannot implement it when women’s rights are not at the heart of the political agenda. One would have thought that because the EU can tell members states what do when it comes to the economy it would not stay silent when a state tries to go backwards on a fundamental right for women, widening the gender equality gap. In fact, the 2015 EIGE Gender Equality Index illustrates that across the 28 EU member states very little progression towards gender equality has been made in the last 10 years.2
What should be done and is happening?
One thing is for sure. Europe could do more in order to become promote gender equality across the continent. A starting point could be to realise that gender equality has not been achieved despite the fact that gender equal laws have been written and implemented. According to the Gender Equality Index, at the current pace Europe has today gender gaps will be closed in 54 years in Western Europe, while in Eastern Europe it will take 107 years.
This should not only push the Union to acknowledge the different paces of countries in creating police to achieve gender equality, but also on proposing specific and targeted awareness raising projects.
Although the feminist movement is growing, the lack of improvements could be linked to the recent growth of the nationalist and populist movements around the world, threatening not only women’s rights but also stability and peace. The fact that there has not been any legislation consistently improving women’s rights in the EU since 2008 only illustrates the slow pace of the EU and the threat nationalism contributed in creating.3 But a return to nationalism and populism are not the only two emerging trends. Feminist parties are forming and are gaining seats in parliaments. They will offer a fundamental contribute in pushing forward a feminist agenda. The most successful one being Sweden’s Feminist Initiative, which succeeded in gaining a seat in the European Parliament at the latest election.
To sum up feminism is an important movement and should not let itself be defined by the negative connotations it has received. Feminism is still very much needed, and modern feminism has evolved into an including movement, but countries need to realise their lack of improvement in order to progress and for equality to be reached.
Nora Strømme is Vice President of Høyres Studenter Trondheim and Co-Chair of the Gender Equality Working Group at European Democrat Students.