Today marks 110 years since the London Suffragette’s “Mud March” and a century since the women’s protest that kick-started the Russian Revolution. Today, calls for an overhaul of the political and social status quo continue.
Women’s voices are raised with good reason: today in Europe women earn on average only 60% of what men earn; today in Europe less than 4% of CEOs are women; today in Europe less than one in 5 of our elected representatives is a woman. The philosophy they espouse is that such inequality – indeed inequality in all its forms – is detrimental to women but also to our societies as a whole.
Feminism has long been at the forefront of a global movement to review dominant power structures, from the level of the individual to the collective. Although the equal place and role of women is central to this movement, it goes well beyond gender issues to present a vision of global equality, inclusiveness and democracy. It embraces racial, sexual and class equality. Feminism is not about women and much less for women only. Feminism is about humanity; about equality for all. It is a political movement aiming to embed equality into political structures, into labour markets, into the very fabric of society and even language. It is no coincidence that the largest march protesting the values of the incoming Trump administration in the US was a “Women’s March”.
This points to the critical role feminist discourse can play in shaping a response to the political crisis which threatens to undermine Western democracies today. It is at its root a crisis of labour markets – revolutionised by technological change, migration and globalisation – which has brought about the rise of populism, nationalism and xenophobia. Society at all levels is increasingly politicised and people are demanding change, and they will have it. What that change will look like will depend on whether the prevailing discourse is one of protecting and reviving the old systems of dominance (close the borders, repatriate jobs, defend conservative values – including patriarchy) or overthrowing them in favour of a more egalitarian and progressive vision.
Feminism has been a force behind global integration movements. Since Eleanor Roosevelt’s penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has championed gender equality. Today, the UN’s espousal of gender mainstreaming is at the forefront of efforts to review global governance systems, and initiatives such as UNSC 1325 on women’s role in peace and security present a vision of women’s part which is crucial for many societies. Equally, feminists have supported the European peace and integration project, which has enshrined equality between women and men as a fundamental right and boosted women’s labour market rights. Today, organisations such as the European Women’s Lobby espouse a broad mission encompassing the fight –everyone’s fight – against discrimination on any grounds, inequality, extremism, dominance, violence and poverty.
Hundreds of thousands of people have today been inspired by the appearance overnight of a statue of a little girl facing up to the Wall Street Bull. The feisty little girl represents the ongoing struggle for women’s rights and gender equality around the world, but for also far more than that – she is a symbol of resistance and renewal, of a holistic political vision that many see lacking in Europe. Let’s hope she prevails, as today is not only about one day and women only; is about everyone and universal aspirations.
Written in collaboration with Leanda Barrington-Leach