The present era of feminism which is also referred to as the third wave of feminism, is a movement which continues to advocate for equal rights for women. This is because equality is still yet to be achieved even though women have had certain of their rights protected. The third wave of feminism is different from the other waves of feminism. That is because it is split into different branches and cuts across diverse sectors and aspects of inequality amongst the sexes. Accordingly, it recognises that the struggles of each woman differ depending on various factors such as culture, race, social class, religion etc. In order words, a woman facing the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for driving a car does not negate or make insignificant the issue of a well-qualified woman who was denied a position in the US for no tangible reason but her gender. This outlook on feminism is referred to as intersectionality. Some examples of the different types of feminisms are cultural feminism, religious feminism, eco feminism, black feminism, socialist feminism, among many others. Although there are various types of feminism, the objective is still the same, which is, to advocate for equality between the sexes in all spheres. Some of the major issues which are still being tackled by the third wave of feminism are the objectification of women, Gender Based Violence (GBV) and Sexism in general. Firstly, the objectification of women is the idea that women should be viewed as sex objects. Furthermore, it holds that women are no more than their bodies or physical appearance. This pattern is evident in countless adverts, posters, movies, music videos, articles, songs and many more which show the main goal of the woman as being sexy. Even acts such as catcalling (which is not a compliment) is a pre-programmed societal behaviour that is developed from the idea that women are no more than their physical appearance.
Another issue which the third wave of feminism strives to eradicate is Gender Based Violence (or violence against women). According to Article 3 of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, GBV can be defined as ‘violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or (violence) that affects women disproportionately’. Also, the European Institute for Gender Equality describes GBV as ‘any form of structural inequality or institutional discrimination that maintains a woman in a subordinate position, whether physical or ideological’. Some examples of GBV are corrective rape (or rape in general), sexual violence, domestic abuse, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), honour killing and forced marriage. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), 1 in 3 women still experiences sexual or physical violence, 700 million women alive today were married as children and 200 million women alive today have undergone FGM which is practiced in 30 countries as of 2016. In addition, 180,000 of women and girls are at risk of FGM each year within Europe. Furthermore, 1 in 10 women in the EU has experienced (sexual) cyber-harassment since the age of 15 and 70% of human trafficking victims are women and girls. Also, it was reported by the Office of National Statistics of England and Wales that 69,000 of the 78,000 victims of rape between 2009/2010 and 2011/2012 were females, while 9,000 were males. Likewise, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, 91% of rape victims in the United States are females while 9% are males. It is evident from these statistics that certain kinds of violence are mostly targeted at females which is why feminism is still a necessity today.
The third issue is sexism which is reflected in the workplace, religious groups and the society in general. Contrary to some beliefs, inequalities such as the gender wage gap still exists even in western countries. In the UK, full time female employees earn 9.4% less than their male counterparts and the gender pay gap between the sexes for both full-time and part-time employees is 18.1%. According to the World Economic Forum, women averagely work for 4 hours and 47 mins daily without pay compared to men who work for an hour and 30mins daily without pay. Despite efforts to close the global gender wage gap, the WEF reports that it will take 170 years to close this gap. Likewise, a study carried out by Ernesto Reuben, Assistant Professor of management at Columbia Business School together with Kellogg School of Management’s Paola Sapienza and the Booth School of Business’s Luigi Zingales, showed that hiring managers are likely to hire applicants with male names than and those who had female names even though they have identical qualifications. In regards to politics, in many countries today, women are not presented with equal opportunities to hold public offices as men. In other words, although equal opportunity in politics is presented in theory nonetheless, it is far from being achievable in practice. For example, a female candidate is likely to receive less funding than a male candidate making it almost impossible to fulfil their political ambitions. Furthermore, there are diverse religious laws which place women at a disadvantage. For example, in 14 Sharia practicing countries today, the testimony of a woman is half the value of the testimony of a man therefore, a rape allegation reported by a woman is likely to be dismissed if denied by a man. Likewise, in several Orthodox churches, restrictions are placed on women as to where they could enter in, where they should sit or what they should wear. These laws which were created by men are evidence of the patriarchal nature of the society which feminism have long advocated to eradicate.
An effective tool which will be profitable in achieving equality between the sexes is education. It is crucial for members of the society to firstly understand the injustice of gender inequality and how it negatively affects the society. In addition, early education on gender differences and gender equality should be given to children. Accordingly, there has to be strategic steps taken by the government to enhance gender equality, for example, by setting up efficient programs or creating policies which prohibit discrimination both in theory and in practice. Likewise, criminal acts such as domestic violence should be dealt with the same severity as torture rather than being decriminalised like certain countries such in Russia. Furthermore, national legislation should be created to criminalise acts such as FGM and forced marriage. For instance, in the UK, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides a penalty of up to 7 years imprisonment for the crime of forced marriage. Also, inter-governmental and supranational organisations need to develop more effective mechanisms to tackle gender inequality. For example, the UN has the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the EU has the Conclusions on the Eradication of Violence Against Women in the European Union. Nonetheless, stricter measures which ensure governmental accountability towards these issues still needs to be adopted.
Ultimately, gender equality begins with each individual in the society. Every individual within the society has a duty to not only take steps but to also make day-to-day decisions which discourage sexism and promote gender equality. That way, the objectives of feminism can gradually be achieved.
Written by Oluwatodimu Akolade Bankólé