Feminism not really a third world issue:
The word Feminism is the most misunderstood word, it means different things to different people. Some people restrict feminism to only women rights, some think of it as an ideology while many view it as dogmatic or dangerous. In the words of Gloria Steinem, “a feminist is anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men.” In this sense, feminism is everybody’s issue. Not just of women of particular country but of all men and women living on earth irrespective of social, economic of political status.
The concept of feminism in its modern sense began in 19th Century from West. It changed the western society attitude towards women especially women suffrage, greater access to education and better employment opportunities, equal pay with men, right to initiate divorce, abortion rights, right to take decision regarding her life and right to hold property in her own name. The efforts of women rights activists, though painstakingly slow, resulted in obtaining great concessions overtime and now modern western women feels so-called emancipated, liberated and empowered. The western women entered the market force, enjoyed great freedom and looked at with pity on their eastern counterparts especially one’s dwelling inside the four walls of house in third world countries.
The impact of feminist movement in West had its impact on third world countries. To start with feminist policies were advocated by western countries and made condition precedent for grant of aid and other economic benefits. Thus, we have seen that women suffrage is now universally accepted. Many clerics object to women participation in politics, but we have seen many political leaders in the third world countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka etc. Moreover, a recent amendment in Pakistan’s electoral law now requires minimum percentage of casting women vote for the validation of elections. We have also seen an increased enrolment of women in education at all level and greater participation economic workforce in almost every third world country. Recently, even a country with strong patriarchal foundations i.e., Saudi Arabia conceded many liberations to women including the “right to drive”. But is all right with third world countries when it comes to gender equality? The answer is No.
Women in third world countries face glaring discrimination every day. Just because the modern wave of feminism started in West, third world countries should not brushed aside feminism declaring it merely as a western problem. Let us briefly take a look at issues which make evident that feminism is as much a third world issue as it first world issue.
Women of third world countries are seldom given access to education. Owing to poverty or any other reason, sisters always make way for the education of their brothers. Education of a male child is considered more important than female child. Then in third world countries, there is hardly any infrastructure for female education. Education is the primary vehicle driving the success. A country cannot truly aspire to become developed and powerful unless all its citizens are educated. The main reason why third world countries are third world countries is due to lack of access to education to more than half of their citizens i.e., women. This shows that feminism is also a third world issue.
Similarly on economic front, women are dependent on males. Women are unable to find a job because firstly they are not allowed to leave home in many third world countries. Even if they are allowed to leave home they are unable to find jobs because of their lack of education. Moreover, there is a hidden glass ceiling in marketplace. Employer prefers to give a job to male applicant rather than a female applicant. A woman may have to leave a job after her marriage because her husband may be living at some other city or place. She may also have health issues, especially during pregnancy, obliging her to take long leave from work. To avoid these issues and to ensure the continuity of service employers first choice is a male candidate.
Another important aspect which testifies that all is not well with gender equality in third world countries is the physical beating and harassment of women. Women are subject to domestic violence at homes and sexual violence at workplaces. Why there is always violence directed against women. Why not other way around? Whatever the reason is, it clearly outlines that feminism is really a third world issue.
A few words about role of women in politics of third world countries may be said. Though prominent female leaders like Benazir Bhutto, Aung Suu Kyi, Sonia Gandhi have emerged in the third world countries but political scene is primarily dominated by men. Women have no real political power. Women issues have never been given due consideration. In fact, women have often found their fight for complete women’s equality – socially, politically, and economically – rejected as a lesser issue.
Regardless of what culture we are talking about, and regardless of the level of development of that culture, feminism is a problem everywhere. Women across the globe face sexism in the workplace. Even in companies like Google female prejudices have make their presence felt. How many female Fortune 500 CEOs there are in 2017? How many females are given the opportunity to work in third world countries? In a country where First Minister is a woman i.e., Scotland, members of one local golf course voted to keep the women out. Consent of how many women are taken before their marriage in third world countries? Dimensions and intensity may differ but the problem of gender equality exists everywhere.
As stated earlier, gender equality is not merely a women issue, it is everybody’s issue; even of third world countries. It is now well established that countries which have healthier level of gender equality also fare better economically, socially, and politically. This is because gender equality allows countries to unfold their full potential by relying on all their citizens’ creativity, passion, and commitment. Third world countries would do good to themselves if they recognize the importance of issue of feminism in its true sense.