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A Critical Look At Feminist Movement Through The Years

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The belief of equality in social, economic, and other political aspects of the sexes is actually the most simple definition of feminism. Feminism believes that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. According to Bell Hooks, one of the famous feminist activists, “feminism refers to the movement to end sexism sexist exploitation and oppression”.

Women are always regarded as the ‘second sex’. The oppression against women has historically been rationalized in our society. Even the decision-making power is always granted to the men, and the women are regarded as secondary. Due to these types of inequalities, the concept of feminism was bound to develop. The evolution of this concept can be divided into three waves, each with slightly different aims based on various priorities:

1. The first wave of feminism: This wave of feminism basically started during the late 1700s and ends in the 1900s. This wave believes in confronting the inequalities prevailing among the womenfolk. The addressing of women’s suffrage was also the main aim of this wave. This wave also criticizes the way of portraying the images of women in various literary works like famous novels and other books. They also questioned how the novelists depicted vulgar images of women in their works.

A group of suffragists in a New York City parade staged in the fall of 1917 to gain support for woman suffrage. Image via Flickr

This wave also focused on political rights that were granted to women. Women’s right to vote was one of their primary concerns. The first wave was connected with the abolitionist movement in the US at that time. It was believed that this wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when three hundred men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women.

After this convention, the scenario gradually started to change, and women began to enter the workplace in greater number. During World War II, many women actively participated in the military or worked in industries previously reserved for men. Later on, the successful end of the first wave of feminism was seen regarding the rights of women in various parts of their life.

2. The Second wave of feminism: This wave of feminism starts in the period of the early 1960s and ends in the late 1970s. The slogan of the second-wave “The personal is political” identifies women’s cultural and political inequalities. This movement was initially concentrated in the United States of America and then spread to other western countries.

The second wave of feminism focused more on both public and private injustices. Issues like rape, reproductive rights, domestic violence, and workplace safety were some of the issues at the  forefronts of this movement. There were widespread efforts to reform all the negative and inferior images that were presented in their own popular culture to more positive and realistic ones.

Women’s liberation movement in Washington, DC, August 26, 1970. Image via Getty

The feminist films, music, books and even restaurants became the source of spreading this popular culture. Second-wave feminism also affected other movements, such as the “civil rights movement” and the “students right movement”, as women sought equality within them. The second wave was thus pivotal to the feminist movement and brought women into the mainstream in many spheres.

3. The third wave of feminism: This wave of feminism starts in the early 1990s and is ongoing. Third-wave feminists emphasize individual rights as well as the acceptance of diversity. This wave began with the generation that had grown up surrounded by the web concept of feminism. This theory basically tries to bring in communities that were previously left out of feminist goals.

The feminist advocated for the women’s right to make her own choices regarding her body, and they also started preaching that it was a basic right to have access to birth control and abortions. They also believe that women need to rise above concerns about equality merely in jobs, education, or family settings.

Their main motto was to create awareness among the womenfolk and make them realize the importance of raising their voice against all odds. The third wave feminists also made it visible that the concept of feminism that exists in society is somewhat different. Concepts like intersectionality, sex positivity, ecofeminism, transfeminism were newly launched post the third wave of feminism.

Image via Getty

We can conceptualize that the need for feminist theory was present in our society since the beginning of time. And accordingly, when the times changed, the meaning of this word “feminism” changed too. The evolution was drastic, and we can definitely observe this in the three waves of feminism. But sometimes the question arises regarding the major concept of feminism, is it applicable in our lives as well?

Does the feminist perspective formally steer all the women into a positive direction of equality? Does the feminist approach and the ideas it preaches are really making any sense in the real world? All these questions arise for us to analyze more about this concept. No doubt feminism is a positive approach in the context of equality, including both men and women, but somewhere even today we come across various incidents around us that make us think about the impact of this concept of feminism.

The incidents like molesting, rape, sexual violence against women are not eradicated in today’s time. This reminds us that men and women’s roles in society are often unequal and reflective of a patriarchal ideology. The concept of feminism is seen as hurting male ideologies and perspectives. In the name of feminism, in this narrow-minded society, some people misuse it, and this may harm someone else’s existence.

On online social media platforms, we came across various incidents that could potentially ruin someone’s life. And this somehow makes us believe that the concept of feminism has some kind of barriers too. Similarly, in the overall conceptualization of feminism, there is more focus on female rights, and on the other hand, it talks about equality.

The concept of feminism should be more focused on providing equality to both men and women, and this would be an important topic of discussion. Thus, the whole matter of feminism is not left without the drawbacks and negativity; rather, it deals with both the dimension.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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