The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘feminism’ as ‘the advocacy for women’s rights on the ground of the sexes’. For me, feminism is a movement to have equal human rights for all individuals. All the people -- be they transgender, women or men -- should have equal rights to the resources and opportunities to lead a meaningful and dignified life. Women and transgender have been discriminated based on their sex, therefore feminism for me is also the need to focus equality movements on women and transgender population. The youth of today can do this.
The women’s movement has come a long way from the “three waves” of feminism in the western world which have been attributed to the ending of suffering of women; fight for voting rights; and liberation. In Nepal, I look at feminism commencing in 1814 during the Nalapani war which was fought by the Nepali people against the British imperialistic forces that invaded Nepal via India, and Nepali women soldiers played a crucial role in resisting the powerful British army. The first women’s committee Mahila Samiti was founded in 1917-18 by Yogmaya Koirala, Divya Koirala and Purna Kumary Adhikary. Women in Nepal won the right to vote in 1947. Now women are ensured Constitutional rights to have 33 per cent seats reserved in the parliament. However, no matter how far the women’s movement has reached globally, the “F” for feminism is still a taboo and something that people do not want to be associate with because of its gender connotation.
Angela Merkel, the first woman Chancellor of Germany and one of the most powerful persons nowadays, came under criticism when she hesitated while answering the question as to whether she was a feminist during a panel discussion in Berlin in 2017. Katie O’Malley reports that she said 'I am not afraid of it [the label]. If you think that I am one - please, vote on it. But I don't want to adorn myself with these feathers.' Merkel is also reported to have said: ‘to be honest, the history of feminism is one with which I have common ground but also differences, and I don't want to embellish myself with a title I don't have.'
So why do prominent global personalities like Angela Merkel, who was a research scientist with a doctorate in physical chemistry before entering politics, hesitate to call themselves feminists? It is interesting that Merkel uses words like to be ‘adorned’ or ‘embellished’ by ‘feathers’ of feminism. This movement is one that has never been decorated but is marked by trials and tribulation of women who have fought so hard to keep the flag of the movement flying in their goal to reach prominent positions such as that of Merkel’s.
This is mainly because feminism has been blown up as the ‘F’ letter that spells trouble, it is a taboo that many still shy away from. Women who were subdued due to various reasons were not welcomed when they stood up to demand for their rights within the household, their communities or the state. When voices started opposing the stereotyped gender roles stated by society the ‘F’ letter quickly took an ugly note with which many did not want to associate even if they themselves portrayed the epitome of what feminism advocates for.
Unfortunately, although the 21st century is advancing ahead, the oppression over people due to their gender is still a reality. Many countries, Nepal being one of them, have now acknowledged transgender as a separate gender. There are special provisions given by law to protect the interest of transgender as they are in minority and women and transgender as they have felt the brunt of oppressions since centuries. Therefore, now more than ever, feminism has to be in the centre of the human value system, so that the laws that have been formulated to guarantee their rights get implemented.
But in most countries, both developed and underdeveloped, a lot has to be done before gender equality will be achieved any time soon. This is where the youth of today can come in. They have a lot more opportunities and avenues where they can express themselves as compared to several generations before them. Feminism for today’s youth is different to those of the last century. Now a critical mass in the social media like Facebook and Twitter can create a ripple all over the world like no other street movements could do during the yesteryears. However the youth need to keep their priorities focused and become progressive. In Nepal, particularly, the youth is the largest population. However they are also the largest unemployed population. Again a significant lot among them actually enjoy the wealth accumulated by their parents and their ancestors.
If I was a youth of today the only thing I would demand from my parents would be a right to quality education. Then I would assert my rights over several opportunities created by government of Nepal to get youth into employment. I would then involve myself in social activism by using the social media to promote the interest of all genders to create an equal and just society for all.
The women’s movement globally and in Nepal is now just right to boldly take the ‘F’ word forward and support movements to ensure that entitlements committed by international and national laws are ensured to all citizens no matter what gender they belong to.
(Sharma is a senior journalist and rights advocate. firstname.lastname@example.org twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)