This is how the global feminist revolution began

(OpenDemocracy) – In the UK, the revolution started with a hand on the knee. Harassment and assault allegations rocked the British Parliament. Minister after minister was forced to resign. They apologised for behaviour that ‘fell short’ of the rigours high office. But angry constituents demanded to know why their behaviour still entitled them to the job of MP at all.

In by-elections that followed, every political party insisted on women-only shortlists. If sexual bullying was to end in politics, they argued, then the culture of parliament needed to change – starting with the very makeup of the House.

Across the Atlantic, women in Congress challenged the short-lived president Donald Trump’s assertion that women who had accused him of sexual assault were lying. They demanded impeachment. Like a domino effect, women in politics and business started to get justice.

Both Republicans and the Democrats fielded women Presidential candidates in the next campaign. The image of a woman in power started to become the norm.

With Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other alleged movie star abusers in disgrace, the film industry vowed to ensure that women were hired to direct and write at least 50% of green-lit films. After decades of selling images of women as hags, shrews and sluts, pop culture decided that portraying us as full human beings with complex inner lives was, in fact, profitable.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, the lawmaker who said it was a national duty to rape women wearing ripped jeans was forced to apologise by a militant feminist collective who called themselves Jean Ripper. A second revolution toppled the increasingly hardline militaristic regime that had condemned gay men to imprisonment and emboldened sexist attitudes.

Inspired by their sisters, Jean Ripper collectives sprung up in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Bahrain. In regime after regime, women demanded their power. The women of Syria’s Jinwar eco-village brokered peace talks in the country, with their philosophy informing future political decision-making.

In India, the revolution was led by the world-famous Gulabi Gang. Wearing pink saris, they took to the streets against male violence. In China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, women workers unionised and gained control of textile factories. Across Australia, women calling themselves ‘Ginger Bitches’ called an emergency election. Sexist MPs resigned en masse.

In countries across Africa, women special prosecutors demanded justice for victims of war crimes. In rural areas, women formed farming collectives to challenge foreign-backed big-agro corporations, seizing the means of production and distributing food fairly throughout their communities.

A hand on the knee. A sex pest President. A victim-blaming lawmaker, rapacious corporations, exploitative workplaces where sexual violence went unremarked. The call to revolution was taken up in every country in the world, from Afghanistan to Myanmar to Zimbabwe.

Before the end of patriarchy, it was said that governments needed 30% female representatives for our issues to be taken seriously. Now that the standard is 50%, or more, women’s concerns are no longer seen as a side issue or niche interest. Women’s rights are accepted as human rights.

That’s why safe abortion is now available on demand in every country in the world. Safe and legal clinics are open in every town, so that no woman has to travel too far to access the reproductive care she needs. Contraception is free and provided as needed.

Government-funded scientific research led to the development of a new contraceptive drug. This breakthrough means that women no longer have to suffer the indignity of painful or embarrassing side effects in order to control their fertility.

Environmentally-friendly tampons, towels, moon cups and other period products were made freely available to the world’s poorest. There are plans to expand this to every woman in the future. For now, those who can afford to pay do so, in order that those less well off can access them too.

Every government across the world committed to funding rape crisis centres and domestic abuse refuges. But the need for them drastically reduced. Sex education focused on consent and respect led to a severe drop in demand for violent pornography and prostitution.

Men who raped and abused women started to be held accountable for their crimes. They could no longer assault women with impunity. The costs of violent male entitlement became too high.

By Molly Adams from USA – International Women’s Day March, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

There was also a cultural shift. We saw an end to the humiliating dehumanisation of women in films, TV, music and video games. Why would a man rape a woman, if he saw her as human and deserving of respect?

The introduction of universal sex education, and the changing representation of women, led to a liberation of female sexuality. Women are no longer seen as angels or whores; are no longer shamed for wanting sex – or shamed for refusing it.

Universal basic incomes helped to reduce resentment created by automation and subsequent job losses. Personal income, combined with proper public investment in childcare and adult social care, has meant that no one has to choose between family life and financial stability.

Across the Global South, investment in schools has meant that every child can get an education and no girl is denied the chance to learn to read and write. Having more educated women has helped transform struggling countries’ economies – and led to increased state investment in education and healthcare.

This is no utopia. We still have our problems. Power inequalities still exist. Parliamentary democracy is just one, and not necessarily the best, way of doing democracy. A transition to a post-capitalist society has stalled as right and left-wing factions battle between ideologies of socialism, libertarianism, free-market capitalism and conservatism.

The devastating impact of climate change has not been resolved. Countries are still struggling with the impact that global warming has had on agriculture. The increased role of women in public life has not ended conflict or war. This has become particularly acute when it comes to battles over natural resources.

Change takes time. And we don’t know what the future will hold. But we hope that with reproductive freedom, an end to rape and domestic abuse, and increased education for every child no matter their gender, the fight to build a better and fairer world has begun.

This report prepared by SIAN NORRIS for OpenDemocracy

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