Feminist Movements in Western and Non-Western Societies
Feminist movements are social movements that support women at all levels of society; social, economic, and educational. They aim to liberate women from the negative stereotypes and secondary status that they suffer from in different societies. They are defined as social movements because may arises outside the framework of state institutions (Bennett,2006).
Women’s movements first appeared in the West, specifically in the United States. Western women’s movements have gone through long historical paths through three famous waves, as a result of depriving women of their rights to education and work, as well as voting. In its first wave, the United States feminist movement demanded equality between men and women in education, work, voting rights, and in contracts and private property. The second wave of women’s movements after the Second World War focused on workplace issues, gender and family issues, and on reproductive rights. The last wave has continued to the present that examines the misconceptions of previous waves (Duncan,2010). These Western movements have moved to many Arab and Islamic world, including the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These movements with its ideas are still imported successively whenever there are intellectual developments of these movements in its home country.
This paper examines feminist movements in western and non-western societies. It focuses specifically on the differences between feminist movements in the United States and in Saudi Arabia. The paper asks: How do feminist movements differ in western and non-western societies? Though the demands and goals of feminist movements in the United States and Saudi Arabia are similar, I argue that the methods women are using to bring about these demands and goals vary from society to society, and many develop always relation to existing cultural values and social norms. While feminist movements in western societies such as the United States are strong and well-established, feminist movements in non-western societies, such as Saudi Arabia, are considered alien to these societies and have not been examined as thoroughly by scholars. I plan to make this argument by considering academic reports, books, and articles on feminist movements in western and non-western societies. The broader aim of the paper is to consider feminism as a cross-cultural and global movement.
The status of women before the emergence of feminist movements
The status of women varies from society to another according to its religion, customs, and traditions. Women have in the past played their traditional role in caring for their children, cooking and cleaning the house, but now the role of women has changed drastically. Because of the development of civilization, the movement of women’s and other social causes, women have gained great strength. They work outside and within the home.
It is always said that the United States is the country of democracy and freedom, but by turning back, women were not among those entitled to these freedoms. They were deprived of many things, which made the state reconsider the law. Before the emergence of feminist movements in the United States, the status of women in the United States was abnormal and unfair in various aspects such as social, economic and legal. Women in the United States suffered from persecution and discrimination, which derived from the spiritual aspect of the image of women in Western cultural and religious sources, the two most common religions in Western countries, Christianity and Judaism. When tracing the heritage and history of these two religions, they described women as an origin of sin, the source of evil and the source of vice. However, when women’s movements emerged and exercised their activities, the unfair situation that took place and the intellectual and moral attitudes of women were changed as well as their status in the family and society. In general, women were freed from slavery. There are many transformations that have contributed to the emergence of women’s movements in America, such as the European Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. American women have participated in different fields and women have raised voices to demand equality to defend their economic, social and human rights in the face of male domination. The Western Women’s Movements has adopted two fundamental demands: equality and justice. Moreover, the women’s movement was the result of the kinds of deprivation, injustice, and cruelty that men had waged against women throughout the ages.
Women’s rights arose with the advent of Islam and the spread of its teachings. Thus, Muslim women enjoy their individual, social and human rights, where Islam recognizes the rights and duties of both women and men. But with the growth of women’s movements in the West and the spread of their ideas in all countries of the world, many of the goals and ideas of Western feminist movements moved to the Arab and Islamic world through the military and cultural invasion of these movements. In the past five years, the voices of women in Saudi Arabia have risen to demand changes, due to religious, community and tribal pressures on them. Both social traditions and tribal structures prevented women from appearing and participating in public life, all these factors contributed to the delay in the emergence of women’s movements in Saudi Arabia. (Wazni, 2015). These factors revealed what can be called Saudi women’s awareness, as advocacy campaigns for reform and regime change by Saudi women have increased in social, political, cultural and economic spheres. What Saudi women want is to be active in their society and to be heard by the other party through the provision of their needs and demands. Which means that there is no difference between men and women except the biological difference.
From my point of view, there was ignorance about the status of women in Western society. Women are half the society and the smart states are the ones that give women a role and an opportunity to develop their abilities and activities in society because they can contribute significantly to the renaissance of the state. The role of women should not be limited only in marriage, pregnancy, and cooking, because women have many skills and ideas that can contribute significantly to the progress and development of society. Before the emergence of the feminist movements, women in Muslim societies did not suffer persecution to claim their rights, on the contrary, they enjoy equal rights with men. Unlike women in Western society, they were marginalized by certain beliefs and ideas in Western religions and traditions, this is the secret of the emergence and spread of these feminist movements in western societies.
The essence of the feminist demands
The idea of feminist movements emerged, and they expressed strong demands, despite her limited opportunities to spread. Initiatives have emerged to examine and address women’s rights and weak roles in society and to discuss women’s movements around the world as part of the key issue. By asking several questions: What happened to women’s movements in the world? What challenges have faced? Are these feminist movements in contact with other feminist movements in the Arab world? What are the challenges feminists are trying to win in their current moments? Demands and goals of feminist movements are similar in all societies, but the methods women are using to bring these demands and goals vary from society to society as the differences in cultural values and social norms.
Women in the United States struggled to obtain their rights where they were deprived of their money and did not have access to education or a job. Their demands on women’s individual rights centered on being treated on an equal footing with men. The waves of feminist movement in the United States have been successful by supporting women’s fundamental demands for the right to vote and political equality, and to improve the conditions in which they work. As a result of their collaboration against all the ideas that were together around women in United States society, feminist movements were able to impose its presence and become the strongest, largest and most widespread in the world. What distinguishes feminist movements in the United States is that they were collective under clear goals and criteria, through a huge network of institutions, centers and associations are formed (Rhiannon ; Andrew, 2016). Feminist movements in the United States have begun as a struggle and philosophical movements in all their features, after centuries it took a systematic form and the voices began to rise. The demands were more pronounced, and the claims were more organized and productive, and become more widespread. These movements received violent reactions and unfair laws, but their connection and the formation of a global front as a whole helped to strengthen the parts, which contributed to successive success in different areas.
In Saudi Arabia, the wide and sudden openness of the social communication revolution had a great impact, the society was engaged in a new culture, resulting in shock and contradiction with the closed nature of society, especially the generations that witnessed the so-called Awakening since the 1980s. The various claims campaigns were launched by Saudi women, most notably the right to leadership, but also other issues such as the issue of women’s guardianship, the right to work, and the demand for political empowerment through the possibility of voting, election, and restriction. Feminist movements were not prominent in Saudi Arabia. They were confined to a few feminist activists and their individual initiatives. In 2012, the interest and engagement of women’s movements increased with the use of social media, they established electronic campaigns and accounts to demand some right such as political rights, leadership and other demands without clear organization or strategies, and they have faced rejection from some groups of society and sharp debates at sometimes. Saudi feminist movements were individual voices that appeared through the publication of a novel or story under pseudonyms and were leaked secretly in fear of the censor’s authority to academic and scientific group activities and human rights rallies. The Saudi women’s movement does not constitute a modern movement in Saudi Arabia. It is considered an exotic and abnormal event in society. These movements have adhered to the Western feminist movement in all its movements, objectives and paths. It has published unrealistic visions of the situation in Western societies, especially the United States, and in this area is the most present in the media and culturally in the Kingdom.
I agree that the feminist movement resembles other significant movements around the world, which have changed social systems. There have impacted societies effectively because of their considerable analysis of women’s attitudes and alternative solutions to gender equality. The efforts of the Western women’s movement in the United States have
enriched, produced and revealed about different types of activities by women’s in the world. The claim of rights or the desire for change is the nature of the conscious person, but knowing the method, controls, and limits that must not be overcome is a prerequisite for achieving the objective without harming the individual or society.
Women’s activity is linked to the availability of adequate educational and financial resources and the absorption of women’s awareness. Participation in women’s movements is more common among more educated women and is less concentrated among less educated women and mothers who stay at home. Women’s activity is based on the recognition of women’s rights and the control of the methodology of injustice. Participation in the women’s movement is not limited to age, social status, income level, identity or race. Everyone is welcome.
Women’s movement activists in the United States played a crucial role in organizing women’s rights and movements around the world by bringing up new issues that women face every day (Rhiannon & Andrew, 2016). Susan Brownell Anthony is the famous and oldest women’s rights activist in history, and a US social reformer. She played an important role in the movement of women’s right to vote. Also, she sought to make clear that men and women must study, live and work on an equal footing and must be equally committed to eradicating cruelty and injustice in the world. Through their strength and creativity, many women’s organizations and institutions have gained strength. The work of feminist movements organizations has not only created programs to help women achieve equality, but they have reflected the ideas and values of women at the height of the women’s movement at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States (Blair, 2014). At the same time, they faced many constraints on their activities, such as limited access to funding and support, lack of capacity building opportunities, and opposition to these movements. This has created some ambiguity about the persistence of these feminist movements and their actual participation in other social movements outside the United States. For example, the AWID’s is a feminist activism program for young that created to make sure the voices of young women are heard and reflected in feminist discourse. This program is primarily aimed at ensuring that young feminists have access to better financing opportunities, capacity building opportunities and international processes, as well as directly supporting feminists on the rights of women of all ages. (Cicco, 2011). Women activists in the United States organize protests, develop policies and lobby their representatives. They create spaces for self-expression and learning. They also facilitate training courses and run awareness campaigns. The first women’s studies program was established in the United States in 1970 at the University of San Diego, and women’s studies programs spread across the states. Activists need constant follow-up and a lot of care in order to reach and achieve the desired goals of feminist movements.
Saudi Arabia’s policy is very difficult to receive any women’s rights activists for the purpose of legal reform in women’s affairs. There are many legal restrictions on the rights of Saudi women prescribed by Islamic law. Because Shari’a is what Saudi courts apply (Wazni, 2015). In addition, there is no independent body or organization for women in Saudi Arabia. Any feminist movements cannot be realized in a society whose universities do not have women’s studies departments or any civil or even governmental organizations concerned with women’s affairs. The women’s movement in Saudi Arabia is an unusual movement in a conservative society that does not recognize the emergence and participation of women, either because of tradition or what religion has said. Saudi women’s movements were subjected to distortion, injustice, and non-recognition. Despite these restrictions, women’s rights activists are active inside and outside the country. We find many Saudi women prefer comment through anonymous accounts because of the lack of guarantees that provide them with social protection in the event of disclosure of their identities, these methods have become successful in pressure on governments and systems to gain rights. Eman al-Nafjan she is a Saudi activist in the field of women’s rights. She also has a blog titled “Saudi Women’s Code” which exposure the most important challenges facing Saudi women. Saudi activists believe that the use of technology and means of communication to express their opinions and rights is the best means and goal that can achieve a better social or political situation. (Lim, 2018). By this dispersion, the Saudi feminist movements have been divided because of the obvious weakness, which does not bode well for any gains.
I agree that the activities of women’s movements need coordination and cooperation between different organizations to bring about development and successes as in the West. Women’s movements in Saudi Arabia are suffering from regression due to the closure of the society and enclose to the Islamic law. Women who are active in women’s issues must unite their goals under one and clear criteria and then unite with the rest of the institutions or media to communicate their voice to the whole world.
Women’s rights and reality
The feminist movements have drawn much attention, despite the existence of many laws, which emphasize equality between men and women, but equality does not yet exist. Practical experience suggests that women do not have the same opportunities to this day. But there is a lot of support from women to achieve the goals of the feminist movements.
Western women have acquired a number of rights in Western society, which they consider a great achievement because their status before was not recognized. But with the alleged freedom were given to women in Western societies and their equality with men and their crowding in all spheres of life, the fear reigns over them. They cannot bear life alone and are unable to cope with the burdens of life on their own. In the United States, psychiatrists pointed out that fear of poverty was a concern for many American women, and this contributed to the emergence of women’s movements and the demand of American women to work and equal pay as men. American women fear that they will not be able to secure the necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter. And their inability to support themselves when they grow up, in this case, they have to beg to the government. Feminist movements in the United States were booming. There were hopeful achievements in the 1980s to the twentieth century, but there were obstacles and problems that had weakened them since the mid-1980s. The first of these was the identity of these movements: whether political or social. The second problem concerned the foreign policy influences of the United States, which had a negative impact on these movements, and therefore lacked these movements to communicate effectively with their counterparts in the world and exchange experiences.
In Saudi Arabia, the reality of women’s movements was not recognized. Most of those who tried to remove the barrier and change traditional values associated with women’s social role faced failure. This is not because of their weakness in raising their messages, but because the society strictly prohibits their attempts beyond the laws of the state. In 2018, nine Saudi women activists were imprisoned in the ?result of defending women’s rights and human rights. Leaving women to self-determination and giving them equal opportunities with men deviates from the traditional structure of Saudi society. There are no influential Saudi women’s movements in public opinion. Most of them suffer from a ?lack of clear and specific demands or lack of effective work strategies. Despite the efforts of those who worked on them, none of them succeeded.
I argue that feminist movements in both Saudi Arabia and the United States have received violent resistance and social rejection in the beginning because they clash with the ideology, identity, and values of these societies. At present, the United States appreciates the amazing achievements of American women in the early history of their country, where they helped establish the United States. American women fought for civil rights and voting rights. Millions of them have succeeded as business leaders, employees, and workers, while at the same time serving as the backbone of their families, communities, and nations. As the United Nations Statistics Division display that women occupy an important place in modern societies and contribute effectively to the scientific and practical development of many countries. According to some statistics, women perform work equivalent to 67% of working hours in the world. The proportion of women working in Europe is 50%, similar to that in many third world countries as well.
The empowerment of women can highlight the efforts of feminists. As for the existence of a feminist movement, Arab societies are still arguing about feminism. Even when Islamic feminism emerged, it was not successful, especially because Western feminists did not provide sufficient support for the Arab feminist movement. Saudi women today stand at the crossroads between modern Western thought and its integrated intellectual philosophy based on secularism in the management of life, liberalism and absolute freedom in the management of individuals’ lives, and the Islamic cultural approach based on the reference of religion, where all its articles and aspects are clear and integrated. However, there are various indicators of partial victories of Arab women, particularly on the issues of women and the family, where they were saved and protected in their societies. Feminist movements are currently undergoing a profound identity crisis. The attitude of modernity may judge not only the specificity of feminist theory, but also the liberal ideals of women’s movements under accountability.
The emergence of feminist movements in Western societies, and then in the non-Western societies, created a kind of awareness of the status of women and their relationship to their environment and society. Many movements of women have emerged under the influence of Renaissance and evolution and have goals and standards like those that have emerged in the United States, but this differs from one society to another. When compared with Saudi Arabia, women’s movement in Saudi Arabia emerged very late. This is due to the strength of religious law and social traditions that have prevented women from appearing and participating in public life. The status of women was not recognized by several customs and religions on the pretext that it is a creature is not active and cannot achieve any achievements. Then women’s movements have emerged to protect women and achieve equality between women and men in the right to work, election, and empowerment.