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In recent years, feminism has fallen out of favour in the west. While some women have taken gender equality for granted, others are just fed up of the bra burning jokes. Whatever the reason behind the decline of feminism, its effect is very clear – we are at risk of going backwards.
In the absence of a strong feminist movement, women’s welfare has been side lined and undermined by policy makers. In what Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group called a ‘historic redistribution of income from purse to wallet’, Osborne’s budget has hit women three times as hard as men. As the main beneficiaries of public services and benefits, the female population has been disproportionately affected by cuts to the public sector. As of last year, the charity Working Mums found that 24% of mothers had been forced to give up their jobs because they could no longer afford childcare. By forcing women to choose between their children and their careers, austerity measures are encouraging outdated gender roles to seep into the next generation.
Although America has often been at the forefront of progression, American women currently face losing their basic healthcare rights. Republicans have adopted an increasingly hard line stance on abortion in the lead up to the presidential elections. In doing so, they are legitimising political extremism and women are paying the price. Anti-choice campaigners have become increasingly aggressive, leading to the recent bombing of a Planned Parenthood clinic, a major healthcare provider for low income women. A BPAS clinic in London have also being targeted as reports emerge that their patients have been harassed and filmed by 40 Days for Life protesters.
Even the morality of contraception has been called into question, in the debate over whether employers should cover birth control costs under the Affordable Care Act. Considering that 98% of sexually active American Catholic women use contraception, religious objections to the requirement rang hollow. The true issue at hand quickly became clear when law student, Susan Fluke, testified in favour of the proposal. Conservative radio hog Rush Limbaugh blustered, ‘It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex’. Limbaugh’s comments betrayed the contraception debate for what it truly was – a thinly veiled attack on sexually liberated women. The existence of such a debate in the 21st century provides a disturbing reflection of a society in reverse. Senator Olympia Snowe lamented, ‘I feel like it’s a retro-debate that took place in the 1950s. It’s sort of back to the future, isn’t it?’
The effort to rewind years of progress in reproductive rights has become known as the ‘war on women’. The phrase is somewhat sensational, but its message rings true. This criticism is not just being levied at the GOP by its political opponents. Senator Lisa Murkowski was one of several women within the Republican Party to voice her unease, pointing out that, ‘If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters’.
The threat of regression has triggered a much needed revival in the feminist movement. From Tahrir Square to Alexandra Square, from bloggers to slutwalkers, women have been speaking out against oppression. 2011 saw the Arab spring reinvigorate the power of protest, proving that through unity and action, it is possible to implement positive change. Times may be hard, but we have every reason to feel optimistic about the future.