FEMINISM


What it is: The belief that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men.

What it means: Half the world's human beings are female, yet the campaign for women's rights did not really get off the ground until the 20th century, when feminism developed in the West. Most of the world's women still do not have those rights. Many are still deprived of such basic needs as education, freedom of speech, health care, the vote. Some feminists have thought that the way to gain equality is by competing with men on men's terms, though this risks reinforcing a mainly masculine view of the world. (But not many women have wanted to become soldiers.) Other feminists have argued that a female view can provide a new perspective in problem-solving in all parts of society. In particular women all round the world have tried new and successful ways to deal with conflict. Some have worked quietly behind the scenes, alone or in groups, to defuse tension. Some have started peace movements - as Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams did: they founded Peace People in Northern Ireland, at the height of conflict in the 1970s, and were later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Some have been political leaders, like Aung San Suu Kyi, who has insisted that the struggle against the unelected regime in Burma must always be nonviolent. (She too won a Nobel Peace Prize.) Many feminists have worked with aid agencies, in centres offering help to women traumatised by war, and on conflict resolution projects. The feminist movement has achieved a lot: in some countries, laws have been changed to allow for women's rights, and there are now international agreements supporting equality and condemning discrimination against women. But even at the beginning of the 21st century the majority of women in the world are still second-class citizens, sidelined, exploited and oppressed. Most of those who work are still paid less than men doing the same jobs. Many cannot get work at all, and may be forced into prostitution. During armed conflicts, many women have been deliberately and systematically raped by soldiers. Rape has only recently been recognised as a war crime.

Think about it: The old male arguments about women's rights can still sometimes be heard. 'Women can't be equal with men - they're smaller and less strong.' 'They think differently.' 'Men don't have babies.' So women still need to be ready with counter-arguments. Sometimes they need to convince women as well as men: some of the world's women hang on to dependency on men. The point is that men and women are human beings with more similarities than differences, and as human beings have equal human rights. How can the different characteristics of gender be taken into account without conflict and competition?