Harlequin Feminism: The need of feminism in 21st century with changing global outlook

02 August, 2022

Research Reports




Gender issues more or less can be connected to the culture and legacies of a country. India and Nepal, in this sense, are heirs to the Hindu religion. Hindu culture manifests Vedic societies in the social structure. In the early period, women and men both used to have equal rights to an extent, but with the rise in nation states, war, chaos, and conflicts, men started to get involved in martial and war. Women looked after domestic responsibilities. This crept into the social structure, and women's issues kept on rising in society. With the change in the political system, women's issues have been dealt but a series of problems persist.[i] Social, political and economic situations have altered the status of women. A lot is yet to be done, and the gradual changes taken signify women's self-reliance and equality. Gender plays a significant role in analysing and examining the nature of society. In today's world, justice and equality are core elements in society, and gender plays a significant role in fundamental facets of development in the community. Unlike focusing only on gender, some significant debates are on Hegemonic Masculinity and how masculinity has advantaged international politics. The gendered nature of political science is marked explicit by studying various dominant roles played by men in the international arena because male western political scholars proposed the theories. Male theorists have ignored the role of women and the importance of gender and believed that women are not for activities that demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy. One gender has dominated the international political system and shaped the system of the world without the consideration of women's ideas and perspectives. The question of women's identity never arose and is studied with the emergence of feminist international relations in the late 1980s, which played a significant role—many feminists stood against patriarchy that excluded women and their opinions.


Gaps and challenges of gender inequality 

In a harlequin frame, we can see how feminism seeks to secure equal rights for women in society. There have always been huge gaps and challenges of gender inequality. Feminism talks broadly about having equal rights and opportunities, respecting the identities of women, their knowledge, opportunities, and power to have their rights in society compared to other genders. There has been a considerable impact in the community by the feminist movements against racism and discrimination. These movements also occur in the contemporary world, showing how we are far from achieving it conclusively.


All culmination against the discrimination of gender connects a bridge between the fight for liberty and justice. This fight and struggle for seeking equal rights and opportunities started way back in the 19th century. Women for centuries now have been struggling for equality, against oppression, and a will to achieve something in their lives. The lives women want are where they can achieve their own goals for themselves and society. Some feminist movements have also led to granting some rights to women. Women are still disproportionally affected by all forms of violence and discrimination in every aspect of life. Not only the domestic violence or oppression but also the oppression of not letting them out and work.[ii]


Women have stood and demanded their rights and fought for it and are still struggling to do so. The lives of women have changed since then. The policies brought in by the government have changed, and it also bought changes in the ideas and thinking of the world. Some of the significant changes in the nation's policies or laws have made women stand equal to men.


Starting from the women who stood together in the United States' first women's conference to the #metoo story that began in social media, women in the world have risen to challenge their power, equality, and rights in society. Many of them have also been successful in changing them. From the fight for the right to vote to open up universities for female students, the concept of feminism got wider and wider. It has made it easier for us to move from the stereotypical and fallacious image of activities that have influenced patriarchy. Feminists have proven that the rights they deserve are natural and fundamental, and they deserve it. Feminism through the lens has changed the world and made women have a healthier and peaceful life.The significant causes of gender inequality are -


Unequal access to education

Women around the world don't have good access to education compared to men. In many countries, women between the age of 15-24 do not even complete primary school. According to statistics, 58% of women do not meet primary education, and 2/3rd of women in the world are illiterate[iii] It has a massive effect on their future and opportunities, and also it affects their level of confidence, and it doesn't allow them to take part in society.[iv]


Lack of employment equality


It is another aspect of gender inequality. Only a few countries provide women with the same legal rights as men. Most of the countries give only 3/4th rights to women as men.[v] If we look at employment, then it has a domino effect on gender inequality.


Job Segregation

It is one of the other causes of gender inequality. According to society, it is considered that men are more capable of doing jobs, handle community better than women, and are paid better. It leads to low income for women or unpaid labour. 


Lack of legal protections

Women worldwide don't have legal protection against sexual violence, economic violence, domestic violence, and harassment. This has a significant impact on the freedom and liberty of women. There's also a lack of legal protections against harassment in the workplace, at school, and in public in many countries. These places become unsafe, and without protection, women frequently have to make decisions that compromise and limit their goals.[vi]


Societal responsibilities

Many women don't have the right to their bodies and are raised to give birth to the child and look after them. It becomes their primary responsibility. They don't have the right to birth control. According to research by the world health organization, around 200 million women who don't want to conceive are not using contraception. This causes a financial burden on one family person, and the mother looks after their child and loses her freedom. The main reasons behind this would be religious or cultural opposition, societal norms of bearing a child, lack of awareness, etc.[vii]


Poor medical care

Women receive a low quality of medical care than men. This is also linked with a lack of education and employment because they are not independent enough to take care of themselves and have to depend on their husbands. They are not well aware of the diseases and health conditions because of lack of knowledge and thus resulting in bad health conditions. Many women also experience discrimination from medical experts, causing a gap in healthcare inequality. 


The mindset of people

It is also the mindset of the people which creates a massive inequality between a man and a woman. It is generally considered that a woman is inferior to men, and they can’t match up with the strength, ability, and potential of a man. Women are raised with thousands of rules and regulations, while a man is raised with the idea of earning well for the family and protecting the family. In contrast, the women are expected to take care of the household, look after their children, and do the household chores. 


Lack of political representation

Despite progress in the world over the years, women are still underrepresented in government and political processes. Female politicians are not considered competent enough to compete with males. Female politicians tend to bring up sexual harassment, violence against women, gender equality laws, and gender-based violence.[viii]


Issues of Women

The main problem is that the world is aware of denying fundamental rights to women in many places. The primary question is what feminism is for the world. According to studies and with the basic understanding of feminism, one will say that feminism is equal rights to every gender. Is it what feminism is? Feminism in the contemporary world has changed with time. Feminism today has different meanings for every individual. In every nation, feminism will have a different meaning altogether. In a developed nation, the problems and situations are very different from the situation of underdeveloped or developing nations.  Thus, the meaning of feminism changes from person to person and nation to nation.


Struggling through the right to live, education, and work in society for decades, today, in the 21st century, women struggle to be independent and work to earn a living. Countries like India have the opposite situation in a world where the percentage of women's workforce is boosting. In India, just 27% of women of the working age were employed in the year 2015-2016.[ix] The situation in Nepal has enhanced, as the women labour force employment is 79.9% which is much higher than in India.[x] If compared to the Asian countries, more or less the women's employment rate is less than compared to developed nations.


Before the period of Globalisation started, women had much more identity and respect. Countries heir to the Hindu culture consider women as Devi and include them in every sacred and religious activity. Women were treated with dignity and pride. After Globalisation, the situation of women started deteriorating. Even though workspace and education were provided to women, socially, women came into the picture as an object. With globalization, foreign goods entered the market, and underdeveloped and developing nations started accepting western culture. Advertisement played a significant role in portraying women in an objectified manner. Every advertisement more or less showcased women in an undignified manner. On the one hand, even though they started earning a living, women lost their dignity and were considered sexual objects. A very famous example can be taken of the advertisement by Slice (mango drink) and the Budweiser advertisement in which the advertisers use women's sexualized body images to sell products.[xi]


There is no suspicion of men and women being biologically and physically different, but the term equality often misleads the feminist perspective. Equality does not mean questioning the science and physical aspects of a person. Equality for women is in terms of social, economic, and political. Women need a life where they can be independent and self-relied. A life in which she is not considered an object or inferior to anyone else, even if they are family. The issues faced by women for decades have kept them away from their rights. Women have lived their life being inferior to men. They were denied the right to life, education, and employment.


One of the significant debates opposing feminism is the situation of men in society. The argument questions the whole movement of feminism, whereas even men have many issues in society. The argument proves high rates of suicides among men than compared to women. There are also false acquisitions by women on rape, sexual harassment, molestation, and several other issues. It stands opposite to the feminists as men in society face such concerns that they did not start a movement. There is no movement on men's issues even though they struggle with many problems. Feminists believe that women's issues every day are because of the opposite gender. The problems men face, like high suicide rates, are because of psychological disorders and not the opposite sex. Crime against women like rape, sexual harassment, dowry issues, and violence because of the patriarchal mindset and men of the society.


"Patriarchy is not the reason for feminism, as today's world is an outcome of a male-dominated society. Men took the decisions, and today's world is thriving because of the decision taken by men. This world would not have been the same if women had ruled". There is no suspicion of the fact that the world would have been different if women had led. But, how different and if it would be better or not could not be stated as that is not what the history supports. More or less, the feminist movements rose because of the patriarchal mindset. The heir of Hindu custom believes that women should look after their household and children whereas men should work for society. Books like Manu smriti also say that a woman should not do anything independently, not even when it comes to her household. The mindset of people is vital to change in the 21st century. The patriarchal view in society is that male family members are given much more important than women. Mothers teach daughters to work in the kitchen since childhood saying that it is their responsibility, whereas boys are not taught household chores. Therefore, the teachings go on, and the responsibility of the household and looking after their children is their sole responsibility. At the same time, men do not get involved in household chores. The male member is more important as their decisions are considered final. Women are thus denied social, political, and economic responsibility. Female foeticide is one of the significant issues faced even before the child's birth. It is more common in the underdeveloped and developing nations like Afghanistan, Congo, India and even in Nepal. India has the highest cases of female foeticide.[xii] Later even if the girl child is born, infanticide is the other major crime against females. Females are denied education, whereas the male child is given utmost priority to have access to education. The girl child is considered a burden on her parents as the parents' utmost apprehension is to get her married. With this comes the issue of dowry. Dowry is yet another crime that is practiced and takes away the right of women. Many cases lead to the suicide of women or their families as they can't afford the dowry demanded by the spouse or his family. Society, by and large, plays a vital role in bullying if a woman is not married at the age which is again determined by the community. The rights of women have been denied in every way possible. Denying her rights after marriage, denying her right to work after marriage, and giving her the sole responsibility to look after the house and her children takes away her right to be independent and freedom to live as she wishes to.


Today, women have come forward against all this and to stand for their rights and challenges in society. Women initiated many movements for their rights, starting from the suffragette movement, which gave them the confidence to have their voice. The Suffragette movement also stands as the first movement in the direction of the first feminist movement. Many movements led by women solely and steadily gave them the rights they deserve. Today, the situation of women is far better than when they were suppressed and were not allowed to live freely. But, even today, society has to grow in a much larger perspective to provide women with all their rights. Even today, many women are denied all their rights and are still scared to raise their voices against injustice.


These issues are essential to focus on because they give women equal rights and opportunities and empower them. It is generally considered that women only can be a feminist, but that is not true. Anyone who thinks that both genders should get equal representation and opportunity is considered a feminist. The main aim of a feminist is to take the gender roles that have been around for many years and deconstruct these to allow people to live free and empowered lives without being tied down to long-term customs, beliefs, and restrictions. The empowerment of women will benefit society as a whole. It is a movement for everyone and should be given importance. 


The main concern is what people take feminism as; it is considered misandry. Today, feminism is connected more with misandry. With the increase in women empowerment and women standing for their rights, women consider themselves self-sufficient. They think that they do not need support from men, which is turning into misandry. In the contemporary world, with the rise in women issues, there are many issues men face like the false acquisition. False acquisitions of rape or harassment by women on men can harm their lives differently as the society's first reaction toward any charge against men is with support to women. The critical question here is what percentage of the society suffers from false acquisition and what percentage does not get punished even after an actual acquisition. Even though feminism today has shifted drastically and many forms of feminism have started to emerge, women are still suffering from having their own identity in many countries of Asia and Africa. With the arguments of men having issues like heart attacks and false acquisitions, the picture would be more transparent through the statistics and data of the crime rate happening to women because of some men in society. Men's issues should not be compared with women's as the issues faced by women like rape, sexual harassment, female foeticide, female infanticide, marital rape, dowry, etc. are major because of male supremacy. In simple words, it can also be viewed as a consequence of patriarchy. The main objective is to support feminism and state that patriarchy is one of the primary reasons for women's suppression. Also, do not ignore how feminism has changed in developing nations and why today men are scared of false acquisitions, especially in Europe. This is major because of the forms of feminism which arrived with time, like radical feminists and other forms which are violent in nature. Generally, this is considered a new wave where women ask for rights more aggressively. People tend to misunderstand the actual meaning and aim of feminism. With the emergence of women's studiesfeminist literary criticism, gyno criticism, socialist feminism, and the feminist art movement, feminism has reached new heights of women empowerment. Women achieved many rights, and the condition has no doubt been achieved. But, the issue of what feminism is and what feminism is now turning into is a topic of larger debate which needs special attention in the 21st century. 


Feminism today

The societal definition of feminism changed with the emergence of radical feminism, which was given by Kate Millet, who is considered the mother of radical feminism. The notion came to a simple idea that feminism today is aggressive as it supports misandry. Getting into the meaning of what Radical feminism actually is that it desires to dismantle the traditional patriarchal culture and superior gender roles. They believe that the structure of society should be altered entirely. Patriarchy, or the community of a society where men hold unequal dominion over women, is the ultimate cause of intimidation. Male dominance and oppression are always in the hands of one half of the community, while the other half is always suppressed. In this case, men were the oppressors, and women were suppressors. Radical feminists believe that sexism can be fought by allowing women into positions of power and eliminating traditional gender roles, which many consider aggression.[xiii] The most straightforward argument is if patriarchy is not accepted, then why should matriarchy be taken.


A movement by powerful women today is seen as threatening. Media today is so powerful that it creates negative stereotypes of these powerful women standing for their rights. The whole meaning of feminism has changed today. It is considered more violent and the desire of women to do whatever she wishes. A big misconception today is that the third-wave feminists are not doing enough or appreciate what has been accomplished. Feminists are in a time of backlash that's dangerous for minorities in general and women. But that doesn't indicate that young feminists aren't trying to figure out new ways to address these challenges. Feminism should be broadened and should be given a base to second-wave feminism. The major challenge today of feminism is that people think that women's rights have already been accomplished, but it's not. Even if the woman is working today, she does all the household chores after work, and the significant responsibility is pleasing her husband.


The fourth wave of feminism began in 2012 and continues to focus on internet use and intersectionality.[xiv] Worldwide this wave has emerged as a global way out for feminist protests. This wave has also been seen in unlikely places, such as women in prison and women to drive movement in Saudi Arabia. This wave has increased globally as people access information worldwide through the internet. Taking the examples of the #metoo movement from where this global wave started, the world has emerged as a new platform for women to create a space for them and the world to know their sufferings. Increase in online mobilization, today, women is using art and culture as their representation. Online activism has played a significant role in this new wave. The world today, which the women of today's generation witness is not what their mothers or grandmothers have witnessed. Today women are more educated and politically involved. Women elected and appointed as Prime ministers and presidents show political involvement in various countries. Kamala Haris, the first female vice president of the United States, was very viral news worldwide. The involvement of women in the international arena has increased, but only 26 percent of the 13,000 political science professors in the United States today are women.[xv


Today, feminist movements also embrace the struggles beyond women's rights. It involves supporting environmental movements and LGBTQI+ and other identity movements.[xvi] These movements are also committed to antiracist, egalitarian practices and politics within their movements and in on-the-ground collaborations.



In my opinion, feminism is to challenge the systemic inequalities women face daily and not to stand against men or always demand equality in all spheres. There is scientific evidence of the biological difference between a man and a woman thus, it is not easy to be equal. Both the sexes are assigned different responsibilities and are different from each other. Feminism, in my opinion, is the elimination of indifference which is made by the society with the notion of giving importance to men and having the patriarchal mindset. Contrary to widespread speculation, feminism has nothing to do with denigrating men. Feminism does not support sexism against either gender. Feminism works towards equality, not female superiority, and does not support matriarchy. Feminism started way back in 1848 as a movement for equality for women. Since then, feminism has always been a significant area of interest in the political, economic, and social spheres. Many things have been changed, and many things have been modified according to the movements led by women, and it has been both successful and unsuccessful at the same time. With time, new questions have arisen within this area that needs to be answered. Change is a crucial and constant concept. Issues like these need to be addressed, and substantial changes must be maintained from time to time.





[i] Acharya, U. P. (n.d.). Status of Women in Nepal: A Critical Analysis of Transformational.

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid

[x] Ibid

[xvi] Ibid