The evolving waves: a feminist journey through time
From ancient protests to modern-day movements, feminism is a relentless pursuit of gender equality and inclusion.

March 8 marks International Women’s Day, a public holiday that celebrates the political and social achievements of women and feminism around the world. Feminism is the ideology that all genders deserve equal opportunities, whether it be in public or private settings. It focuses on women’s empowerment, identity, and fighting against gender discrimination. 

The feminist movement appears to have originated in Ancient Rome, where women organized a protest against a law restricting them from purchasing expensive goods. During the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, women also protested through literature and took a stance against misogyny and traditional gender roles by advocating for women’s rights. 

However, it was not until the 1800s that the first wave of feminism took place. This takes us to the US, where in 1848, during the Seneca Falls convention, a rally was organized by feminists advocating for the right to vote and to not be viewed as property of men. During this time, feminism was connected to the abolitionist movement, a movement created to fight for the end of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in the country. This gave a voice to various feminists, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Sojourner Truth. Slowly but surely, women started gaining rights to education, work, better wages, and much more, paving the way for the world we live in today.

Around the same time, women around the world were protesting for the same cause—equal rights in both societal and political settings. Women first gained the right to vote in New Zealand, followed by Australia, Finland, and the UK. In Nigeria, women protested a tax imposed on only women. In Ireland, women protested poor conditions where they were paid low wages, working in dangerous settings, and were given limited leave. In the US, during World War I, women were trying to prove that they deserved equal rights. In the 1920s, the amendment giving only white women the right to vote was passed, ignoring the needs of women of colour in the country. Despite these setbacks, women around the world also started working and hence began playing a bigger role in the workplace; however, they were still facing discrimination with lower pay and unequal treatment. During this first wave of feminism, on March 19, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated across Europe in 1911. 

After an ongoing battle lasting 112 years, the second wave of feminism began in the 1960s and continued into the ’90s. During this time, women received the right to equal pay in the US and women of colour were finally given the right to vote alongside their white counterparts. Women also started playing new roles in the workforce that were larger still. This wave put a greater focus on fighting traditional gender roles and norms. The Roe v. Wade case—a case that took place in Texas where a woman sued against an anti-abortion law and fought to pass an equal rights amendment for social equality—emphasized reproductive rights as a main focus of the second wave. 

Elsewhere, there were protests against a Miss America Pageant, where women threw objects symbolizing oppression (high heels, undergarments, etc.) into the trash to fight misogynistic attitudes against women and unrealistic beauty standards. Despite all the successes of the second wave, it still neglected the rights of woman immigrants and religious minorities in the US. They continued to face unemployment, racism, and discrimination in multiple settings. 

In the ’90s, the third wave was just starting to form, where women embraced their femininity and sexuality. During this wave, advocacy against sexual assault and misogyny was on the rise with the creation of the #metoo movement, a focus on giving women of colour equal pay, and a fight against discrimination. In South Asia, advocacy for women to have access to education was also on the rise with advocates like Malala Yousafzai, while in Saudi Arabia, women gained the right to drive. In 2017, more than five million people marched worldwide advocating for full rights for women the day after Donald Trump was elected president, as he threatened to remove rights to immigration, racial equality, and reproductive rights in the US. 

The fourth wave of feminism is now on the rise due to the ongoing inequalities many women are still facing today such as violence, unequal pay, unemployment, public pressure, lack of representation in politics, reproductive rights with the overturning of the Roe v. Wade case, among many other issues. The definition of feminism also started to shift, becoming more inclusive and switching from traditional feminism to modern feminism by including trans women and other genders who are advocating for equal rights. 

Feminism has evolved dramatically during the years and is continuing to evolve to address the needs of all women around the world, regardless of be race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and even religion. 

Happy International Women’s Day! 


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