Women’s Movement, campaign to obtain political, social, and economic equality between women and men. Among the equal rights campaigned for are control of personal property, equality of opportunity in education and employment, equal suffrage (that is, the right to vote), and equality of sexual freedom. The women’s rights movement, also known as feminism and women’s liberation, first discernibly arose in Europe in the late 18th century. Although by 1970 most women throughout the world had gained many rights according to law, in fact complete political, economic, and social equality with men remains to be achieved.
The women’s movement is made up of a diversity of elements, and is non-hierarchical in structure. It does not adhere to any particular set of formal principles, but one of overall assertion does prevail: the idea that all women share a common oppression, which is not experienced by men, and of which men generally are the political, social, emotional, and economic beneficiaries.
With the re-emergence of Western feminism in the 1960s, the emphasis of the movement was very much on the fact of the personal being political, that is, that women’s individual experiences of subordination were not isolated incidents rooted in particular personality differences, but were each an expression of a common political oppression. There was also, early on, a concern for the importance of sisterhood, but this notion has been accused of lacking coherence and integrity in the event of persistent racial and class prejudice within the movement. In fact, the differences between women, as well as their areas of common ground, have themselves become topics for feminist academic research in recent years.
The movement falls broadly into three strands: exploration of solidarity and consciousness-raising, which facilitates the assessment of political and social position; campaigning on public issues, such as abortion, equal pay, childcare, and domestic violence; and the academic discipline of women’s studies, which attempts to provide a theoretical analysis of the movement.