A woman cuts her hair during a demonstration on Sept. 23, 2022 in front of the Iranian embassy in Brussels, Belgium, following the death of Mahsa Amini / Photo by Shutterstock.com / Alexandros Michailidis
Tucked away in the mountains of Nepal is a subtle outcry for women’s rights. Druk Gawa Khilwa, a Buddhist abbey, is the only monastery where its nuns practice the same kung fu as males. Though the open challenge against the patriarchal monastic has not gained the same media traction as other women’s rights movements, these women have quietly defined who they are and their own capabilities.
His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa, the current leader of the monastery, hoped to empower women through self-defense and train them no differently from the men. The progressiveness of The Gyalwang Drukpa almost feels unheard of or perhaps even out of place, but it’s only further evidence that the fight for women’s empowerment is global. It transcends time and space, where one movement sets off another like a chain reaction.
The battle for women’s rights and protests for suffrage may have started in 1848 in the U.S. with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friends, but the fight for gender equality and women’s rights is happening around the world.
In the U.S., protest work centers around public demonstrations, sit-ins, petitions and public marches and symbols. Of course, these forms of protest exist elsewhere as well, but when I think of mass organization and advocacy, I think of the George Floyd protests, the Greensboro sit-ins, and the 2017 Women’s March. However, to see protests as monolithic would be a mistake. It narrows the definition of advocacy and does not even begin to cover the ways in which women have sought to cement their rightful place as equals in a largely patriarchal world. Political activism among young people, combined with the ubiquity of technology, makes it easy to gather large crowds and rally for support; but in other countries, it might not be as easy.
For the most part, gender equality in the U.S. might be considered one of the many most caught up with modern-era democratic ideals. Women have the right to vote, to own property, to be educated, and hold many rights that other countries have not yet legalized. Feminism and outspoken protests for such in the U.S. are dominated by heated social media discussions, marches to the Capitol, and picket signs calling for legislative changes. In some countries, these acts and demands for governmental action could lead to imprisonment or even death.
Today in the U.S., one of the most prominent battles regards pay disparity and abortion. For instance, the U.S. and Canadian national soccer teams are among many groups that have spoken out about getting paid less than the U.S. men’s team despite winning far more matches on the global stage. U.S. players like Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and their Canadian counterpart Christine Sinclair stand in solidarity with each other on labor dispute issues and funding for the same resources as male soccer teams. In support of the Canadian team, Rapinoe and her teammates wore purple armbands during the SheBelieves Cup last month; both teams had turned their jerseys inside out as a form of rebellion against their respective governing bodies.
In China, however, the focus is not on equal pay. Societal and cultural stereotypes that shun out-of-wedlock births and unmarried women make it difficult for single women with children to receive maternity leave. Defiance of traditional Confucian family values automatically marginalizes these women, but many of them are left to fight the battle alone. They are stymied by bureaucracy and the patriarchy in a way that is not always recognized in the U.S., and is perhaps a reason why progress feels so much slower in other countries.
Across the continent in Iran, women’s rights protests have been ongoing for months. Its various movements have concentrated on reproductive health rights, dress code freedom and freedom of expression. What sparked global outcry and support for the Iranian movement was the death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested for allegedly violating the Iranian dress code with her hijab. The level and extent of protest is historic; women and young girls have begun a truly female-led revolution, despite the harsh consequences and the possibility of losing their lives if caught. But Iran and China are not alone. Each of these political movements is closely intertwined and creates a ripple effect that can be felt around the world.
At the convent in Nepal, encouraging the fight for women’s rights is only one aspect. The Gyalwang Drukpa doesn’t only imbue confidence in the nuns, but also teaches skills like fixing electrical and plumbing systems. We associate handiwork so often with a man’s role and forget that equalizing gender stereotypes can come from ensuring women are on a level playing field.
Women’s empowerment doesn’t have to be loud. It doesn’t need to hold a sign claiming to fight for women’s rights. People around the world are uniting and gathering to create change. Just because it doesn’t look like what’s familiar doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The U.S.’s advancement on women’s rights does not automatically make it morally superior; other countries that have not prioritized the right to vote or to hold political office before advancing to other issues are not behind or less worthy. The fight for women’s rights is a battle for the collective, and it’s time we start to see it that way. Chain reactions are far more powerful when people aren’t neglected for not being on the same level of so-called modernity as everyone else.