The history of feminism and the history of women’s struggle for their social, civil, and human rights are almost unknown to the majority of people. Only at the end of the 20th – the beginning of the 21st centuries, feminism became the subject of public discussions and scientific researches. It is possible to say that since the mid-1990s, feminism has become a truly global phenomenon. Large and influential international organizations include feminist agenda in their development strategies and programs. It is obvious that for developed and developing countries, there are different tasks to achieve equality. Despite this fact, certain common problems exist. Thus, the first thing that unites all countries, regardless of their level of development, is the problem of violence against women. The next problem, faced by women in Africa and Asia, is poverty. Another serious issue is the education of girls. Thus, the topic of the current paper is devoted to this issue since one of the main requirements of women’s movement is considered the right of women to get education equally with men. The feminist movement has conducted a successful policy regarding the equal access to education, but the problem remains, and still, many women choose to acquire not education and career but start a family; although, these days it is possible to combine these spheres. Thus, it is important to study the history and modern state of this problem.
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The Notion of Feminism
It is quite difficult to determine the notion of feminism, considering the diversity and continuous development of this phenomenon. Currently, there are several points of view about its emergence and origins. Some researchers believe that feminism as a woman’s desire to be free from the care of a man and make him reckon with her personal qualities has always existed (Hannam, 2013). Thus, Hannam (2013) believes that the appearance of this notion is attributed to the ancient Amazonian myths since it points to the domination of matriarchy. The author states that according to other researchers, feminist ideas can be found in the 17th century, primarily in the writings of English writers Mary Astell and Aphra Behn (Hannam, 2013). Some notions, close to feminism, were revealed during the Renaissance (Hannam, 2013). It should be noted that early feminists did not use the name ‘feminism’ and called themselves ‘women’s advocates’ or ‘advocates of women’s rights’.
Most modern historians traditionally associate the development of feminist ideology with the socio-political movements for equal political and legal rights of women with men (Hannam, 2013). Thus, in the history of Western civilization, the social movement for the equality of women formed in the second half of the 19th century, when women first showed that they could be an independent and quite organized political force. The term ‘feminism’ as a synonym for female emancipation began to be widely used in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century (Hannam, 2013). Then, according to the majority of researchers, the term ‘feminism’ derived from the Latin word ‘femina’ meaning a ‘woman’ (Hannam, 2013). In the 20th century, from the practice of the socio-political movement for the equality of women feminism turned into a phenomenon of general cultural scale with a developed philosophical concept, based on a gender methodological foundation.
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The Right to Education
These days, despite great achievements of the representatives of feminist movement, a great number of problems, related to women’s rights, remains. It is especially true for their right to have education equally with men. Thus, in many countries, women’s education is even not encouraged. In the system of human, civil rights, and freedoms, the right of every person to education occupies a special place. For the first time, this right was enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, further consolidated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and later – in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Cahill, 2010). The European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states that any person should not be denied to receive education (Cahill, 2010). The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action on Human Rights emphasizes that the purpose of the education system in all countries consists in the strengthening of respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights (Cahill, 2010). At the same time, the Beijing Conference on the Status of Women has made included the right of women and girls for education into this purpose (Cahill, 2010). Therefore, it is necessary to promote a worldwide human-centered sustainable development, including economic growth, by providing women and girls with basic education, continuing education, training opportunities and literacy, and primary health care. The maximum development of the abilities of girls and women of all ages ensures their equal and full participation in building a better world and enhances their role in the development process.
History of Feminism and Education
The representatives of feminist movement have always fought for the right to receive education. The path of women to higher education and science was quite difficult. For a long time, there had been no higher educational institutions for women, while they were not allowed to attend such institutions for men. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that women were not capable of analyzing and thinking independently (Misra, 2010). They could only remember and repeat. Therefore, they did not need to be taught at all or they should be taught only what could be useful in their future family life and the upbringing of children. In Europe, women received the possibility to be admitted to higher education institutions only in the second half of the 19th century (Misra, 2010). In some countries, girls were allowed to attend classes but several years later, they were again banned from doing so. However, the situation could be different. Many universities were independent and they had their rules. For example, the chronicles of the University of Bologna mentioned a woman who not only studied but also even taught there in the 13th century (Misra, 2010). It is now difficult to believe that women have experienced such difficulties to receive education.
Therefore, the question of including women in the educational process had become relevant since the middle of the 19th century when the women’s movement in the United States and Europe raised the issue of access of women to education. In the 1860s, the process of organization of primary and secondary schools for girls began, and the program of these schools no longer differed from the programs of schools for boys, except for the availability of such special subjects as needlework (Misra, 2010). Since the late 1870s, European and American women have received access to higher education, mainly in France and Switzerland (Misra, 2010). The most backward in the field of higher education for women was England, where women acquired access to the oldest universities of Oxford and Cambridge only in the 1960s (Misra, 2010). Thus, the situation with women’s education changed greatly in the 20th century with the spread of the feminist movement.
Researchers at Harvard University attempted to explain the unprecedented growth in the number of women receiving higher education at US universities. Between 1900 and 1930, the number of women and men enrolled as university students in bachelor’s degree programs was approximately equal (Misra, 2010). Nonetheless, since the 1930s, the proportion of men among the total number of students has risen sharply. After the end of World War II, this trend only intensified as veterans returning home began to enroll in universities. In 1947, sexual inequality reached its apogee, when there were 2.7 men per one woman among university students (Misra, 2010). A problem of women’s right to education was solved only in the 1960 as the result of student revolutions (Misra, 2010). At that time, women finally consolidated their right to enroll at universities.
The right to education was realized with the help of various demonstrations of women, demanding access to universities. Initially not quite numerous women’s groups in the United States and Europe have turned into influential national coalitions and associations (Noddings, 2013). With various means of civic activity, feminists try to achieve a change in the laws and they do everything to make their voice heard. Mass demonstrations, petitions, appeals to politicians and parties, and protest actions are aimed at attracting public attention, changing policies, and conducting reforms. These days, such appeals continue. Women want to attract people’s attention to the problem of gender inequality in various areas. There is still a widespread opinion that women should raise children and men should earn money. Nevertheless, women’s policy regarding equal rights in the access to education is considered extremely successful.
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Nevertheless, there are still enough reasons for concern of international community on the issue under discussion. The total number of illiterate people around the world has reached more than a billion people. In the countries of South Asia and the Arab States, every third adult is illiterate (Noddings, 2013). The number of illiterate people among the female population in poor states is especially high. In Africa, 60% of women do not know how to read or write (Noddings, 2013). Asia accounts for 70% of the world’s illiterate women (Noddings, 2013). Even in the country like the United States, 20% of Americans over the age of 17 years old have only basic reading and writing skills (Noddings, 2013). Sadly, women constitute a significant part of them.
Historic experience shows that making society aware of the need to abandon the dominant ideology of male superiority does not happen automatically. For this purpose, it is necessary to take active steps in this direction and educate girls and women regarding the current situation as well as possible ways of its correction. At many universities, there are disciplines, devoted to sociopolitical problems. Thus, one of the leading universities in Canada has a special course of issues of equality and justice in relations between people and social groups, oriented at sociopolitical problems (Noddings, 2013). This course is offered along with the general course of constitutional law. In addition to the general course of family law, professors also teach special courses on children’s rights, reproductive rights, sexuality and law as well as the interdisciplinary course feminist legal theory. The course of feminist theory is taught in Canada and other universities worldwide. In the process of studying this course, various theoretical feminist perspectives are analyzed. There is no need to argue specifically how important it is to organize the teaching of similar courses in all countries, especially in the conditions of drastic changes in the social, political, and economic life of societies of many countries. The possibility of the realization of right to education cannot be reduced only to the fact that a woman has received a diploma about the graduation from an educational institution. In the conditions of postindustrial society, it is important to not only possess relevant information but also have the ability to use it.
In many developed countries, feminism has become a part of a democratic socio-political system and public policy. The representatives of this movement have fought for equal rights with men. Moreover, this struggle continues even these days, which is especially true for women’s right to receive education. Several hundred years ago, women were not allowed to enter universities. It was only a privilege of men. Thus, with the help of numerous demonstrations and petitions, women could achieve tremendous success in this field, and they were permitted to study at universities. Despite the fact that it happened in the second half of the 19th century, there is still a problem concerning women’s rights. It is necessary to remember that the right to education is viewed as a constitutional and most importantly, natural human right, and no one should be deprived of it.