Being a woman is hard. Being a woman in an authoritarian country where your mere identity is your greatest weakness is even harder. All across the globe, authoritarian leaders have sworn to one goal: to preserve the male-dominated hierarchy and oppress women. Since the start of the earliest authoritarian regimes, the silencing of women has been a key component in fueling prominent male presence in these societies.
Authoritarian regimes consolidate and sustain power by having a strong central government who appears all-dominant and instills nationalist ideals upon their citizens to silence any form of uproar. Since the beginning of basic government institutions, male dominance in society has been associated with political legitimacy, whereas the role of women is to stay home, cook, take care of kids, and remain uninvolved with political affairs. Given that female presence in government is perceived as illegitimate and could easily spark political revolts, authoritarian leaders aim to effectively limit the amount of women in government. For four decades, the Egyptian parliament consisted of only 2.8% women and the National Assembly of Djibouti being around 2.2%.
The oppression of women in authoritarian regimes extends far beyond the political sphere. Not only do authoritarian regimes fundamentally lack necessary female representation in government but operate under the acts of misogynistic male figureheads. Iranian authoritarian leader Ayatollah Khomeini compared placing power in the hands of women to prostitution, repealed women’s voting rights laws, and forbade them to speak on public radios. A senator in Russia, a prominent authoritarian regime, stated “The fact that [a woman] is a successful businesswoman, manager, is irrelevant. The relevant [thing] is being a mother.” One of the most notable instances of women oppression in authoritarian regimes happened when Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte actively encouraged the raping of women through martial law. Given that authoritarian regimes can effectively conceal their abuses from the public eye, these highly misogynist actions are largely glossed over by mainstream media, which only emboldens the problematic actions of dictators.
Yes, all of this is surprising. No, this is nothing new. Fortunately, the problems that these women face do not need to be swept under the rug. I believe the only way to threaten the elitist mindset of male figureheads is by progressing feminist movements. The way to dethrone traditional dynamics in male-dominated societies that have been existent for decades is by challenging the very prospect of it. The intrinsic nature of feminist movements is to push for political, social, and economic equality for women, which directly opposes the current structure of authoritarian regimes. This could be done through using social media platforms to call out problematic leaders, attending protests that challenge authoritarianism, and even just spreading the word on the issues women in authoritarian countries face.
Historical instances where feminist movements have been tried in these nations effectively threatened even the most powerful of leaders. Feminists in China, a nation with no freedom of the press, flooded popular social media platforms with pro-feminist hashtags such as #MeToo and #NotYourPerfectVictim, which was met with massive backlash. These hashtags were among the top ten most censored topics on Chinese social media apps, caused multiple women to have their accounts removed, and the government even went so far as to impose university gender quotas that disproportionately favor men.
Although attempts at progressing feminist movements in authoritarian regimes are met with harsh governmental crackdowns, these crackdowns are drawing a massive amount of international attention to the movements itself. Furthermore, the government actively attempting to stifle social movements proves they realize that feminists hold the ability to dethrone misogynistic leaders and ideals that are the basic foundation of all authoritarian regimes.
At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We want women to live in a world where their opinions are seen as legitimate, have full autonomy over their bodies, and do not live with an incessant fear of harassment. To all my fellow feminists and every individual who believes in preserving the basic dignity of women, I urge you to fight this uphill battle - a tough one, but a necessary one.
Written by Sophia Li
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