Opinion: Fourth wave feminism, what's needed now? 1 year ago

Opinion: Fourth wave feminism, what's needed now?

Over 170 years ago women's suffrage marked the first wave of feminism, according to scholars we are now on the fourth wave. 


Today is international women's day and the theme is 'breaking the bias', feminism is a movement that has focused on breaking bias for nearly two decades. 

Social change is not something with a start and end, the fight for all types of justice is ever-evolving. So, it makes sense that feminism has gone through multiple changes, and with new generations, new problems need to be solved. 

All waves of feminism are built on the foundations of their predecessors so, to understand where we're at, we must first look back. 

In 1848 The Seneca Falls Convention took place in New York, which was the first women's rights convention ever. This started the fight for women's right to vote and own property. 


Although women in Ireland played an active role in fighting for Irish freedom during the 1916 rising and the war of independence, their right to vote did not come till 1918 and under strict colonial conditions. 

Second-wave feminism was ignited during the civil rights movement in 1960s America. While people were fighting for an end to systematic racism many other flaws in the system became visible.

In Ireland, the civil rights movement in the North gave rise to prominent Irish feminists such as Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. The Irish Women's Liberation Movement was created in 1970 and the following year the group travelled to Belfast to obtain contraception, the event now known as The Contraceptive Train


This wave of feminism campaigned for things like reproductive rights and divorce law. In contrast to first-wave feminism that mainly focused on legal barriers to equality, the feminists of the 60s and 70s took a wider look at what inhabited gender equality. 

Feminism saw a strong resurgence in the early 1990s, this part is known as the third wave. The discussion around intersectionality really began here with the understanding that minority women are worse affected by sexism. 

Reproductive rights and sexual liberation were central to this era, women's oppression was rooted also in the oppression of female sexuality. 


Although it is often portrayed that trans women's rights are something that has only come up recently it was a dominant discussion during the third wave. 

A key difference between the third wave with the first and second waves is its impact on pop culture and media. Feminism became something cultural as well as political. Bands like Riot Grrrl were distinctly feminist in their views and lyrics whereas The Spice Girls made girl power popular. 

Some feminists would argue that we are still in the third wave or some would argue that there is no such thing as waves at all. As you can see through the waves most of the feminists shared at least some core ideals so they are not separate from each other. 

The 2010s and the invention of social media changed the landscape of political organising and platforming ideas. This gave fourth-wave feminists not only a way to spread their message but also to communicate and organise. 


The internet is what makes the fourth-wave markedly different, feminists now have a strong online presence and that seeps into our culture and media. 

There is still a strong focus on issues that feminists have been campaigning for decades for like reproductive rights and fair representation. 

Intersectionality is at the forefront of the movement, although some women may have achieved close to equal rights, life is still disproportionately more difficult for disabled women, women of colour, trans women, and other minorities. 

Last Saturday a rally organised by The National Women's Council took place and the importance of intersectionality was noted. 

Photograph via Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

Mimi Unamoyo founder of Bomoko NI, an association for refugees and asylum seekers in Belfast spoke passionately at the rally about the importance of intersectionality. She fled the Congo 12 years ago, and from her speech, it was clear her journey was tarred with sexism. The sexism that we must be committed to fighting. 

The #MeToo movement grew on social media and the influence of the hashtag on the movement was notable. As previous women fought for the right to work and be included in social life, now fourth-wave feminists fight for women to be protected in those spheres. 

Discussions around gender and protecting trans women are also really relevant right now. With the rise of hate groups and TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) there is still a lot of work to do before feminism is completely inclusive. 

Feature image via Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie