The world is changing. People’s access to knowledge, technology and culture is easier than ever before. The economy is progressing and the world is getting wealthier. In the 21st century, the world is pushing forward, opening one new door after another and uncovering new mysteries. Women are changing as well. All around the world, women are demanding equal treatment in the workplace, at home and in the public space. Through their determination, they are changing their situation and making themselves ever more visible and audible. Voicing their opposition to polygamy, rape, mutilation, lack of access to education and many more issues, including religious, cultural and political ones, they are fighting for equality and respect.
What is happening before my eyes in the 21st century is real. On the one hand, there have been outstanding achievements in technology and engineering; on the other, in some countries, half of the society is still oppressed. Women around the world have to fight for their rights, remembering, above all, about their right to have their own opinions and to decide about their bodies. This issue is not disappearing or limited to the least developed and developing countries: it is just as visible in the developed world.
Women began to think about themselves as early as in the middle of the 19th century. The women’s movement was primarily liberal in nature, aiming to bring about changes in legal systems and women’s suffrage. Women’s activity was visible mainly in English-speaking countries, but it quickly spread to Western Europe, making its way to Poland as well. It was the first women’s social movement reported in history, referred to as first-wave feminism.
At the turn of the 20th century, women fought primarily for the right to vote. The activists involved were called suffragettes (from the Latin word “suffragium”, meaning “vote”). The first national organisations were founded, aiming to spread their ideas among the public. They used various methods of action: demonstrations, educational activities, as well as acts of civil disobedience.
Major changes in women’s situation were brought about by World War I. As a result of the general mobilisation of men, many women went to work, which helped overcome many gender stereotypes and caused major changes in the employment structure. In the early 20th century, most European countries granted full suffrage to women. Since this was the main focus of the feminist movement, this development is considered to have marked the end of first-wave feminism. The movement wound down significantly before taking to the streets again in the 1970s (second-wave feminism).
Second-wave feminism continued the fight for equal rights for women in the political aspect, but its main topics were equality on the job market, abortion issues and female sexuality and self-awareness. Participants in the women’s movement questioned various taboos, initiating a discussion about the mutilation of women, the right to decide about one’s own body and family, as well as the possibility of self-education. Soon after, in the early 21st century, young women in the East, Africa and the Americas began loudly and
spontaneously fighting to topple the old regulations, the old private status and the separation of rights and obligations in marriage, aiming to gain equal access to medical care, education, as well as support in the case of violence. The media allowed women around the world to unite and learn about other customs, which for many years had been “walking myths” or stereotypes created by the world of men. The participants were no longer merely groups of women, but entire nations of fully self-aware women fighting for equality in every area of life. The women’s rebellion is visible to this day: nowhere is the situation the way it should be. There are still many men in the world who cannot imagine a woman holding a high position or achieving international success. Yet, we are born and we die the same way. We are able to achieve the same with the same energy and involvement. The male world should not feel threatened. We do not want to fight against men; we want to fight for ourselves.
The events of many years ago have their reflection in the 21st century. In 2017, women in many countries have once again taken to the streets en masse to loudly manifest their dissatisfaction with the lack of access to abortion and unequal, chauvinist treatment, delivering emotional speeches in opposition of governments, conservative factions, radical regulations and new laws dictated by politicians, traditionalists and the church. There was a time we had to ask men to speak our beliefs; now, we are numerous enough and have enough power to finally speak in one voice on behalf of all the women who cannot stand up for themselves or are afraid to do so. Protests, acts of civil disobedience, leaving our daily duties in order to paralyse the regular order, demonstrations, marches… It is hard to believe we still have to fight for the same things our grandmothers fought for.
It is for the women who boldly fight for emancipation, education and self-awareness that I wanted to be part of this project. Women’s Rights are Human Rights is an important topic for society as a whole — for both women and men. Together, we should demand our rights; decide about our family and health. We should respect and tolerate religious and cultural traditions as long as they are not abused and do not violate anyone’s dignity. We should remember about this for the sake of both our close ones and those far away. Everyone should have the same rights to live.
Thanks to the courtesy of Elizabeth Resnick; the help of Ewa Satalecka; the support of the Poster Museum at Wilanów, the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation; and the honorary patronage of Barbara Nowacka, a Women’s Rights are Human Rights Women’s Week was held in April 2017. As part of the event, young designers had the opportunity to tackle the issue during a design workshop, fight stereotypes, present their opinion on the issue, listen to enlightening stories at a conference and confront their thoughts with posters by female and male designers from around the world at an exhibition of posters from Elizabeth Resnick’s private collection of Women’s Rights are Human Rights held at the Poster Museum at Wilanów.