The position of women in society and social change Essay


Many scholars view the world wars witnessed in the 20th century as agents of social change. This is because the wars supported egalitarianism in society where roles were distributed based on merit and expertise but not based on gender. The twentieth century period was an era of liberation to women since their rights were recognized in society. One scholar noted in 1942 that the achievements of women during the world wars would save them from being treated as homemakers, who were simply relegated to the domain of the home1.

This paper will therefore try to relate the war, specifically the two world wars, to the position of women in society and social change. It can be observed that the war gave women some advantages in the international system as opposed to men. Women were allowed to join professions that were previously reserved for men due to one reason or another.

The International System and the Role of Women

The international system exists according to the Hobbestian state of nature. This is where only the strong states survive since life is short-lived, brutal and anarchic. In other words, there is no Leviathan in the international system. Women consider themselves weak because men use their physical strength to oppress them. Goldstein observes that women detest the postulations of the realist theory since the theory does not open the black box.

Women believe that gender variations occur at an individual and group level. To feminists, the realist theory only considers the interaction of states but not units, which include women. Social change and communal awareness transpire mainly through scientific developments, class divergence, and political accomplishments.

Every societal structure is situated within them and is exposed to the power of the state-class system, a local milieu, and a global system of nations and economies2. The world-system viewpoint perceive nations and state-run financial systems as located within a global capitalist nexus, with a distribution of labor equivalent to its elements, that is, the center, the margin, and the semi-periphery.3 Consequently, no main social change takes place outside the global milieu.

Therefore, to comprehend the positions and status of female members of society or adjustments to the structure of the family, for instance, it is essential to scrutinize the financial development and political transformation, which are influenced by local and universal developments.

As it can be observed in various discussions concerning female’s employment, the structural factors related to class position, state lawful policy, developmental policy, and global market variations combine to configure the rapidity and tempo of women’s assimilation in the labor force and their access to financial capital. Some organizations and systems influence and are influenced by social changes in a Marxist-inspired world-system viewpoint.

The organizations are entrenched within a class system, including the system of manufacturing, accretion, and surplus allocation. Furthermore, a variety of gender collections and customs such as approved positions of males and females through tradition or law, artistic comprehension of feminine and masculine abilities affect the position of women in society as regards to social change.4

In Britain, women had taken over jobs in various sectors by the end of 1914. Surprisingly, the war provided women with an opportunity to work in ammunition factories. More so, women volunteered to work in various humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross.

Through the war, women showed what they were capable of doing both at home and in their places of work. What women delivered during the First World War changed the perception of many in society. The society appreciated the contribution of women yet it was reluctant to offer some privileges to them. For instance, women were paid almost equality as men since they received two-thirds of what men were paid.

Unexpectedly, the state granted women the right to participate in political affairs. For that case, women were allowed to select candidates of their choice and were allowed to participate in elections fully. This meant that they could present their candidature during elections as long as they qualified.

The investigation of gender regarding war entails an assessment of the standards, classifications, opportunities, postulations, and behaviors utilized differentially to males and females in the situation of conflict. States subsist in what is viewed as a bloodthirsty and unsafe global milieu.

For this reason, states have always prioritized their national securities. Due to national security interests, huge military finances, martial recruitment of male populace, overseas incursions, and the limitation of public freedoms have been vindicated. Most people view the safety of the state as an essential value that should always be supported. This is particularly factual during war. The prerequisite of state security has always been and remains to be a male prefecture.

Most women support what are believed to be lawful needs for state war, however the main aim of defining and protecting the sovereignty of the nation has been the duty of males, an undertaking that has seen men rewarded in various cultures. To surrender one’s life for one’s nation in warfare has been perceived as the premier type of loyalty, but a failure to battle is the sign of a coward or proof of biological or psychological sub-maleness.

It should be noted that women have engaged in non-combatant wars and have succeeded in achieving their dreams. Such women include Elizabeth 1, Catherine the Great, Indra Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher. Despite of this, the role of women in war has always been overshadowed by the actions of men.

In other places such as in the Hispanic military, women have participated in combatant battles. Unfortunately, the society perceives women as people who are always in need of protection. 5Jean Elshtain in her works ‘Women and War’, alleges that the role of women in society should be comprehended in relation to the actuality that war is presently institutionalized in the international system.

Recently, scholars have noted that war affects men and women differently. This is due to the emergence of feminism theory, which tries to evaluate the position of women in society. The question has centered on the exact effects on females that war demands since during war, gender distinctiveness happens to be polarized as militarism and maleness infuse throughout culture6.

This is not to dispute the fact that pacifism as such is accredited to genetic tendency but that women are misrepresented in the decision-making, both in national and in the military sector. 7Caprioli has recommended that the relationship of women with peace is one that has occurred specifically due to their defused situation. There are various varieties of feminism and a collection of approaches as to how gender equality could be restored to the advantage of both men and women.

Feminists concede that the gendering of societal life based on male-female dialectic generates prejudice that further leads to traditional blueprints. At the time of war, these may perhaps rematerialize in a destructive way and could be legitimately authorized. From the above analysis, various feminist organizations emerged in society to challenge their deprived position after the Second World War.

Gender Roles in War

Joshua Goldstein notes that the roles of women in conflicts have been greeted with variations among scholars of history and political science. In the western militaries for instance, Goldstein observes that the society has allowed women to join professions in the military that were reserved for men. In fact, women are considered soft sports since many illegal groups such as those in Rwanda and Burundi target them.

Rape has been employed as a war instrument in many places such as Yugoslavia and Mexico. Goldstein does not engage in a debate as regards to the role of gender in war but instead he tries to differentiate between the interests of various feminist groups. He also observes the relationship between feminism and the realist theory, which is one of the most powerful theories in explaining the role of actors in the international system.

According to Goldstein, the major aim of feminism is liberation from the house of bondage. As stated by Goldstein, each category of feminism aims at liberating itself from certain injustices. In this case, liberal feminism aims at achieving egalitarianism between men and women in society. The feminists under this category argue that women have the right to participate in any activity including war. To them, this is achieved through legal and political reforms.

This would not change societal structure. Radical feminism relates its problems to the capitalistic economy that is controlled by men. In this regard, such groups aim at revising the existing social structure. In relation to war, the crusaders under this category argue that war is a tool used by men to subjugate a perpetuate women.

In many cases, warlords would target women since they are easy to defeat. Women would then be deprived economically since they do not have the power and the means to resist incursions. Conservative feminism tries to understand its surrounding. Libertarian feminism asserts that people are owners of their lives meaning that they have the power to determine their own destinies, including war decisions.

Separatist feminism argues that women should concentrate on helping themselves meaning that heterosexual relationships are irrelevant to women. In this regard, women should engage in war to protect their fellow women8. In this line of thinking, women should always be involved in making critical foreign policies that would amount to war. Furthermore, economic determinism is an issue of concern to women.

Women single out capitalism as being an impediment to their achievement in society. Capitalistic ideologies discriminate women from accessing resources in society. Socialist scholars differentiate themselves from Marxism by arguing that injustices can only be abolished through revising the social structure and having sound economic policies in society. Cultural feminist movement aims at ensuring women are self-sufficient and self-reliant.

Towards the beginning of 1990s, a new wave of feminism emerged, which advocated for the rights and freedoms of adolescent females. The movement wanted the government to come up with policies that would protect young women from societal injustices such as rape and sexual harassment. In this case, young women had to be allowed to come up with make-ups of their choices including clothing and sexual allure. They were to be recruited in the disciplined forces in the same way as men.

Goldstein underscores the fact that it is imperative to consider time, culture and country when understanding the activities of feminist organizations. Women started fighting for their rights during the 19th century in the US and UK. They were mostly focused on promoting equality, marriage rights, parenting and ownership of property. Towards the end, the movement shifted its attention to political power and authority.

The movement wanted the state to allow all women to participate in elections. This meant that women were to be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice. Furthermore, women had to be allowed to contest for various positions during elections, as long as they qualified. Feminist groups advocated for abolition of slavery, which was seen as a road to elimination of male domination. In 1919, the constitution was amended to cater for the interests of women.

The Nineteenth Amendment to the US constitution granted women the right to participate in political processes. After the achievement, women did not relax instead they took their struggle a notch higher by demanding for more powers and freedoms. The new wave was termed as the second wave of feminism. The second wave aimed at eliminating social injustices as opposed to political issues. In this case, women wanted to be provided with social services such as childcare services, proper housing, medical cover and free education.

The third wave feminism begun in 1990. The feminism organizations at this time aimed at lobbying the government to implement policies contained in the second wave. Third wave feminism focused on micro-politics and universalizing feminism. In this case, it delinked feminism from white women and tried to understand it as a common problem to all women in the world. Third wave feminism understood the position of women in society through a post-structuralism perspective.

The second wave applied the ideas of Marx, which are radical and unrelenting. The second wave feminist scholars argued that no social structure is maintained through oppressing and exploiting a section of its members. The movement aimed at generating a female dominated society. On the other hand, the third wave feminism observed that it is not easy to change a social structure. In this case, each person should be involved in the process of change.

Achievements of Feminist Organizations after the Second World War

Feminist groups managed to do away with various forms of discrimination against women after the Second World War. The government in the US decided to abolish laws that segregated society based on gender in 1960s, just after the Second World War. Through the activities of feminist groups, women were granted rights such as reproduction rights. This meant that women were allowed to determine their destinies as regards to pregnancies.

The high court decided in the case involving Roe and Wade that women could abort pregnancies on grounds of health. Through this achievement, women took charge of families because they could seek for family planning contraceptives. Women were relieved from domestic chores meaning that some took over political positions.

As a consequent, division of labor was also extended to women because some of them could be relied upon during policy formulation. In early 1990s, the UN charter was formulated to safeguard the interests of women in all parts of the world. Through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, women’s rights were documented as international bill of rights that the state had to grant unconditionally.

Through the feminist activities, language used in society was unbiased meaning that it was inclusive and non-sexist. This has greatly shaped women’s participation in global political processes including voting and government appointments. For instance, the word ‘Miss’ may perhaps be utilized to signify both married and unmarried women. Before the world wars, unmarried woman were not to be entrusted with leadership.

This affected women before but it is no longer an issue in the contemporary world. In the religious front, women managed to convince the faithful that it was not God’s will for men to oppress women. In this regard, women should were allowed to participate in religious activities actively.

Consequently, women were ordained as bishops in various denominations after the war, although some were still conservative such as catholic. Culturally, women managed to lobby the government to institute stricter laws that would cater for their rights. It was a criminal offence to engage a woman in sex without her consent after the Second World War in the US and UK. Criminals charged with forcible rape received severe punishments, a move that was aimed at discouraging the vice.

Challenges of Feminism after the Second World

Although women have managed to do away with problems affecting them, there are still some issues to deal with. The first one is related to labor market, which favors men in many ways. The government should come up with policies that aim at empowering women economically. Since the Civil War, women are still incorporated in the financial system as underdogs. Wealth lies in the hands of men implying that women are likened to the proletariat who produces goods that he or she does not consume.

In most families, male partners are known to control political and economic affairs, which are more important in an individual’s life. At work places, women are forced to work and produce goods and services just like men. Women are further required to take care of homes. This is unfair because both partners must share domestic roles in case they both work. The government should therefore look for ways to eliminate this problem because it affects the productivity of women in society.

It is factual that the US has more male senators and governors. This is because the government does not have a clear policy that empowers women politically. In this case, women should be funded by the state during campaigns in order to realize gender balance. Scholars concede that women should be empowered through management. In this case, bosses should aim at assisting women employees to realize their goals.

The government should ensure that each organization conforms to the provision of the constitution, which states that each person should be allowed to exercise his or her democratic right without interference from anybody. Empowerment of women is inevitable in case millennium development goals are to be realized in the country. Poverty cannot be eradicated in case women are left behind in development9.


It can be concluded that women have never enjoyed their rights in political history. Their rights and freedoms are usually hampered by factors such as religion, male patriarchy, social structure and culture. After the Second World War, the society witnessed the potentials of women. At this time, various feminine groups emerged, with each advocating for diverse rights.

The modern day activism is realistic in that it focuses on achieving equality but not domination. The feminist groups have achieved many objectives and goals such as abolition of sexist language, revising the social structure and participating in political processes.

List of References

Caprioli, M 1995, “Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 49, no. 2.

Carver, T 1995, Gender is not a Synonym for Women, Lynne Rienner, Boulder.

Elshtain, J 1996, Women and War, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Enloe, C 2000, Manoeuvres: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Goldstein, J 2001, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hansen, L 2001, “Gender, Nation, Rape: Bosnia and the Construction of Security”, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 3, no. 1.

Shaw, M 1988, Dialectics of War, Pluto, London.

Summerfield, P 1984, Women Workers in the Second World War: Production and Patriarchy in Conflict, Croom Helm, London.


1Summerfield, P 1984, Women Workers in the Second World War: Production and Patriarchy in Conflict, Croom Helm, London.

2 Hansen, L 2001, Gender, Nation, Rape: Bosnia and the Construction of Security, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 3, no. 1.

3 Shaw, M 1988, Dialectics of War, Pluto, London.

4 Caprioli, M 1995, “Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 49, no. 2.

5Elshtain, J 1996, Women and War, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

6 Enloe, C 2000, Manoeuvres: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, University of California Press, Berkeley.

7Caprioli, M 1995, “Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 49, no. 2.

8 Goldstein, J 2001, War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

9 Carver, T 1995, Gender is not a Synonym for Women, Lynne Rienner, Boulder.

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