A good year for the F-word

Feminism is alive, well and just as necessary as it ever was

So, we've said goodbye to 2006, a year that threw up (and I use that term advisedly) all the usual articles exhorting the death of feminism, proclaiming that the women's movement has made women unhappy and men superfluous. (The non-feminists made up that last bit - from my small corner of Battersea, I am pretty sure that men are just as important as ever.)

The arguments followed the usual paths. One was that feminism is over, because it is now unnecessary, what with women having not only achieved equality with men, but stolen their educational advantages, their jobs, their pride and, in fact, their overall purpose in life. Yep, that's right: in 2006 came the news that women have destroyed men.

This argument was undermined by almost every available statistic - from how women make up just 10 per cent of top company directors and 20 per cent of parliamentarians, to the 17 per cent pay gap between men and women in full-time work. Imagine if women actually had achieved equality by now - what trouble would we have been accused of wreaking? There were the rape conviction rates to consider, too, standing at an all-time low of 5.6 per cent of reported cases. And, if more evidence were needed that feminism might indeed be crucial, that there might still be a case for fighting misogyny, the year ended with the barbarous killing of five women in Ipswich.

The other strand of argument was that feminism is over, because no one is actually a feminist any longer. Journalists and "thinkers" have been banging this drum for years, while carefully ignoring (and you'd have to try quite hard to miss them) all the women working for equality and justice up and down the country. They happily overlooked the thousand women who marched through London on the Reclaim the Night pro test in November. They overlooked the work of the Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, the Poppy Project (which provides support for women trafficked into prostitution), groups such as Object (which fights against sexism), Abortion Rights (whose aims are self-evident), the Fawcett Society (which campaigns for equality), and agencies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission. They overlooked the success of the F-Word - an online magazine and blog run by young British feminists - and the debut of two new British feminist magazines, Subtext and Verge.

British feminism was alive and well in 2006, but perhaps the biggest kick in the teeth for feminism deniers should have been the news of the myriad protests arising across the globe. Some of these were a part of long-established movements; others were completely new. Many took place in countries where the protesters had a huge amount at stake, both in terms of the rights they were seeking to secure and the penalties they could potentially endure.

So, for instance, back in June, a hundred women gathered in central Tehran to protest against discriminatory Iranian laws. (These include laws that make a woman's testimony in court worth half that of a man's and give men the right to polygamy, allowing them to marry up to four wives at any one time.) Iranian police responded by detaining 70 of the demonstrators; it's alleged that some of them were beaten. Despite the dangers, this was the third such protest in two years. Prior to these there had apparently been no feminist demonstrations since the 1979 revolution.

In Jakarta on International Women's Day, 150 women marched through the streets against a bill that could impose jail terms for baring legs or shoulders. (One of the rally's organisers described it as just "another form of discrimination against women".) In Manila, 3,738 women held the biggest ever mass breastfeeding - an action that stemmed from the admonishment of mothers across the city for nursing in public. In Harare, 200 women held a protest after an opposition party legislator, Timothy Mubhawu, threatened a progressive domestic violence bill by stating in parliament that "I stand here representing God Almighty. Women are not equal to men."

In Cairo, groups of women gathered for a series of demonstrations against widespread and violent street harassment, as did women of the Blank Noise movement in cities across India. And, in Pereira, Colombia, girlfriends and wives of gang members had their own Lysistrata moment, holding a "strike of crossed legs" and denying their partners sex unless they agreed to disarm, and renounce violence.

Unfortunately, in 2006, a widespread, active feminist movement was as necessary as ever. Fantastically, there were millions of courageous, vital and angry women worldwide who were more than happy to commit to it. As 2007 unfolds, claims of feminism's demise are really quite ridiculous.

Kira Cochrane is women's editor of the Guardian