We need to move beyond a singular understanding of feminism, and act upon the feminism which our partners at the grassroots envision for themselves. Learn how!
The second Lab of the 2023 Gender Justice Lab series focused on a complex and relatively recent topic: the relevance of a decolonisation perspective for feminism and, reciprocally, the reading of feminism through the lens of decolonisation; going beyond a western vision of feminism, in order to achieve women’s rights and gender justice across the Global South.
WHAT WE LEARNED
- What is decolonisation of feminism?
- How do women and women’s organisations in the Global South organise themselves around feminism?
- How can ILC members engage in promoting decolonisation of feminism as a perspective and a tool to promote women’s rights?
WE LEARNED WITH
- Silvia Gonzalez - Coordinadora de Género de la Central de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesinas Ch’orti’ Nuevo Día, Guatemala
- Lipi Rahman- Executive Director at Badabon Sangho, Bangladesh
- Diocelinda Iza - Luna Creciente, Ecuador
The Lab was moderated by Silvia Forno, ILC Learning Focal Point.
BEYOND A SINGULAR UNDERSTANDING OF FEMINISM
In 2017, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner identified women’s land rights as a precondition to achieving democracy, peace, justice, sustainable development and security for all. Nonetheless, significant barriers to securing gender equity in land rights and governance remain. One of these barriers is the tendency within international development organizations and western society at large to narrowly restrict our understanding of feminism.
In this workshop, three activists from people’s organizations in the global south discuss the importance of “decolonizing” our understanding of feminism. Their testimony illustrates our collective need to move beyond a singular understanding of feminism, and act upon the feminism which our partners at the grassroots envision for themselves.
Our speakers began by addressing the workshop’s central question: what is the decolonization of feminism?. Together, they agreed that we must understand decolonization as a practice which embodies the following:
1) We must understand feminism as locally contingent.
We cannot think about “feminism” as a universal concept. Rather, we must embrace the multiple ways in which communities of plural identities, geographies, and ontologies understand and practice feminism differently. Silvia Gonzalez, who serves as the gender coordinator at Central de Organizaciones Indígenas y Campesinas Ch’orti’ Nuevo Día says her work has allowed her to witness to “urban, academic, rural, Mayan, mixed colonial, academic, and western feminisms.” None of these feminisms is “superior,” Silvia says, but “must be understood within [their] own specific circumstances.” The importance of this, she believes, is a matter of representation. “So many times we refer to women’s struggles only within the context and struggles of the Western perspective...in these cases, we continue to make the stories and experiences of women from the Global South invisible.” To advance women’s rights at the grassroots, Silvia recommends that the ILC and other international organizations utilize local knowledge and understandings of feminism to advance more effective support.
“So many times we refer to women’s struggles only within the context and struggles of the Western perspective...in these cases, we continue to make the stories and experiences of women from the Global South invisible.” Silvia Gonzalez, Ch’orti’ Nuevo Día, Guatemala
2) We must understand feminism as it is embedded within neocolonial systems of power and inequality.
All three speakers articulated the importance of thinking of feminism intersectionality. Each emphasized the presence of racialized and classist systems which disproportionately affect rural women in the global south; systems which are products of colonial empires that retain social power long after independence movements. Diocelinda Iza, who works for Luna Creciente in Ecuador, believes dismantling dominant understandings of race, class, gender, and power is necessary to fight patriarchal norms. “It is about the fact that there are people who manage the world, and about those who are fighting everywhere to create profound transformation in the structures and financing of the State. We want to demand decolonization together, not only in a few organizations, but at the level where we can create collective transformations.” To do this, Diocelinda suggests that people’s organizations should come together to exchange ideas, educate women on their rights, and mobilize as a united front. Her organization, Luna Creciente, has begun this process in Ecuador by jointly mobilizing women from multiple sectors. She would now like to see this same collective power applied at the global level.
“We want to demand decolonization together, not only in a few organizations, but at the level where we can create collective transformations.” Diocelinda Iza, Luna Creciente, Ecuador
3) We must understand feminism as the practice of restoring power to the grassroots and transforming patriarchal systems.
The question of feminism must be centered not only on gender, but on the multiple axes of power which influence decision-making, autonomy, and voice at all levels. Our three speakers recognized the restoration of power and leadership to historically marginalized groups as a key element of decolonizing feminism. The influence of power-shifting on impact is clear to Lipi Rahman, who serves as the Executive Director at Badabon Sanghoin Bangladesh. Rahman believes that “by rethinking management and organization...we can interrupt mainstream narratives to bring about a new geopolitics of knowledge.” Put another way, by understanding feminism through the eyes of the most marginalized, we can cultivate a new understanding of feminism which best serves the needs of our local partners. At Badabon Sangho, Rahman’s team has already begun this process in collaboration with 97 women-led grassroots partners. “We are working on centering power with women and their communities,” Rahman says. “We are working to build up strategies that meet the needs of people at the grassroots, working together for a future that meets the needs of regional women and girls.” Key to this transformation, Rahman notes, has been an intentional reprioritization in project design.
“We are valuing community and Indigenous knowledge...and using a bottom-up approach to shift power. We are not donor driven, we are partner driven.” Lipi Rahman, Badabon Sangho, Bangladesh
POWER-SHIFTING AND VISIBILITY.
At the conclusion of this workshop, participants engaged in an active discussion of what must be done to decolonize feminism in our respective organizations. Collectively, participants expressed a commitment to make visible the resistance and knowledge of our community partners. In the words of one attendee, “there are many instances of historical activism and resistance which Indigenous women ancestors have already done, in the face of intertwining oppressions and violence. . . and yet, they have not been called feminists. It is important to recognize and name them as the political subjects they are.” As we continue the struggle to achieve equitable governance, these principles of power-shifting and visibility must guide us to transform oppressive patriarchal systems.
With thanks to Maya Khanna, Postgraduate Fellow at the International Land Coalition, for writing this article.