International Feminists Organizing
Gloria Steinem observes, “We’ve produced the most uppity generation of young women in history.” An Indian college student wrote to me, “I want to eradicate the evils mainly faced by girls and solve the problems of girls.” (Sunihta, 16, f) This implies the need for a woman’s movement. Another confidant Indian girl states: “I think that I have the talent to achieve all theses things: I ’m here on earth to vanquish corruption, help people and make myself an honest memorable person in the world.” (Ritu, 17, f) Other progressive aspirations from SpeakOut girls follow.
Desire for Equality
I want to empower the youth as the bone of development of Nepal and eradicate discrimination, inequality, and eliminate social evils like early child marriage of girls, dowry, trafficking in girls, drug addiction and the bonded labor system [almost like slave labor, farmers are in debt to landowners].
Anzel, 16, f, Nepal
Realize that girls have got the same rights as boys. Some adults think that girls’ duty is taking care of family. I would make them realize time has changed and goes with technology. ?, 17, f, Tanzania
I’d change gender stereotypes of giving men work and denying women, saying that women are for kitchen work. ?, f, teen, Kenya
I want to become a blacksmith. Nikita, 14, f, Netherlands
My purpose is to mark my name in the world. Neelima, 14, f, India
I want to make mistakes so I can learn from it and others can learn from it. I want to be noticed, not just someone you walk past in the street. I want to make something of myself. Talia, 15, f, Australia
I’d like to be an explorer. Although it’s dangerous, and I might have to pay my life for it, I still love it. To get close to nature, to listen to the harmonious sound of it, to go to the animal world to feel their special skills for survival, these are all interesting although I have to take risks. Zhangqihong, 15, f, rural China
I have a dream and one day it’s going to be real. After I finish high school I want to be the first Palestinian girl pilot. Rafeef, 16, f, Palestine
I want to be a diplomat because I like helping people very much and we can live in another country for a while. Fitriana, 16, f, Indonesia
I want to be a doctor and help my poor and kind Afghan people.
Nadia, 17, f, Afghanistan
I’d like to be the mayor of my village. Eman, 17, f, Bedouin in Israel.
I want to be somebody who does what no woman did or only few do in my work. To be different in this way I need to be well educated and literate. I should have the feelings of equality between a man and woman like I can also be equal to man. I should have the ability to compete. Right now I have no interest in marriage. I am thinking to remain single in the future but if at all I am to marry, I would prefer to go by my choice. We don’t have custom of selecting groom by the parents. Chuney, 17, f, Bhutan
International Women’s Organizations
Women and girls are around 70% of the one billion people who live in abject poverty on less than $1.25 a day. Amnesty International reports that at least one third of women are abused in their lifetime. They’re more likely than boys and men to die in developing countries. Globalization is widening the gap between the rich and the poor, consuming resources and harming the environment, increasing unsafe jobs, and international banks often reduce services like health and education to repay loans. On the other hand, it enables information about gender equality and attention to abuses and in some places increases women’s employment. The realization that women are the key to development, as in population control, resulted in more international focus on women’s issues and support for women from international agencies like the World Bank and its 2012 report on “Gender Equality and Development.”[i] Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated, “No country can develop if half its human resources are devalued or repressed.”
The United Nations has organized the most people and drawn the most attention to sexism and the status of women through its conferences in the International Decade for Women, in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), and Nairobi (1985) and then in Beijing in 1995. In Copenhagen, I was shocked to see that most of the official UN delegates were men. The lively activity was in the NGO discussions. My baby and his dad made the TV news in Copenhagen, as it was still unusual to see a father caring for his children without their mother to watch over him. The Nairobi conference was credited for the birth of global feminism and the Beijing Platform for Action declared “gender equality was an issue of universal concern, benefiting all.”
The UN established a Commission on the Status of Women the first year it was organized. The Millennium Development Goals established in 2000 included “Promote gender equality and empower women” and “reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.” The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is considered the most important international agreement on the rights of women and girls, but the US is the only industrial nation not to ratify it. In 2010 the UN merged different agencies into on called UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, referred to as UN Women. Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, heads the agency.
The Sisterhood is Global Institute believes it is the world’s first feminist think-tank.[ii] Robin Morgan, Simon de Beauvoir and women from many other countries founded it in 1984, a spin off of Morgan’s Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. Some of its achievements are: The first Women’s Urgent Action Alerts used by NGOs; The first Global Campaign to make Women’s Unpaid Labor visible in national accounting; The first Human Rights Manuals for Women in Muslim Societies.
A list of national women’s organizations and current news sources are listed in the endnote.[iii] Media centers on powerful men, so Pulse Wire was created as a voice for global women. A shy Wisconsin girl who was even afraid to raise her hand to ask the teacher if she could go to the bathroom, at age 19 Jensine Larsen went to the Amazon to work with native women. Then she went to Burma to assist refugees. At age 23 she had a vision about increasing media’s coverage of women because only 10% of central stories are about women and only 1% of the world’s editors are female. Although women and girls do two-thirds of the work, they only own 1% of the financial assets. By the time she was 28 she was able to raise the funds to start Pulse Wire, with local reporters in over 21 countries telling women’s stories in a print magazine and website where women from all over the globe can talk with each other.[iv]
Charitable organizations for women include Women For Women to help survivors of war and The Global Fund for Women. The GFW has given grants to women’s groups since 1987–over $71 million to more than 3,800 women’s groups in 167 countries.[v] Universities offer courses such as “Global Feminisms,” defined by Vanderbilt professor Brooke Ackerly as ”the study of feminisms transnationally, and of global politics through feminist lenses….on the ways in which systems of power – race, gender, sexuality, colonialism, imperialism, genocide, slavery, and health – are interrelated.” These courses use “feminisms” in the plural to indicate many different viewpoints, as seen if you do an Internet search for global feminisms courses.
First and Third World Feminism
Although feminism in the US and Europe influenced the spread of the women’s movement around the world in the 1970s, women in other countries sometimes feel judged by American women in “moral imperialism” for cultural practices like the headscarf or female genital cutting. They don’t feel all women want the same things and don’t aspire to be like American women. Lila Abu-Lughod has done fieldwork in Egypt for decades and reports: “I cannot think of a single woman I know . . .who has ever expressed envy of U.S. women, women they tend to perceive as bereft of community, vulnerable to sexual violence and social anomie, driven by individual success rather than morality, or strangely disrespectful of God.”[vi]
Third World women organized their own women’s movements, such as the organization Women Living Under Muslim Laws in 1984, and those discussed in Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms, edited by Amrita Basu (2010). They bemoan the influence of Western consumerism on girls and women. In Nigeria, Nanjala Nyabola says she was raised with the idea of feminists as bra-burners who couldn’t get along with men. She reports that “In many parts of the global south, women are rejecting the baggage that comes with western feminism….Qualified feminism—third-world feminism, postcolonial feminism, chicana feminism—emerged as a rejection of this homogenizing approach to liberation, as many women felt that their double burden—gender as well as racial or economic—was being overlooked.” For example, she points out that western feminists aim for sexual liberation, while in other parts of the world women want freedom from sexualization.
In Fiji, girls who were exposed to Western beauty images on TV were 60% more likely to have eating disorders.[vii] In China, “Ads never build the image that women should be strong or successful, just that they should be pretty,” observed Zhang Zheng, a 25-year-old brand manager.[viii] Professional women are only shown using beauty care products. ‘There are only two images of women: the pretty girl and the good mother.’ The pretty girl predominates, and invariably is dangerously thin, scantily clad, and listlessly passive,” as demonstrated in my photo of a subway ad in Shanghai.
The attractive achieving woman is a global theme. In India, instead of showing a woman as being dependent on her family and a burden to them, Unilever (UL) ran successful but controversial TV ads for its Fair and Lovely line of skin-lightning beauty products.[ix] The commercial shows a young woman with her father, who complains about not having sons to provide for him. The daughter then uses the cream to lighten her skin, so she gets a better-paid job as a flight attendant and is able to help out her parents. The ad was controversial because it disparages dark skin, but does show a woman provider.
Tension exists between Western/First World/Northern feminism, which tends to emphasize a homogenized global sisterhood, women’s rights and reproductive choice[x] versus localized feminisms in the Global South. Some First World feminists realize that they must consume less to equalize access to resources. In the Global South/Third World/Eastern developing nations legal rights are not as important as poverty issues. Former Marxist countries like China and Russia argued that feminism is a bourgeois distraction from class struggle. Rather than universal feminist goals, the current focus is on the specific local environment in which women live, and influences in addition to gender—race, class, religion, age, etc.
However, some feminists fear the emphasis on being sensitive to local traditions as dangerous to women. A “gender activist,” Rita Banerji, believes that despite the activity of thousands of women’s organizations in India,[xi]
The women’s movement today in India unfortunately is like an ingrown toenail. It is going in the wrong direction. For example, there are women arguing that sati [a widow joins her husband on his burning funeral pyre] is not murder but cultural and religious way of women committing suicide, so we shouldn’t defame it; or that we should continue to allow Muslim men to legally have four wives. It is hurting itself. So mothers-in-law murder daughters-in-law; women strangle their own baby girls. When a group of women at a pub last year were molested and beaten up for “violating Indian tradition” the NCW (the National Commission on Women), the highest office protecting women’s rights, said the women had asked for it because they were drinking and inappropriately dressed.
The Feminist movement believed that a woman’s body and being is her personal domain. Freedom within and freedom without. But in India the women’s movement sees women just as suppressed citizens that have to be given rights. Do you see the difference? The only feminist movement we had has now died out completely. The women who started were getting death threats and they just shut everything down. I wrote about it online.[xii]
What Boys Think About Feminism
I would like to stop the dowry system and corruption. Bhat, 16, m, India
I do agree that men dominate most fields in life and women should be given EQUAL opportunity. But if this term of GENDER DISCRIMINATION is all together ignored, there would there be proper equality between the two genders. Media and people have made such big deal out of FEMINISM and DISCRIMINATION that these terms are enough to make a dividing line between females and males. I would give you an example: In a local office of an NGO, all the staff was male. One day a female worker was added to the staff of only males for the sake of giving “equal opportunity to females” and was preferred over a better-qualified male applicant. Now, she may be good but the other male applicant was better than her and now the whole office is fed up. Shehroz, 17, m, Pakistan
Most of the girls’ parents, with much fear towards their daughter, do not give much freedom to her. Instead, they treat her as a prisoner. This has to be changed and every girl given sufficient freedom to be friendly with others and to do jobs without wasting her 22 years of valuable education. Abhinar, 18, m, India
Equality must be given to every one in the societies because in different tribes women have no say or do not participate in decision-making. I will give first priority to women in employment opportunities in order they will not discriminated by their husbands. Also I will try my level best to help children who are orphans, so I will try to make funds for them to survive like other kids.
Sarrwatt, 19, m, Tanzania
[vi] Hester Eisenstein. Feminism Seduced: How Global Elites Use Women’s Labor and Ideas to Exploit the World. Paradigm Publishers, 2009, p. 191