Despite its prevalent usage, the concept of feminism continues to remain alien to many male discourses from both left and liberal perspectives. Less attended to is the notion of global feminism, despite the recent surge of interest and data on international inequality in this globalized capitalist world, plagued by imperialist wars, violence and terror. Why should we heighten our awareness of global feminism? Why should we incorporate global feminism into our thinking about war and violence?
An understanding of global feminism can be constructed on the basis of an understanding of power struggle. Whether between hegemonic and subordinate states or between privileged and underprivileged classes (or ethnic and/or religious groups), the struggle for power is a struggle for dominance within the context of hierarchical relations. Whether in technologically advanced countries or in developing states, secular or religious, gender relations provide the arena for the most basic form of hierarchy, in particular within the family and society. Just as national politics interconnects with international politics, so domestic sexism, racism and violence translate into militarism and terror abroad (Tickner). Global feminism rejects multiple forms of hierarchy and domination, at both the domestic and the international level.
In the perspective of global feminism—or what I previously called “Third World Feminism”—the central struggle is for control over life, for the ability to make life choices, or to have the “power” to make those choices. Despite this uniform interest, global feminists pursue local agendas and act differently, depending on specific issues of immediate concern to them. Women and men (sometimes together, and sometimes not) struggle against domination, whether exercised by imperialism, class, race, the state, or gender (Sedghi). Global feminists see the resolution to power struggles as requiring the elimination of hierarchy and inequalities.
Despite their universal message to eradicate patriarchy and inequality in an uneven world of globalized capitalism, global feminists draw on strategies that are specific to different contexts. The number of the poor has increased worldwide (UNDP Reports), as has the number of casualities from war and violence. Moreover, legal and political restrictions have been on the rise in both the global North and South. In the United States, the backlash against abortion and women’s rights parallels other violations, ranging from assaults on the freedom of speech (e.g., the PATRIOT Act) to human rights abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo prisons, not to mention destruction and loss of lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fear of America’s quest to conquer and control is pushing many Middle Eastern states, including Iran, to press harder on their citizens so that the state can consolidate its power against possible imperialist encroachment along with an Israeli attack (Sanger).
Today, with all our technological advancement, a majority of the world’s poor are women—women whose lives are caught in harmful cycles of disease and undernourishment. Despite their poverty and illness, women in Africa are heading households and take responsibilities for bringing in income. Struggles of women of Afghanistan and Iraq who fought against the Taliban and Hussein, respectively, are now giving way to their fear of the imperialist “war on terror,” with no end in sight. Democracy-at-gunpoint is not democracy. Democracy imposed by war and conquest does not reproduce freedom. But in Iran, women are “cracking” a hole in the regime by their attempts to modify twenty-six years of coercive veiling and by filling 71 percent of university seats in the country. Imagine a country in which there are more educated women than men! Patriarchy will not be turned upside down overnight. But locally prescribed strategies are somewhat empowering women, despite immense challenges of inequality.
Faced with the power of neoconservatives and fundamentalism being exerted from the United States, we cannot allow feminism to ignore its global dimension. To combat power inequalities, it is necessary to confront the neglect of global feminism so that we can help transform our world and its hierarchies. We can incorporate gender in our discussions of imperialism and war, in our understanding of power and powerlessness, and in our strategic designs to combat inequalities, wars and violence. Sexism at home intertwines with militarism abroad. Militarism abroad creates more, not less terror. While most casualties of wars are women and children, we need to fight militarism inside and out. We need to transform, not to submit to domination at home.
Sanger, David E. “Cheney Says Israel Might ‘Act First’ on Iran.” New York Times (January 21, 2005), A6.
Sedghi, Hamideh. “Third World Feminist Perspectives on World Politics.” In Women, Gender, and World Politics: Perspectives, Policies, and Prospects. Edited by Peper R. Beckman & Francine D’Amico. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1994.
Tickner, J. Ann. Gendering World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001
UNDP, Human Development Report 2003. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003