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Global Feminism

August 19th, 2009     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

The New York Times has published a really interesting article called The Women’s Crusade, as part of a special issue called Saving the World’s Women: How changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything. It’s a thorough and informative take on the oppressions faced by women worldwide, especially, as the title suggests, in developing countries, and how these problems might be remedied by foreign aid and investment. The authors suggest that by supporting women and girls in areas like education, healthcare, and small business, not only the lives of those women may be changed for the better, but the quality of life in society, and the world, at large. To which I say: hear, hear. And also: No duh.

The article is not without its problems, but it’s a worthwhile read, especially for those of us in the Western world who may not always have much insight into women’s struggles globally. It’s also a potent reminder that feminism is not, and is very far from being, “over,” as some of us in North America seem to want to tell ourselves.

One thing that irked me from the get-go was the titular phrase “Saving the World’s Women,” with its implicit suggestion of rescue by the West. This phrase just smacks of paternalism, and in this case, racism as well - puts me in mind of missionaries off to “save” African children, or Aboriginal children, for that matter. The authors seem very clear on their analysis of the world’s woes - they list slavery and totalitarianism as the two major scourges of the past two centuries. Add to that “colonialism” and “capitalism” and I’d be more inclined to agree with them. In fact, I think that’s what this article is missing: some recognition of the West’s complicity in the global enslavement of women.

The authors’ main argument seems to be that women’s poverty (connected as it is to lack of education and access to healthcare and resources) is dragging down those societies in which it is rampant - which is undeniably true, but where does that poverty come from? Yes, in part from women being undervalued in those societies, but we can’t forget that the luxury and convenience we enjoy in North America relies on - needs! - the existence of developing countries with lax labour laws and underpaid or enslaved workforces, and lots of room to dump our old computer parts, etc. And that our addiction to said luxury and convenience actually feeds said worldwide systems of oppression. We too need to change, not just to save.

Anyway. Baby steps, I guess - and yes, it seems odd to call a $10 billion investment (one initiative proposed by the authors) a baby step, but given the history of women worldwide, and the West’s relationship with developing nations, that’s what it is.

Those are a couple of my critiques - there are definitely more to be made and more to be said. I’d love to hear what you think.

Tags: media savvy

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