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The unfinished work of feminism

These transnational feminist movements are rich and diverse. Their origins and struggles are located in anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, civil rights, anti-war, pro-democracy, indigenous peoples, workers, peasants, youth, disability, and LGBT movements, among others. They seek to transform patriarchal institutions in all their manifestations — from violations of intimate relations to the discriminatory and unequal gender norms of political, economic, social, and cultural institutions.

The work of transnational feminism has challenged gender discrimination and inequalities, but it is clear we still have work to do. There are continuing and increasing gender differentials within and across countries in both the global South and North. Women still have unequal access to fundamental human rights such as food and shelter. Their bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive rights are deeply contested. Women in the global South and North perform the lion’s share of care and social reproduction, are segregated into low-paying occupations, earn less than men for work of equal value, and have unequal control over economic resources. There are still gender gaps in health, education, employment, poverty, entrepreneurship, and decision-making. Violence against women continues in epidemic proportions across the world. As we move solidly into the 21st century the question becomes, how do we do justice to the momentum created by those who came before us? Where do we focus our continued effort?

I believe that the unfinished work of feminism centers around two critical areas: economics and militarism.

Despite five decades of feminist organizing on the economy, the multilateral trading system, gender-responsive budgeting, the care economy, poverty eradication, and the global financial crisis, feminist economics is still viewed as an add-on to mainstream neoliberal economic theory and practice.

Women at farmers rally, Bhopal, India, Nov 2005, by Ekta Parishad. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Women at farmers rally, Bhopal, India, Nov 2005, by Ekta Parishad. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

In The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminism, Professor and Head of Social Development at the University of Cape Town, Viviene Taylor argues that currently, “global governance is … about managing … the global market economy to secure the interests of global capital, [where] women’s rights and human security tend to fall off the agenda. While women have been visible in mobilizing and proposing changes … at the global level, it is … at the national and regional levels that systems of inequality and repression remain intact and women’s voices are absent.”

Dismantling these quiet and pervasive structures of inequality in our economics is no small task. However, in the area of militarism, peace building, and post-conflict rebuilding, feminist movements face an even greater challenge.

Maryam Khalid, PhD in gender, orientalism, and war at the University of New South Wales and another contributor to the Handbook, points out that militarism underpins the patriarchal state, the national interest, and the state’s engagement in international relations. Militarism functions to “normalize a view of the world … as marked by war, violence, and aggression.” Increasing numbers of women in the military has not led to a rejection of militarism, but rather they support the masculine military state. Khalid also states that feminist arguments were co-opted to justify the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the aftermath of 9/11. And Seema Kazi, Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, points out that Afghan (and one could add Iraqi) women are far from securing substantive political representation, or achieving economic and social empowerment.

Transnational feminist movements need to take advantage of this pivotal moment of Beijing+20 and the post-2015 agenda to regroup globally, in concert with progressive people of all genders, to challenge existing institutions, to rethink a coherent political-economic paradigm based on peace and security for all, equitable economic distribution and social protection, respect for the limits of the planet’s carrying capacity, and limits on corporate control and commodity speculation. Such a framework would acknowledge the crucial role of women in the formal and care economy and in rural livelihoods, and include comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services.

Featured image: March 8 rally in Dhaka, organized by Jatiyo Nari Shramik Trade Union Kendra (National Women Workers Trade Union Centre) by Soman. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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