In honor of International Women’s Day 2019, Oxfam at Syracuse University held a panel Tuesday discussing feminism in marginalized communities. A packed lecture room of students and faculty greeted panelists and professors Jayati Lal, Jamie Winders and Pedro DiPietro.
This year’s theme for IWD is Balance for Better — ways that a gender-balanced world can be forged by tackling inequality and bias and celebrating women’s achievements. Professors Lal, Winders and DiPietro weighed in on inequality and bias, illuminating the ways capitalism, globalization and colonialism affect the way we think about feminism today.
All of these trends are present in the underlying shared characteristics of feminism across the world today, the panelists said. Professor Lal, whose research and teaching focus lies in contemporary Indian feminism and neoliberalism labor and employment, pointed out the disparities between male and female children in social production — for instance, daughters often have to walk farther distances to fetch water and are, hence, at more risk for sexual violence.
“What I think about when we talk about feminist movements internationally — the starting point is all the different forms of gender inequality,”
“The link between structural violence and forms of dispossession through capitalism have always been much clearer and are becoming more animated in the rural areas,” she said.
Professor Winders, speaking in more general terms, emphasized the importance of noting whose perspectives are made visible and included in the discussion of feminism in an international context.
“What I think about when we talk about feminist movements internationally — the starting point is all the different forms of gender inequality,” she said. “In all the different forms of work, home, in rural and urban areas, and also the recognition from the beginning that those gender inequalities are not experienced in the same way.”
She added that “multiple intersecting systems of oppression” also intervene in our analysis of modern feminism. Given the multiplicity of intersectionality, perception of feminism through an idealized universal lens is not logical.
Professor DiPietro analysed two different ways of exploring feminist struggles against violence: one through low-intensity patriarchal and indigenous violence (violence inherited through colonial contact) and the other through high-intensity heteropaternal violence (violence in a post-colonial and decolonization era).
“Patriarchy is neither millenarian nor historical,” they said. “These frameworks enable the location of the structure of violence and they help us understand what type of responses have developed.” They mentioned the examples of Bolivia and Ecuador in explaining indigenous grassroots movements playing off of the states’ response to feminist struggles, and in the process, transforming the state.
All three panelists agreed that colonialism played a influential role in the competing perceptions of feminism — it provides historical context for understanding why feminism can be elite and fail to be inclusive and intersectional.
Dismantling existing power structures and historical frameworks with ripple effects across generations can seem onerous. But the future need not be dim, Professor Lal said, pointing out the historical leap Dalit women made at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban in collaborating with the radical Black Panther movement. This interaction illuminates the possibility and potential for transnational, intersectional and inclusive strides for feminism.
“It is not some unadulterated bad news,” she said. “There is hope.”
Managing editor Divya Murthy is a senior studying magazine at Syracuse University and a resident opponent of the pumpkin spice latte. She enjoys blogging about socks, sunsets and elevators and also helping writers cover stories of global cultural interest.