Keep On Keeping On: Rearticulating Our Feminist Struggles

July 28, 2016 b234ae5341c0841e074bb84c92ee3f06.14166

By Sachini Perera, Senior Programme Officer, ARROW (@sachp)

All “card carrying” feminists are asked at least once in their lives when they first became a feminist (I’m joking about the card part by the way. Or I haven’t cleared enough levels yet to get my card). The answer is that there is almost always no answer. Feminism is a constant process of learning and unlearning. While the root causes of our feminist struggles remain the same, we have to constantly map and rearticulate the struggles and constantly restrategize in order to overcome them.

The first day of the regional feminist strategizing meeting left me feeling overwhelmed about the myriad of issues faced by women, girls and other marginalized groups which seem to multiply right in front of us and the nuances of which cannot be ignored if we are to leave no one behind. Sarojini N.B. of Sama–Resource Group for Women and Health perfectly encapsulated this with the points she made about Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs), privatized infertility care industry in India and the accompanying challenges, especially when it comes to commercial surrogacy. She emphasized that it is not enough to examine surrogacy in terms of choice. We also need to interrogate it through race, class, transnationalism, etc. in order to understand its trajectory into becoming a USD 450 million industry in India and the various motivations, negotiations and rationalizations that continue to drive it.

The good news is that we continue to identify these emerging or neglected issues and we keep on strategizing and working. It was a day of enriching discussions and sharing and while we have attempted to capture the key points on Storify, below are three points that kept being raised throughout the day.

Intersectionality, not tokenism

There was no disagreement among the group that we must continue to use an intersectional feminist framework, including in our analysis of the SDGs. As put so eloquently by Renu Khanna, “women’s ways of knowing” are of utmost importance, especially the subjective experiences of subaltern groups. So did Ratnaboli Ray when she said that we must take into account “a range of being, a range of existing”. But where does intersectionality end and tokenism begin? How do we practice and ensure intersectionality without resorting to tokenism? Sivananthi Thanenthiran referred to this as she wrapped up the discussion on feminism saying that a feminist lens is one of being and becoming. The way we work is as important as the lens we use.

Choice | Consent | Autonomy

These were three concepts that resonated across our discussions, whether on feminism or on bodily integrity in relation to crisis, commodification, movement, and gender, SOGIE and disability. Choice, consent and autonomy are multifarious concepts and the how we relate to them is dependant on a variety of factors such as globalization, influence of religion including religious fundamentalisms and extremisms, conservative political agendas, conflict, migration, and climate change. Sunita Kujur put it best when she said that these concepts are never in vacuum and never absolute.

SDGs cannot be implemented in isolation

This feminist strategizing meeting aims to grapple with a variety of questions. Who are the people and what are the issues that are left behind by the new sustainable development agenda? Where do these people and issues intersect? How can we strategies to collectively move forward using an intersectional feminist framework?

As we answer these questions, what is already evident is that implementing SDGs by themselves is not going to bring about the change envisioned by the 2030 Agenda. The group discussion on commodification of bodies found it essential that the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing agenda continue to be implemented alongside the SDGs to include and capture the issues and people left behind by the latter.

The discussion on gender, SOGIE and disability pointed out various gaps in the SDGs. For an example, if your identity is criminalized and you have no access to justice, then how do the SDGs ensure that you’re included? Or what about people with disabilities? The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) must be fully implemented alongside the SDGs if disability is to be truly integrated within the 2030 Agenda.

Last but not least, Shanti Dariam emphasized the need to push for the implementation of existing accountability mechanisms as we advocate for new ones, given that accountability remains a weak point in the SDGs. Some examples of existing mechanisms include CEDAW, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Thus conclude my thoughts on day one and I look forward to more clarity and more convergence of thought on how we can strategize towards a development agenda that is not limited to rhetoric and is truly transformative. In other words, let’s keep on keeping on.

This post is a sum up of day one of the regional feminist strategizing meeting held 27-29 July 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

Photo by Sivananthi Thanenthiran