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How is Missionary Feminism Damaging to Women in the Third World?


A phrase widely credited to Mahatma Gandhi reads that unless others are free, we cannot say that we are free. 

No proof exists that Gandhi stated or wrote this, yet the notion has resonated with liberation movements of every kind. As with many universalist arguments, though, it enshrines a fine ideal that might pose practical difficulties.

Feminist discourses, for instance, have long held that if s single woman is oppressed, all women are oppressed. Therefore, in theory, "Universal sisterhood among women" is excellent — feminism is an internationalist struggle in which the battle against sexist oppression transcends class, culture, and race.

However, when viewed closely, it may be problematic.

A colonialist past of feminist universalism

Gender-based discrimination manifests itself differently in different cultures, and what liberates women in one region of the world may not be very beneficial to women in another. Too frequently, Western feminists have used the concept of "universal sisterhood among women" to impose the conditions of emancipation on women in the third world.

It is not merely a matter of good-intentioned people in the West mistaking their worries for the problems of all people worldwide. Postcolonial feminists feel that a colonialism background taints female universalism.

This is somewhat unsurprising, considering that feminist ideas have long been co-opted into blatantly imperialist goals in the West. According to Dr. Khader, a political philosopher, suffragists used imperialist arguments in the nineteenth century.

People in the United Kingdom frequently argued that India and North Africa required colonization because the males cloistered their wives and could not be trusted to govern themselves.

Similarly, the Bush administration, in the early 2000s, in the United States, used concerns about Muslim women wearing veils as a justification for conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More recently, Donald Trump used the rape of women at the US-Mexico border to legitimize border militarisation by appealing to public concern about women's safety and sexual assault.

All of this is not to say that feminism is synonymous with imperialism. But missionary feminism is a strain of Western feminism that maintains colonial notions.

Missionary feminism has three main features: The first is the idea that the notion that gender equality has a predetermined endpoint that is the same in every society. The second feature is the belief that Western nations have succeeded in eliminating gender disparity because of their inherent moral superiority and that other countries fail to do so due to their moral obscurantist. The third one is treating world politics as if it were a game of chess. No one, not even moralists, gives a damn about the potential consequences of their charitable efforts.

In non-Western societies, liberal feminist beliefs about a desirable life may not always be simply translated.The capacity to break free of familial ties and go it alone in search of financial independence is not always a virtue shared by all feminists.

We hear many stories about women in the Global South being able to leave their husbands if they had access to microcredit, which would end their oppression. However, even though money may allow her to flee an abusive partner, she will not be relieved of her disproportionate load of childcare and housework as a result of her flight.

What should women in the West do to help women in the Global South?

So, what are Western women obligated to do for women in the developing world? 

How can they avoid perpetuating the imperialist mindset when it comes to fulfilling their commitments? The answer rests in attempting to alleviate the various injuries we all inflict on women across the world.

Start with environmental action.

Many enterprises in the developing world contribute to environmental damage. Women, in particular, bear the brunt of this since having to go longer to get gasoline or water adds to their already heavy workload and leaves them more open to harassment and abuse.

Another important step is to fight unjust trade restrictions and the consumer products that come from them. The West is enacting free trade regulations that allow women to be selected as sweatshop workers all over the world. They are intentionally recruited since they may be paid less than males, are more submissive, and will not unionize.

People in the West should prioritize investigating how their actions contribute to gender-based discrimination and oppression of women in the third world.

This article is written by Shahzaib Khan, a lecturer in University of Swat. Join SOL Team here.

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