Energy Deprivation and the Intra-gender Approach to Global Feminism (Part 1).
©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.
International Women’s Day began as an initiative to honour working class women. Over a century later, and working class women the world over still face systematic marginalization. Although women perform 66% of the world’s labour, they receive only 11% of the world’s income and own just 1% of the world’s land. However the sheer magnitude of marginalization, it is a marginalization that is more prevalent in some regions of the world than in others. Far too frequently, the feminist struggles of working class women in developing regions of the world go unacknowledged. Working class women in Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, continue day after day with their marginalised realities neither recognised nor honoured. How? Firstly, women in post-conflict West Africa continue to suffer violence at alarming levels and with shocking frequency. Conflicts posed by political instability and ideological disputes are prevalent in developing regions, with Sub-Saharan Africa having its fair share. As a result, Sub-Saharan Africa’s women struggle with a myriad of critical needs ranging from achieving total independence as adults, to overcoming harrowing security struggles. To recall the words of English writer and political activist George Monbiot, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire“. The question is not whether these women are deserving of their full rights as humans, but whether the forces that work against women’s empowerment are willing to let them enjoy their full rights as humans. Women from Sub-Saharan Africa have been relegated to the back of global women’s socio-eco-political bus.
Socially, because as developing world women, they are not afforded the same amenities and infrastructure as women in the developed world. Economically, because they still earn significantly less than their counterparts from the developed world. Politically, because though they are more visible in decision making echelons, compared to their counterparts in Gulf countries for instance, legislation in Africa is still largely tailored to uphold women’s systematic marginalization!
The factors that hold back feminism in Sub-Saharan Africa, are also of a different nature to those which hold back feminism in the West. It is in view of this unjust disparity that an intra-gender approach to feminism should be sought. This two-part paper introduces and extols the intra-gender approach to feminism, then (in the second part) moves on to discuss key factors notable for undermining feminist endeavours in the developing world and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Also in the second segment of this essay, the day-to-day lives of two working class Sub-Saharan Africa’s women will be examined, to facilitate and establish an understanding of women’s empowerment challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In keeping with the spirit of Women’s History Month this year, the entire month could in fact serve as a catalyst for generating pointers for the cause of eradicating Sub-Saharan Africa’s working class women’s plight.
What is Feminism?
Feminism is defined as the means of advocating women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. It is the study which argues women’s economic, social and political equality with men. Where women in any society are exclusively denied the rights to vote, drive, be in employment or be paid a fair wage for labour, feminism assumes a mantle through which these injustices are corrected. Wikipedia’s public domain defines feminism as
“a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women…[including] seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”
Approaching feminism strictly through the prism of equating women to men however, by way of addressing women’s rights purely in comparison to how well men’s rights or privileges are safeguarded, is limiting on academia’s understanding of feminism itself. When feminism seeks to advocate women’s rights only in comparison to how well the rights of men in their respective communities are enshrined, it ultimately relegates women to the shadows of men, and inadvertently argues that women can be free only to the extent of men’s allowed freedoms. It seeks to validate women’s worth primarily in relation to women’s relationships with men. When feminism is advocated in this manner, it takes no cognizance of the fact that female creatures do not exist primarily to be paired with male creatures, and that women still deserve to have their full rights legislated, regardless of how many or few men there are in society. A female worker for example, deserves the right to a ‘fair’ wage for X labour. This wage is dependant on what the State considers to be the going rate for any worker, regardless of gender, who provides X labour. It is not dependant on how much a man is being paid for same labour. If there are any gender based discrepancies in what the going rate for X labour is, then it is feminism’s rightful duty to advocate women’s full rights through the lens of the State. The State has a responsibility to not be discriminatory towards its citizens. Women’s full rights advocated here through the State’s lens, is not based on how much men are being paid, but on what the State’s most valued (highest) going rate is. When feminism is viewed through the lens of State responsibility, it argues women’s full rights as human beings, and not as women wronged by men or in the shadows of men. The fullness of women’s rights stands, and is not subject to analyses made through the lens of men’s realities. Although some aspects of feminist advocacy clearly intersect with men’s existing rights and privileges in society at any given time, women’s rights are not as a whole, subject to men’s existing rights and privileges. Men’s rights were never subject to women’s enshrined rights anyway.
Feminism is not just the understanding that women are people, it is also the understanding and acceptance, that women are humans. Thus advocating feminism and advocating women’s human rights, are inseparable. Feminism’s ultimate goal is the advocacy of women’s full rights – this is a goal that will remain unchanging until eternity. The methods used to achieve this goal however, are subject to variation.
A need has long arisen, for a global feminism that seeks to equate significantly marginalised women from given parts of the world, with women from other parts of the world where equality with men is already substantially recognised. A kind of feminism that measures the realities of developing world women, with those of developed world women where the existence of women’s full rights is the norm. Within this globalised context is a crucial need for feminism to argue women’s full economic, social and political rights, firstly and primarily because women are humans, before secondarily in comparison with men. Feminism requires a much broader and therefore more relevant prism of advocating women’s natural human rights not just locally – in comparison with rights afforded to the men in their respective communities, but globally primarily – amongst women themselves. Any globalised form of feminism ought to analyse the contributions of different cultures towards the fulfilment of women’s full rights. Just how much progress is being made in the field of guaranteeing women’s human rights in developing countries in comparison to women’s afforded rights in more developed countries? This peculiar approach which circumnavigates feminism in view of comparing women’s afforded rights among women themselves, and not notably in comparison with men, on a pan-cultural and global scale, is being termed the intra-gender approach to global feminism.
International Women’s Day began as an initiative to honour working class women. It specifically called for the celebration of the working woman and the mobilisation of all workers – male and female to fight for women’s social, political and economic equality with men. Through the years, landmark achievements have been visible in the field of women’s social, economic and political struggles. On a global scale, there are more women now in the boardroom, there’s greater equality in men and women’s legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women’s visibility as outstanding role models in every aspect of life. In the vast majority of regions, especially in secular-democratic modern states, women can work without glass ceilings and have a family, schoolgirls are welcomed to university, and we have women as medical scientists, astronauts and prime ministers. This certainly wasn’t always the case. It wasn’t until after the dawning of the last century (and literally less than a hundred years ago) that women became allowed to vote in the United States. Generically speaking, women have real choices today than they did in February 23 1909 when the first Women’s Day was observed in New York.
Considering the visible achievements in women’s struggle to date, there is a tendency amongst many to view feminism as irrelevant, and argue that all its major battles have already been won. Nothing could be further from the truth however, in an ever-changing world where the borders of inequality are ever shifting. In the West, the unfortunate fact is that women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics and are still not paid equally to their male counterparts. In many parts of the developing world, legislature protecting women’s rights are still largely neglected or poorly implemented. Globally, women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men, and the bulk of this trend comes from the developing world. If International Women’s Day was indeed created to honour the working class woman, it is incumbent on the day to honour working class women from the developing world, who are still largely marginalised by significant margins, compared to women from the developed world. This approach is a suitable suggestion for realistic feminist advocacy. There are different factors responsible for these significantly unequal marginalizations, all ranging from misogynistic indegenous cultures, neo-colonial effects, colonial legacies, political instability, government corruption, to poor education.
So, while issues of representation and equal pay are at the crux of feminist objectives in the developed world, the same issues – albeit in more critical measures – are at the crux of developing world feminist objectives. Although the ultimate goal of enshrining women’s full rights stands regardless of region, the factors that frustrate the process of actualising the goal differ rather significantly. In Sub-Saharan Africa, all feminist objectives, especially the objective of women’s economic independence is abundantly exacerbated by the single mammoth problem of energy deprivation. When observing women’s enshrined rights from a global perspective, there is a troubling disparity that is starkly evident, when comparing rights enjoyed by women in the developed world with those enjoyed by women in the developing world. It is a disparity that genuine feminism seeks to overturn. The remaining battles left to be won by feminism will be accomplished, the more global feminism (not local feminism) takes centre stage, with women’s full rights heralded as its objective.
Benefits of the Intra-Gender Approach
It goes without saying, that there is a risk of igniting and fanning flames of hostility between women from different development catchment areas and cultures, when adopting an intra-gender approach to feminism. Particularly among women in activist circles who often find solidarity in nationally neutral alliances. The benefits of this approach however, outweigh the consequences of any possible risks posed therein. As previously stated, it is indeed a well-suited realistic approach towards feminism.
The benefit of tackling feminism within an intra-gender framework is such that the observed realities of (developed world) women themselves can serve as catalysts for the liberation of other (developing world) women! One builds a global sisterhood that is inspired by the lives of the women themselves. Secondly, as listed objectives are achieved, the very same intra-gender approach could be used as a segway to supplement the rights of women’s broader communities – child, youth, workers and men’s human rights included. Rights challenges affecting developing world regions where women are caught in the crosshairs of unyielding corrupt governments policies, can be addressed through a medium that’s not subject to the geographical jurisdiction of said governments. The truth is, women often stand a better chance of garnering sympathy and consent for their liberation causes by appealing to the improved realities of other women just like them. Fourthly, since this approach is not determined by the realities of the men in their societies, it is also not subject to the respective men’s improved or stunted development. This is an approach to feminism that doesn’t slow down just because men’s rights advocacy slowed down. It doesn’t stop just because men’s rights activists took a break from advocacy. It is independent in its advocacy, expectations, and consequently in its results. Through this approach, developing world women stand a chance of arguing their feminist cases more effectively, against the backdrop of a developed world’s model and pace. Far from being unrealistic, it is pioneering.
In fact, in doing one’s bit to ensure that the future for girls is safe, equal, bright and rewarding, one soon realises the necessity of an intra-gender approach to feminism.
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” ~ Glory Steinem.
It has already been established that feminism and human rights are inseparable. Advocating women’s rights in relation to their male counterparts and advocating women’s full rights as human beings, are so interwoven that whatever differences appear to exist between the two, are purely down to terminology and context. Whether or not men are circumcised, feminists will oppose female genital mutilation. They will do so not because they quantify women’s rights solely through the lens of men’s existing rights or privileges, but because there is a human rights understanding the world over that opposes ritualistic mutilation of women for the sake of superstition. Within this context, female genital mutilation is opposed on the grounds that women as a group are humans deserving of full human rights.
A clear and present threat to women’s economic empowerment, is the question of available infrastructure. Two fundamentals required to compete and thrive in the industrial age we live in are access to internet and electricity. Collectively, working class women in Africa lag behind substantially, as a result of poor access to electricity. The second part of this digest observes the present condition of energy deprivation in Africa. It views access to electricity purely through a human rights and feminist lens.
©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.