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Transnational feminism is a contemporary feminist paradigm. The name highlights the difference between international and transnational conceptions of feminism, and favours the latter. As a feminist approach, it can be said that transnational feminism is generally attentive to intersections among nationhood, race, gender, sexuality and economic exploitation on a world scale, in the context of emergent global capitalism.
Transnational feminists inquire into the social, political and economic conditions comprising imperialism; their connections to colonialism and nationalism; the role of gender, the state, race, class, and sexuality in the organization of resistance to hegemonies in the making and unmaking of nation and nation-state.
Transnational feminist practice is attentive to feminism as both a liberatory formation and one with longstanding ties to colonialism, racism and imperialism. As such, it resists utopic ideas about "global sisterhood" while simultaneously working to lay the groundwork for more productive and equitable social relations among women across borders and cultural contexts.
- 1 Early history
- 2 Western and Third World feminism
- 3 Theory
- 4 Concerns of transnational feminism
- 5 Movements/activism
- 6 Transnational feminist networks
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The contemporary concept of transnational feminism can be traced to the 1970s. Although different scholars point to somewhat different dates, a general consensus rests around the United Nations and other world conferences of the time leading to a transnational shift. Although international feminism has existed since the early 20th century, it didn't become transnational in essence until the 1970s.
It originated from the increasing contact among transnational feminist groups from all over the world creating transnational feminist networks. These feminist groups represented different women from different countries and regions. These diverse groups brought different backgrounds to the discussion of feminism and gender issues. Transnational feminism resulted from feminism taking on a transnational scope. There were a number of United Nations conferences during this period that led to interactions of women's movements. In 1975 the United Nations Decade of Women began with the United Nations declaration of an International Women's Year. This ushered in a decade of conferences that would continue to the present. Important events during this period included conferences in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing in 1995. These conferences and others facilitated the contact of feminists from all over the globe, allowing for discussions to occur that transcended borders. While so called "western feminists", a term for feminists that were "US-based white, class-privileged women" had dominated the women's rights movement, when women from other parts of the globe were brought in, they began criticizing this type of women's rights for assuming all women had the same experiences, and not considering the impact of factors such as race, state, economic status had on their lives.
The theories of WID and GAD also helped to highlight gender related issues that pertained to women worldwide. The establishment of transnational feminist networks did many things, one such thing was creating numerous NGOs. The United Nations conferences were not the only factors leading to the transnationalization of feminism as mentioned, WID and GAD played important roles and so did other global events. As more women globally were gaining greater access to education, obtaining jobs, and becoming more mobile, it allowed for women to more easily meet and communicate. The spread of neoliberalism, poor working conditions, and declining welfare conditions in many countries led many women to find common ground and to subsequently form transnational feminist groups and organizations.
Western and Third World feminism
Starting in the 1980s there was a separation between Third World feminism and Western feminism. This occurred largely because Western feminism was shaped by liberal feminist perspectives. Liberal feminist perspectives argue that women are oppressed by their gender roles that often confine them to the household and traditional work. Liberal feminists propose that women break this oppression by leaving their traditional roles in the household, become educated, and enter the labor force. This area of feminism has its roots in liberal thought, which is a predominantly Western school of thought. Women in the global South often felt that Western feminism did not represent them and align with their struggles. They felt that Western feminism was ethnocentric and assumed all women had similar situations. Scholars like Chandra Talpade Mohanty played and play an integral role in articulating concerns about Western feminism. Mohanty argues feminists, particularly Third World feminists, should pay greater attention to specific histories, such as colonialism.
Transnational feminism emerged from the two differing feminist perspectives of Third World feminism and Western Feminism. Mohanty illustrates the concept by saying "In this perspective, concrete struggles for survival rather than putatively common oppression or shared identity is seen as the more reliable basis for solidarity, and 'coalition' rather than 'unity' is the preferred political goal." Transnational feminism thus emerged as a way for feminists to build coalitions through solidarity, while remaining well aware of diversities that existed. Transnational feminism helped to eliminate the problem of assuming oppression particularly among Third World women, which often occurs in liberal feminism. For example, transnational feminists have critiqued so-called "humanitarian" wars on the supposed behalf of the women there, and the "rescue narrative" of liberal feminism. One example of these "humanitarian wars" that have often been cited is part of the justification of the War in Afghanistan. Laura Bush, along with various feminist groups such as National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation, described it as a “war of necessity” based on “the human rights abuses committed against Afghani women and girls by the Taliban”. Transnational feminists often oppose such wars, and tend to insist that western states try to work with local women's rights groups, such as the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). Another example of an issue that transnational feminists have criticized for assumed oppression is the ban against wearing the traditional Muslim burqa in public because it is “a symbol of subservience” and to “help everyone integrate” through face-to-face interaction, as it allegedly forces the women to conform to "Euro-patriarchal notions of femininity and dress" and does not consider their own personal lifestyle choices.
Transnational feminist theories draw their roots from a number of sources. Transnational feminism is a branch of feminism that looks to address specific feminist concerns. These concerns typically are international in scope. Transnational feminist theory spans a number of disciplines such as women's studies, sociology, economics, literary criticism, art history, and history. The theory is born out of the idea that cross border feminism can occur and common differences can form solidarities in ways that combat unequal relations that exist among feminists. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty outline some basic theoretical underpinnings of transnational feminist movements in their book Feminist Genealogies:
Feminist Genealogies drew attention to three important elements in our definition of the transnational: 1) a way of thinking about women in similar contexts across the world, in different geographical spaces, rather than as all women across the world; 2) an understanding of a set of unequal relationships among and between peoples, rather than as a set of traits embodied in all non-U.S. citizens (particularly because U.S. citizenship continues to be premised within a white, Eurocentric, masculinist, heterosexist regime); and 3) a consideration of the term international in relation to an analysis of economic, political, and ideological processes that would therefore require taking critical antiracist, anticapitalist positions that would make feminist solidarity work possible<
There isn't one transnational theory, but instead many. Different scholars view the notion of transnational differently, nonetheless some general themes run throughout.
Concerns of transnational feminism
There are a number of concerns that many transnational feminists focus on. Issues of gender, imperialism, colonialism, economics, human rights, race, and nationalism encompass many areas of concern.
One of the most important areas of transnational feminist concern is gender. Transnational feminists however, look at gender in a different light than other feminists might. Transnational feminism is concerned with gender to understand women’s experiences in larger contexts. It looks to examine how institutions and processes such as colonialism, modernization, and feminist movements have perpetuated or addressed gender divisions.
Transnational feminism looks to transcend borders of nations, but it also looks to do the same when it comes to gender. Feminism as a whole largely tackled the issue of gender and sex in the 1980s, moving away from the distinction of sex referring to physical characteristics while gender was a social construct. Feminism looked at how supposed biological differences could be described by social and cultural norms causing a blurring of these distinctions. Gender emerged as the best way to examine histories given doing so was a social process. Transgender history takes on a transnational nature similarly, as it examines cross border gendered histories.
Given transnational feminism is concerned with issues relating to gender, transnational feminists usually take great concern with women's and gay rights. Initially these issues were often confined to the realm of feminism or international feminism. However, in the late second-wave of the feminist movement and the third-wave, transnational concerns became more pertinent.
Gender was examined more closely by transnational feminists in connection to how colonial powers socially constructed conceptions of masculinity and femininity among the colonized. Transnational feminists also examine other aspects of the role colonizers played on gender roles and conceptions of gender.
Migration is an issue that has a significant gender aspect that transnational feminists often study. Women currently account for roughly half of long-distance migration, allowing transnational feminists to examine the kinds of connections established across borders. Not only do they study the connections, but they also examine the roles that globalization and colonization have played in these migrations with an emphasis on gender.
Human rights are a major focus of some transnational feminist groups. Transnational feminists often take a critical approach to human rights. Many transnational feminists point to the western origins of human rights and how they often are used in an imperialistic nature. For example, after the September 11th terrorist attacks and subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the treatment of women in these countries was used as a justifying motive.
There are a few reasons that transnational feminists often take issue with human rights. Human rights are rights of the individual and this can be problematic as it promotes by nature individual rights. These rights often are masculine in nature and don't take into account other conceptions of rights, and do not recognize the experiences of women, in particular those who are "indigenous, Third World, women of color, poor, rural, disabled and queer" This is because the original designing of what constitutes human rights, particularly with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, reflected the "needs and values of affluent white Western men"  and were designed to fit into specific legal categories and one's social standing and wish for justice must also fall within certain boundaries. Human rights tend to also reinforce power imbalances, giving marginalized people the false assumption that they have rights. In reality these kinds of rights often work more greatly in favor of those already with power, and furthermore that states that already do not care to follow human rights declarations have no incentive to protect women's rights. Human rights are geared towards public life and often don't account for the violations of women within their private lives. The private sector is often one of the major focuses of women's rights, including "domestic violence, the ‘double day’ of work and family, discrimination against homosexuals, or the denial of reproductive rights", and even rights tied to keeping these private for women. However, human rights discourse doesn't largely concern itself with these areas. Transnational feminists also critique that these definitions of human rights are often tied too much to the nation-state itself, and that this model discludes "the majority of women and communities throughout the world"  Different transnational feminist scholars approach the issue of human rights differently. However, in general most transnational feminists take a critical approach when discussing their implications.
Race is a very relevant area of study for transnational feminism as it is concerned with cross-border interactions, histories, and migrations. Race plays an important role in shaping not only historical interactions between groups, but also present day migrations. Race also plays an important role in many transnational interactions shaping conceptions of cultures and groups of people.
Some transnational feminist groups focus on economic issues. Many of the most important issues to transnational feminists revolve around economics. For many transnational feminists like Mohanty, global capitalism is a serious problem and one that hurts women, particularly Third World women. Mohanty argues strongly against global capitalism. She considers herself an anti-capitalist and is opposed to globalization. Mohanty advocates transnational feminists take similar stances. The expansion of neoliberalism and neoliberal policies are also of concern given their often negative impacts on women.
Colonialism is one of the most important areas of concern for transnational feminism. Transnational feminists are extremely concerned about examining colonial histories, postcolonialism, and taking into account how they affect modern roles and situations of women. Not only is understanding colonial legacies and important component, but so is the existence of neocolonialism. Neocolonialism can take social, economic, and political forms. Within transnational feminism neocolonialism is discussed when referring to northern First World feminists and potential forms of oppression imposed upon Third World women in the form of liberal feminist ideals without regard for local histories, cultures, etc. Neocolonialism is also a concern outside of feminism. Understanding different factors that may contribute to neocolonialism is also of importance.
Imperialism has had numerous effects on people. Imperialism has often been the impetus for colonialism. Transnational feminism examines not only colonial history, but how imperialism may have contributed to that history. Imperialism is not an issue of only the past, but one of modern day concern. For example, the United States occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan can be seen as imperialistic in nature. The United States has also had a substantial military presence in Pakistan. Some transnational feminists argue this kind of imperialistic nature has led to the increased fundamentalism and extremism in Pakistan, which can be seen in the Zina laws. The Zina Laws are strict religious laws that regulate extramarital and premarital sex. These laws have very negative effects on women’s livelihoods. Transnational feminism looks at the reasons behind the oppression of women. Some feminists might simply look at the oppressive nature of such policies, while many transnational feminists look to how these oppressive policies came to be.
Nationalism can have far reaching effects on people all over the world. Nationalism is unique in its ability to create social and political situations that disadvantage people. Often increases in nationalism can have negative effects on women. Nationalism can take subtle forms and be expressed simply by strong nation states.
Today, there is also a wave of transnational feminism with “important currents of feminism are challenging the state-territorial framing of political claims-making” and that rejects “the state-territorial frame” itself. They point out that the actions of one state can and tend to affect the lives of women in surrounding territories, and even throughout the world with more powerful actors. Furthermore, the actions of non-state actors, especially those of international organizations, of the governmental and non-governmental varieties, have huge impacts on the lives of women without consideration of state borders. Likewise, communication at the scale it exists today can alter the lives of women, especially with “global mass media and cybertechnology”. Many of the issues that women around the world face as well are not simply from within state borders, such as sickness and climate change, so the traditional model of the state does not do enough for helping to solve these issues.
Some further claim that this framework of the state further contributes to oppression, as it “partitions political space in ways that block many women from challenging the forces that oppress them”, especially with the protection international corporations and the current global governance of the economy. Many of the poor and disposed in the world, especially of the women, cannot hope to seek justice for problems against such large, international actors. It also takes many groups out of the global decision making, as, with a few exceptions, women are underrepresented at the national level in many states and in many global governance groups. These feminists argue that because women are among the most impoverished and underrepresented of the world, in the current framework of the global nation-state, it is even more difficult for women to attempt to create change, when in order to do so, they must often go against their domestic state or an international corporation, both of which have more resources and influence than a singular or even a small community of women, so this set-up only seeks to further oppress women.
Labor rights have many connections to other components of transnational feminism. Gender plays a large role in the allotment of work, quality of work, type of work etc. Women often find themselves in poor working conditions, earning minimal pay, and having no channels to protest the conditions. Rural agricultural work in Brazil often exemplifies some of these conditions. Transnational feminists take interests in projects to improve gender relations in family agriculture. These feminists wanted to understand the subordination of women agricultural workers and also give the women the tools to increase political discourse. By creating political discourse they could hopefully increase their bargaining power in labor situations. Labor rights are an issue for women not only in Brazil, but all over the world. Transnational feminists in South Africa study and acknowledge the many factors affecting women. Women in South Africa face racial oppression, gender oppression, and subsequently oppression as workers.
Transnational feminist networks
Sarah E. Dempsey, Patricia S. Parker & Kathleen J. Krone list a number of organizations they consider to be a Transnational Feminist Network in their article Navigating Socio-Spatial Difference, Constructing Counter-Space: Insights from Transnational Feminist Praxis:
- Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
- Association of Women of the Mediterranean Region (AWMR)
- Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)
- Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
- Women in Development Europe (WIDE)
- Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)
- World March of Women (WMW)
Other examples of Transnational Feminist Networks include
- Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace
- Women Working Worldwide
- Asia-Pacific Research and Resource Organization for Women
- Global Sisterhood Network
- Chandra Talpade Mohanty
- Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World
- Global Feminism
- Postcolonial feminism
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