The importance of feminist discourse, especially in politics, has increased significantly over the past many decades. Theorists have drawn several comparisons between the patriarchy and other oppressive systems such as white supremacy, imperialism, and capitalism. Now more than ever, people recognize that there is a need to treat these systems as interrelated structures and raise a voice against the oppression caused by their connection with each other. For example, one needs to evaluate where patriarchal thought overlaps with exploitative capitalism and how the two institutions reinforce each other. Critics have implied that it is only through the destruction of all of these ideas that we can all collectively think to live free lives. Feminism itself is an ideology that is supposed to challenge all forms of oppression, even beyond a gendered lens.
Whether one traces it back to the first wave of feminism or to the even earlier ideas of feminism by Christine de Pisan, feminist thought as we know it today mainly emerges from the Global West. Much of the feminist agenda in the past has been dominated by Western feminists who have often refused to acknowledge the systematic differences between women’s lives in the north and the south. And even though significant feminist writers have emerged from the Global South as well over the years, and definitions have evolved to make the idea of feminism a lot more inclusive to women worldwide, we continue to see the impact of Eurocentric ideologies on feminist thought even today. This is an aspect of the ideology which has begun to garner significant critique from many Southern feminists.
Because, as development theorists argue, the very lens through which the Global South evaluates the world is significantly different from that of the Global North. Women from post-colonial states have always equated women’s liberty to national freedom itself. They state that these two concepts are inexplicably tied together, and you cannot separate one from the other. The question is, why is this a lens that one would rarely witness in mainstream global feminist thought? Because it raises questions about the colonial projects and other flawed notions of development that the West stands on today.
As Escobar and Brohman have repeatedly argued in their writings, the Global South needs to find alternative discourses that set down our own reality rather than just accepting the one fed to us by the West. Let’s take a look at Kamala Harris for example, who has quickly become a South Asian feminist champion because of her win as the American Vice President; but does she really represent southern feminists? Yes, Kamala Harris could shift the face of U.S. politics in favor of the South, but at the end of the day, she too is just a symbol of what the United States stands for.
The disconnect between Western Feminists and the Global South’s problems becomes a huge contention point if we begin to look into western feminist icons, and Kamala Harris is a tremendous example. There is no doubt at all that, across the board, women have been severely underrepresented in positions of power until recently. Although many countries have witnessed strong female leadership in recent times, the number is highly disproportionate compared to instances of male leadership. So, when Kamala Harris became the first female, the first African American, as well as the first Asian American to hold the office of the Vice President of the United States, it was a big deal. After all, it was a ‘feminist’ win, right? Or was that only the branding that the Global North associated with it?
Because the way that I look at it, Kamala Harris might be the feminist icon that the West needs to see, but for me, as a person residing in the Global South, Harris’ concerning policy views contradict her from being my feminist icon. And while the identity of a person, especially a female, is very important, their inclination towards certain policies becomes even more critical when considering their role on a global scale.
The bottom line is that our more profound concern should not be whether Harris is a good leader or whether she could be considered a feminist icon; our deeper concern should be that regardless of the answers to those questions, she could not specifically be our icon because she is inexplicably unaware of the realities of the Global South. It is true that for a South Asian residing in the U.S., Harris presents an opportunity. She presents young girls with the chance to envision themselves in her place one day. But for the wider South Asian community, we do not connect with her.
Harris’s win as the vice president is a historic milestone. It has sent out a powerful message concerning the position of women on the political stage. It has delighted women’s hearts, especially in the States, because of the significance of a biracial woman holding such a prestigious office. But with that being said, Harris is just that for us, a leader to applaud once you see her holding office. Because beyond that, when it comes to looking up to someone on a day-to-day basis, the global South needs to define its own heroes, and they need to be indigenous. If our only feminist heroes are the ones that belong to the West, then that just means that through unconventional means, the West still continues to dominate its colonies (which make up most, if not all, of the Third World) years after they’ve been given independence. And in a post-colonial world, it becomes exceptionally essential for us to find our own feminist icons, who come from our roots and circumstances, who commit to the intersectionality of the feminist belief, and who recognize the class differences between women from the south and the north, the importance of transnational solidarity, and the undeniable connection between imperialism and patriarchy. It is high time that we move beyond Eurocentric ideas of what feminism is and redefine it according to our own context, because only that way will feminism ever be able to provide a way out to the women from the Global South. Indigenous discourse is what will truly map out feminist thought for a third-world state.