What can feminism do to be more inclusive?
The last five years has seen a resurgence in feminism in British culture. And at the same time the internet has exploded and social media has given more people an opportunity to have their voices heard. But has feminism capitalized on the power of the internet to reflect the voices that are traditionally ignored? The voices of women of colour?
Just because we’re women, doesn’t mean we all have the same barriers holding us back — there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all feminism. So why does it sometimes feel like that’s the only option right now? Among other identities, feminism struggles to reflect experiences that deviate from the majority. The movement needs to open up, and it needs to start by talking about the issues that affect not just women fighting for their seat on the boardroom table – these issues are so important – but they only speak to a certain section of women. We also need to talk about the hurdles facing women of colour who are not visible. Just like in many facets of society, feminism will only feel relevant to women of colour when it starts reflecting them.
And there are some amazing women doing just that. They’re not waiting for organisations and institutions to catch up. They’re using the internet to lead the way, engaging women across the spectrum, and we could learn some lessons from them.
Take 17 year old Fahma. One of the most cited pieces of evidence for the oppression of women is violence targeting women and girls. Yet as recent as five years ago it was impossible to get the mainstream press talking about the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) despite estimates that there were 66,000 victims of FGM in England and Wales and that more than 24,000 girls under 15 were reported to be at risk. Then Fahma Mohamed came along. She started a petition on change.org speaking out for girls who couldn’t necessarily speak out for themselves: victims of FGM in her community and around the world. She said that we needed to stop ignoring something that is happening to girls her age and younger. She spoke to people’s innate sense of fairness and, along with other organisations she started a domino effect in getting Government departments to take tangible steps toward eradicating FGM in this country. She also engaged over 350,000 people with her petition and several front pages, opening up a feminist issue that affects women whose’ voices are not usually represented in the mainstream.
Another example are the Southall Black Sisters. When a young woman in Delhi was raped by six men and outrage sparked across the globe about the daily violence women were facing in India, a local Southall group, of black and minority women, mobilised online and staged a solidarity protest in a matter of days. These weren’t your typical protesters in hoodies, hemp jumpers and dreadlocks. They wore saris and hijabs. Some of these women had never protested before. And they turned out in droves.
These women are feminists, engaging on feminist issues that affect them. They care and they want to have their voices heard, they have just found other means to do it since the traditional routes have excluded them. This is a huge opportunity. If the feminist movement can tap into the power of women using other means to tell their story, and vice versa, the entire movement will feel more inclusive and united. There are really practical ways of doing this – go to where women of colour are, talk to them online, listen to them in the weeds of community organising. Give them a platform to be heard.
The quicker the movement catches up, the better we will all be at disrupting the status quo.
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