As passionate as I am about feminism, and as many awesome Western feminists as I've met, I can't seem to stop thinking about how Western feminism often fails women in developing nations. Don't get me wrong; I'm not hating on Western feminism, and I don't think anyone would argue that Western feminists have done a lot to support the progression of women's rights both at home and abroad. Feminism in general exists to empower women, and I think it has succeeded at that goal in many ways, and on a transnational level.
My concern is this: whether the majority of Western feminists (myself included) are failing to see feminism as a global issue. It makes sense to focus on what's going on at home, but feminism is for everyone, and getting too caught up in how feminism affects only us as Westerners is incredibly shortsighted. Of course, as a white, American feminist, I feel like I can never truly know the struggle or needs of non-Western feminists. However, women do need other women, and there are ways that Western feminists can support women in developing nations.
If you're a Western feminist and you want to know how you and your feminism can help women in developing nations mindfully, read on. Here are seven ways Western feminists can support women worldwide.
1. Stand For Them, But Don't Victimize Them
One of the issues with Western feminism as it relates to women in developing nations is that it frequently, and perhaps unknowingly, it feeds into the idea that women in developing nations (especially women in developing Islamic nations) need to be rescued. But this isn't the case, and it's incredibly racist to think so. Yes, many women in developing nations are being oppressed — but they do not need to be victimized for this, and Western feminists are not their "saviors." Victimizing non-Western women is the opposite of empowering, so don't do it.
Keep in mind that just because we as Western feminists are in a position to help non-Western women fight for their rights does not mean we are bestowing anything upon them, either. Basic human rights are something everyone is entitled to, and you can't gift something a person is born with.
2. Listen More Than You Speak
Western feminists, overall, are pretty outspoken — and that's not a bad thing. Speaking up for gender equality in general, and the rights of women specifically, is a beautiful thing. But when it comes to Western feminists supporting non-Western feminists, I feel like we often forget to just listen.
Western feminists need to remember how important it is to listen to non-Western feminists, rather than just assuming we know what they want or how they're feeling. We can and should support them, but we are not mind-readers, and we're definitely not their mouthpieces. Listening is really hard if you're a person of action, and Western culture is very much a make-moves-and-ask-questions-later kind of culture, but we've got to start listening more. Society has been not-asking women what they want forever, and Western feminists certainly don't want to unintentionally perpetuate that nonsense.
3. Don't Assume That Western Cultural Norms Are "More Feminist"
Do I, as a Western feminist, find the fact that women in Saudi Arabia still aren't "supposed" to drive themselves to work (or anywhere else for that matter) completely ridiculous? For sure. Do I have a difficult time understanding why many non-Western women choose to wear niqabs, hijabs, or burkas, especially when it's super hot outside? Absolutely. But how I feel about these non-Western cultural norms really doesn't matter, because Western culture's norms aren't right for everyone just because they're Western.
While I fundamentally don't get the restriction on females driving, I do believe the only thing that matters when it comes to a woman's wardrobe is that she's the one choosing it. The fact is, some non-Western women choose to wear niqabs, hijabs, or burkas for cultural and/or religious reasons that are important to them, and Western feminists must respect that.
Trying to push my Western, cultural norms on non-Western women would just be me trying to strip another woman of her own choices — and that's not supportive or feminist.
4. Educate Yourself On The Struggles & Feminist Movements Of Non-Western Feminists
Western feminists have legitimate struggles, that's a fact. But in order to support and empower women on a global scale, Western feminists need to educate themselves on the struggles women in non-Western nations face on a daily basis, and learn about the feminist movements resulting from those struggles. As you may already know, there are still many developing nations where women risk their lives for education, a right most Western feminists get to take for granted. Also, over 125 million women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, a practice that is still carried out in 29 countries worldwide.
As a white feminist, I already know that even Western feminism is filled with racial and class differences that I can't fully understand. That said, there are also struggles of being a woman in a developing nation that no western feminist can pretend to understand. What we can do, however, is educate ourselves. So seek out opportunities to educate yourself on what's going on with feminists in developing nations, and allow their experiences to teach you and lead you in your efforts to support them.
5. Acknowledge Your Privilege & Use Your Voice To Raise Awareness
Western feminists are privileged to some degree just because we were born in the West. Obviously, this doesn't mean we "have it easy." We all know that women everywhere are still fighting for gender equality, and that struggle is alive and well no matter where you are.
But it is impossible to deny that just by being born in the U.S. I am privileged in a way that I frequently forget about. Fortunately, I have the freedom and the platform to write about feminism, and while I will certainly continue to write about the struggles Western feminists face, I'm beginning to realize that I have a responsibility as a writer, a feminist, and a woman to try to raise awareness about the struggles women face in other corners of the planet.
If you feel like there's not much you can do to support non-Western feminists, don't underestimate the power of conversation. Whether you're a writer, a teacher, or a professional server, acknowledge your privilege, and use your voice. It seems like a small thing, but if enough people are informed about the state of women's rights globally, it's more likely we'll start to see positive changes.
6. Consider The Role Of Western Politics In Global Women's Rights
One way Western feminists can support women in developing nations is by realizing how Western politics often worsens the struggles these women face, and then applying that knowledge to how we vote. Electing officials who will make women's rights a priority, and not enact foreign policies that could potentially exacerbate groups and practices that hurt women, is a very real way Western feminists can use their rights to support the rights of women everywhere.
So, before you cast your next ballot, do your homework. Because Western politics plays a huge, global role, we need to remember how our votes will affect women in the developing nations our country is politically involved in.
7. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Whether you feel compelled to donate your time or a portion of your finances, there are so many great organizations dedicated to supporting women's rights worldwide. So, do what you can, and know that every little bit really does help. If you can't afford to donate, you can also make an effort to shop ethically, and look for companies that empower female workers abroad.
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