By Erin Simpson
Yesterday, the presenter from Palestine made an impassioned speech, arguing that feminists in Palestine should be primarily part of the struggle against Israeli imperialism, rather than focusing on patriarchy within their own culture.
In a further discussion on challenges to democracy in national contexts, participants from Mexico, and myself from Canada, discussed the pressure on feminists not to “divide” the progressive forces in society, but instead, to work as united movements, men and women. One of our colleagues from Costa Rica argued that there is no sequence to the movements for democracy and for women’s rights. Rather, we are allies: feminist women should work with broader democratic movements, and ensure the movements are feminist, all the while keeping up the pressure for women’s rights. When the women of Burma first began to organize as women, their male colleagues often argued that there was only one democracy movement, for men and women. Let’s fight for democracy first, women’s equality later. But the women knew that if they didn’t start paving the path towards gender equality and women’s rights now, they would be sidelined in a (future) democratic Burma. They have built one of the most creative and effective forces for democracy in Burma, all the while defending and expanding the rights of women.
In many violent conflicts, including Sudan, women have played crucial roles in building the peace processes that lay the groundwork for democracy. In Sudan, the women’s organizing and involvement in the peace process resulted in strong provisions for women’s participation in politics (including a 25% quota for women’s participation in politics).
Everyone- women, men and children in every part of the world- expect women to sacrifice and be patient. It’s the nature of motherhood, the definition of femininity. To demand and assert one’s rights, to push our own priorities, is decidedly unfeminine. But equality and women’s rights are essential for women to live full, meaningful, healthy and free lives – and will therefore make better societies for everyone.
No matter how strong a progressive, democratic or peace movement becomes, we still need organized women to protect the space, the voice and the rights of women, within and outside the movements.