We need to move from counting women to letting women count.

Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 29 August 2020 19:41

Human rights: Food for a subjugated thought  ‘Gender and women’s rights’


Human Rights Reader 542


-The core issue is not just the existing gender gap; it is the power gap. (Achim Steiner, UNDP) This means that we are talking about addressing women’s autonomy and embarking in their empowerment rather than doing more ‘female education’. (David Sanders and David Werner)


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about the politics of feminism and of patriarchy, as well as about women as undervalued knowledge holders and the implications of these for women’s empowerment and women’s rights. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


The politics of women’s rights


-What gift to give on Women’s Day?  Women rights! (Louis Casado)

-Allowing gender hierarchies to persist amounts to a hollow commitment to human rights (HR). (Elisa Martinez)


Feminism is not a map to a utopia that someday we will all get to, and live happily ever after in. It is a centuries-old struggle for liberation (Nicole Aschoff)


1. The feminism I fight for does not snuggle comfortably in the lap of capitalism. It is rooted in the understanding that capitalism is the problem, and that a feminism rooted in democratic, egalitarian, anti-capitalist principles is the solution. What, for decades, women in wealthy countries have been told are the core goals of feminism --i.e., wage parity, equal representation in political and economic life and the right to a legal, safe abortion-- have either not been achieved or are under threat. For many, mainstream feminism seems like a project shaped around the needs and desires of privileged women.


2. We must remember that that feminism is not a cut-and-dry political program. It is a political struggle. We often forget or ignore this fact and this results in confusion all around. Characterizing feminism as a political struggle highlights the obvious but essential point that women often have radically divergent political worldviews. The feminist struggle risks going for a set of goals that will give women opportunities and rewards within capitalism equal to those accorded men. Is this what it is about?


3. There are fortunately those in the movement whose feminism is shaped by an anti-capitalist politics. This feminism will offer a vision of liberation beyond the narrow pathways of paid work and political representation. The dominant feminist project of the past few decades has encouraged women to forget this fact. This dominant version of feminism defines women’s liberation as equality with men in the hierarchy of power. It makes feminism to be mostly concerned with distribution, focused on making room for women in the upper tiers, rather than pushing for gains that would help all women. Ultimately though, by failing to challenge the divisive drives of capitalism, dominant versions of feminism offer a stifled vision of women’s liberation.


4. Make no mistake, feminism wants women to earn equal wages and sit in the halls of power. But it also wants much more than this  --it demands liberation from the economic and political structures that prevent the vast majority of women and men from living a good life. (N. Aschoff)


5. As implicit from the above, like men, women belong to different social classes so that each of them also suffers different non-gender associated forms of discrimination. The reality is that a good part of the feminist movement leaders are women of educated upper middle class extraction. Their propositions and discourse do not attract women of the working class --or not forcefully enough to overcome their class identity. As any human being, women have various identities --only one of them is the one of being a woman. Their social class identity also defines how they express themselves as women. Upper class women, for instance, have a vision of ‘being-a-woman’ that is distinct from the vision of working women --and this reality remains hidden when the richer women present themselves as representing all women. The woman identity orientation is much less comprehensive than the social class orientation that better relates with other politically progressive HR movements involved in empowering claim holders to engage in the different struggles to eradicate the various violations of their rights. (Vicente Navarro)


6. Addressing these various violations crucially includes addressing women’s exploitation, ill-health, increased preventable morbidity and mortality, as well as patriarchy and women’s marginalization/cornering into poverty. You know well: Women are over-worked, are underpaid and carry the burden of reproduction. So, you see? Men and women experience poverty differently.


7. Moreover, the world remains a violent, highly discriminatory place for women and girls. Twenty-five years+ after the historic Beijing women’s conference in China --a milestone in advancing equal rights-- violence against women and girls is not only common, but widely unheeded yet. Silence on this is deplorable, particularly because it has a gender discriminatory basis.* Silence is a strategy to avoid commitment to any progress on women’s rights. Silence is actually subliminal speech; it is a willed act in the furtherance of patriarchal objectives.

*: The approach to gender has remained the same: involving women in pre-determined roles and activities.


Both women and nature are exploited, ‘othered’ and ultimately made invisible


-Take, for example, the effects of austerity and its cutting down on social services disproportionately disadvantaging women (as well as people of color, immigrants, children, LGBT persons and the elderly…).


8. The HR framework seeks to make the invisible visible by prioritizing the marginalized and giving voice to those that have been silenced. In this context, making women’s invisible labor visible will be an incredible first boon to women’s rights.


It is vital to recognize women as knowledge holders with real expertise


9. Women’s active resistance to violence and domination is thus key and needs to materialize through collective action, among other, by making visible the increasing feminization of poverty (not forgetting the feminization of migration in the case of the southern US border). Women across the world have to articulate the sense of rage they feel through active resistance and rebellion. (2019 Right to Food and Nutrition Watch. Women’s Power in Food Struggles)


10. All the above highlights the fundamental difficulty faced by the HR movement --i.e., the difficulty of getting women to decisively act as claim holders when they experience the multiple axes of subjugation. (Hanna Goldberg)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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All Readers are available at www.claudioschuftan.com



-History has been written by men, and wars and occupations have always made women booties and prizes for the victors. The power, that is to say the State, has not only been complicit, but has rather ‘normalized’ abuse and even rape, as has happened over-and-over throughout history. (Fernando Ayala)

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