Most feminist discourse is focused on the context of Western Europe or the United States. To get a better understanding of the experiences of women worldwide, Q3 collected accounts of women from different countries:
by Luisa De la Concha Montes
I must have been around eleven years old the first time I became consciously aware of the disadvantages that having a female body could have. I was standing in the street, with my mum and my best friend at the time. A bus passed by. Busses in Mexico are different to busses here. Most of the time, they are crammed up with people, and sometimes, they become so full that some people have to ride the bus almost hanging from the door. The interaction (if you can call it an interaction) with the man that was hanging from the door was quick. He howled at us, like a wolf. My mum then looked at me and my friend, with an expression that was simultaneously of embarrassment and indignation. We were both wearing shorts, a fact that did not seem relevant to me before the events took place, and my mum just said: “You know what girls? You’re both growing up, maybe you should stop using shorts from now on when you go out on the street.”
As I grew up, and as I started calling myself a feminist, that memory frequently came back to my mind, this time surrounded by subsequent questions: Why should I stop wearing the clothes I liked? Why should I change my actions, and not force the men screaming and staring at me to change theirs? After much thinking (and several failed attempts at feeling comfortable walking down the streets wearing a skirt) I arrived at a simple answer: fear.
The reason why I and many of my female friends in Mexico have a wide selection of skirts and dresses that we just keep in our closets is that as a woman, you do feel like a sexual object when you walk down the streets. Nine years ago, I wasn’t sure if the man had actually howled at me and my friend. I just couldn’t grasp the idea of a man howling at two eleven-year-old girls, so I told myself that he was probably howling at my mum. Today, I realize that it really doesn’t matter who he was howling at. What matters is that he howled, at us, like a wolf. What matters is that even though the weather is much warmer in Mexico, I still feel more comfortable wearing skirts and dresses in Cardiff than in Mexico City. What matters is that this is exactly why we need feminism in every part of the world.
by Tara Binder
I visited Fes in Morocco earlier this year with no idea what to expect. It was just me and Mum and we were thrown into the culture pretty quickly when we got lost on the way to the hotel. The first thing I noticed about the city was the lack of women – in the backstreets they were nowhere to be seen. I questioned if this was a written or unwritten rule, vigorously scanning every shop and restaurant in an attempt to prove myself wrong.
I remember a group of men driving past and slowing down as they got close to me and Mum. They said nothing but gave looks of disrespect, disgust and disbelief; safe to say they weren’t happy to see us. But I should point out that this was not the case for all of Fes. In the hotel and local shopping centre, the atmosphere was more comparable to that of the West.
Nevertheless, I grew used to feeling intimidated by men in the short time I was there. I’m sure the fact we were unmistakeably tourists influenced our experience, but my instinct was still to be outraged on behalf of the Moroccan women. I wondered where they were when the men were out drinking.
Mum and I got to know a few of the locals when we visited the old town. From here it was clear that the women stuck together too. Previously, I envisaged them confined to their homes but this simply didn’t seem the case; they were lively, social and cohesive…
Maybe the British understanding of feminism can’t be applied here. Maybe it was egocentric of me to assume that Moroccan women longed for the same things that I do. We say that feminism isn’t about having power over men, but power over themselves. In Fes they were hard to find; but when I did I saw a strong, lively unit of women. Perhaps they do not feel deprived, so in what sense are they deprived? It seems wrong to try and answer these questions based on one experience, but definitely food for thought.
by Sumaiya Quraishi
These 300 words were difficult to write, contrary to my expectations. Whether this was because it’s a subject that usually so overwhelms me in the Pakistani context or whether I have so much to say that I almost do not know what part of it is best transferred into this piece, I am not sure.
The average Pakistani women face such a quagmire of opposition and oppression from society, it is difficult to articulate. A common justifying source of such an oppression is religion, in contrast with the UK where attitudes and practices against women’s rights are not so overwhelmingly mired in faith—not in the present day, at least. This is not to hold religion, as a set of core beliefs, itself responsible; but to hold responsible those that use it as an instrument for their own gains— religion in the hands of the masses. An exercise in picking and choosing principles and their interpretations that suit one best and keep half the population subservient.
For individuals of greater religious understanding who have freed themselves of troubling, reason-defying, religious interpretations, who can no longer rationally propose their attitudes as a product of their faith; ‘culture’ offers a refuge. A justification for similar oppression. ‘Culture’ interpreted as a stagnant body of values made obligatory upon its subjects. Women play a certain role in the cultural norms of the country and culture must be preserved, it must be revered. If the reverence of culture requires the undermining of the will of individuals and their autonomy, it is a justified compromise.
In the face of such formidable opposition, I have nurtured an enormous sense of pride for the women of my country— so strong! When fundamental pillars of life stand against you, mere survival is a symbol of an indomitable spirit.
by Alexandra Bánfi
My intention is not to speak for Ghanaian women. I speak about how my 3 months working in Ghana helped me to see through the haze of western feminism that society had built around me. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk on The Danger of a Single Story was the first thing that was shown to us during our training. Since then it has stayed with me. We have been conditioned to believe an imperialistic ‘single story’ of Africa. A story in which the people are so different to us, that we cannot connect through culture and experience. My experience in Ghana was quite the contrary, I worked with many other young Ghanaians and connected with them just as I did my British counterparts. They enjoyed the same sort of humour, the same music, the same films, and my host family integrated me into their family in a way that meant I saw them as my own. Our ideas of women especially are structured by this ‘single story’ defined by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They are not all locked in a patriarchal regime from which they need saving by the West. The best we can do is not to adopt the narcissistic ideology that we must be the Western saviour, but to hear their stories and undermine the idea of the single story. My host mum, for example, was a member of the local village council. Of course, there are gender inequality issues, such as a lack of contraceptive knowledge in rural villages, but we must not let this define our perspective of Ghana or any other country for that matter. We need to escape the presumptions society has taught us and begin to actively connect with the rest of the world, hearing the voices and stories of other women worldwide. We must stop presuming we speak for others and instead empower them to speak for themselves.
by Manavi Mehrotra
It takes an elementary google search and a gaze through the headlines on The Guardian to know that being a woman in India is far from ideal.
I was 14 when I was first rubbed the wrong way, when I finally broke down in front of my mother and sister at the age of 16 – they responded with equally heart-wrenching tales of their own. It almost felt as if I had been christened as a woman in India.
The India I was raised in was still a lot more protected than the India outside my bubble. The India outside: the one in which men drinking alcohol and abusing their wives is a passing fact in households, is the India in which more than 90% of the women live in. Here, being excluded from a debate seems too menial to discuss, because in this reality women’s basic human rights are contested every single day. This may seem cynical and it may fog over a lot of good aspects, like the abundance of gods being portrayed by women and the strong political women in the past; however, that doesn’t make up for the fact that India has been repeatedly ranked as the worst country for women. It doesn’t make up for the fact that women in poverty exist to be married off to disrespectful men, or that 3 years into their marriage they start hiding their bruises under their dupattas. It also doesn’t make up for the fact that every 15 minutes a woman is raped in India. That more than two-thirds of these rapes are unreported, that they are committed by family members, that the victims are often as young as 6 months old. Rape and sexual harassment have reached such high, unspeakable peaks that it is impossible to not know someone who is a victim or even be a victim yourself.
I love my country, don’t get me wrong, but even the most aggressive patriot would be engulfed with shame when thinking of women’s lives in India.
by Zhang Mengyang (Eva)
Same with other Asian countries, feminism in China starts and develops relatively late. The main reason is the equality in payment. Here is not about the wage inequality in genders (of course it happens everywhere in the world), what I want to talk about is “who should pay”.
In China, it’s not just women, but men who also consider that the males should take the responsibility of raising the whole family – it’s a symbol of masculinity. Economic independence is the basis in a relationship. If you rely on others economically, it will be hard to achieve real independence. Furthermore, even for couples who still don’t get married, the male still pays for the girl’s bill, which was taken as normal in China.
The mental freedom is another problem. For example, for Chinese girls, how to dress up is “not their willingness”. It is about how to cater to boys’ tastes and social recognition. Most of the time, fashion trend is more likely to be controlled by men. There is an old Chinese saying: “Women dress up for people who can appreciate that”. Girls still don’t realize their own values. This is partly because China has been in feudalism society for thousands of years and it is extremely difficult to challenge people’s stereotypes in a short time.
The last thing is domestic violence. In China, the anti-domestic violence system still has many flaws. I participated in a project which was for gender equality and children education this July in Beijing. During the act, our group focused on domestic violence and we gave out some questionnaires on the Great Wall to raise people’s awareness. By talking to people and analysing the result, we found out that most Chinese people we met have rare awareness about domestic violence and still think “beating his wife” is very common. Moreover, when talking about “males can also be victims of domestic violence”, people tend to be very sceptical and in disbelief. They also know little about forms of domestic violence, like “cold violence” (mental torture) can be a part of domestic violence too. Feminism in China isn’t invisible, that’s true, but it still has some way to go until total freedom in unchained and equality has been established.