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Heightened interest of younger generation in feminism and global social transformation

By IMPRI Team 

As a part of its series, The State of Gender Inequality – #GenderGaps by Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organised a three-day immersive online certificate training under the IMPRI #WebPolicyLearning on the topic “Feminism and the Global Social Transformation”.

Day 1

Dr. Arjun Kumar, Director of IMPRI was the convenor of this certificate course while Professor Vibhuti Patel, a Visiting Faculty at IMPRI and a Former Professor at TISS Mumbai, was the course advisor. Ms. Chhavi Jain, Ms. Ishika Chaudhary and Mr. Malcolm Anthony were the coordinators for this programme.
Mahima Kapoor, Researcher and Assistant Editor at IMPRI served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the immersive course on feminism and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1 who would speak on the theme- Understanding of feminism and feminist movements across the world.
The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr. Leena Pujari, Associate Professor and Head of Sociology Department of KC College, Mumbai, Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, and Prof. Manisha Desai, Department Head, Sociology; Professor of Sociology and Asian and Asian American Studies, University of Connecticut, USA.
Prof. Vibhuti Patel, the course advisor of this program, set the premise for the next three days of discussions and lectures by stating the heightened interest of the younger generation in feminism, which necessitated the need to launch this course. Elucidating one another reason for the introduction of this course, Professor Patel says that, “We wanted to bust the myth that feminism is just a modern phenomenon and wanted to bring about the transformative and hidden efforts of feminism which have been present throughout our human civilization.”
Dr. Leena Pujari presented a lecture on ‘Herstory of Global Feminism’ under which she covered the historical aspects of feminism while emphasizing the need to retrieve the parts of history which according to her have been thrown in the ‘dustbin’. She started her lecture by defining feminism and the multiple ‘-isms’ or the diverse positions taken within the domain of feminism itself. She introduced the ideas of Bell Hook on feminism which spanned from institutionalized sexism to men being ‘passive perpetuators’ of sexism and even the concept of intersectionality into feminism. She traced down its history right from the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840 and Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 and then gradually moved towards themes like intersectionality, inclusion of oppressed genders, indigenous women among others.
Dr. Pujari also delves into the concept of ‘fallen woman’ for those revolutionary women who went against societal conventions and norms. She also gave an understanding about the views of the men who were in the seat of power, intellect and business regarding women. These included utterly misogynistic views on women by Charles Darwin, Ruskin Bond, Sigmund Freud among others. Dr. Leena Pujari also touched upon the writings of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949), Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics (1970) and Bell Hook’s Feminist theory-From margin to center (1984) to explain briefly about the second-wave feminist movements.
She concluded with a few critiques of feminism which includes white supremacy, colonial legacy destroying the indigenous feminist practices and exclusion of transwomen and non-binary people. She later engaged in a Question-Answer session with the participants, where she addressed questions on tracing of Indian feminism, the need for feminism to be brought out of academia into everyday life and the ideas of Manusmriti on women as well.
Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Advanced Center for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai
Professor Vibhuti Patel talked extensively about ‘Feminism in South Asia’ and started off by giving a brief about the countries and territories of the region. She traced its history from the Bhakti movement and mentioned women like Aka Mahadevi, Laleshwari (Kashmir) and Mira Bai whose ‘vachanas’ are read even till date. These women challenged social order and questioned the age-old patriarchal practices while shedding light on topics like consent, household responsibilities aka duties, among others. Bahinabai of Maratha origin is a notable mention, whose verses in Marathi reflected the constant struggle between her spiritual devotion and homely tasks.
Professor Patel then points out the significant role of feminists as well as patriotic social reformers of 19th and 20th century like Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai, Fatima Sheikh, Tarabai Shinde and Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. These reformers according to her were against the larger social order like child marriages and institutionalized caste system. These women used their social capital to build institutions like schools and shelters which could benefit the women of next generations as well. They maintained diaries and empathized with other women who faced such struggles thus developing deeper bonds of relationships with them.
She elaborates more on the role of women in various Freedom movements in India and even in the process of constitution making like Hansa Mehta, Usha Mehta, Sarojini Naidu, Dakshayani Velayudhan to name a few. Post-independence era saw an emergence of international feminist movements in the 1970s especially during the American invasion of Vietnam wherein women rallied for peace and equality. She then goes on to define and differentiate the various strands of feminism be it the liberal view, Marxist and the socialist view and even the radical, psycho-analytic and post-modern approaches.
She then deliberated upon the waves of feminism in South Asia, along with the ‘Women in Development’; ‘Women and Development’ and ‘Gender and Development’ models. She echoed the major concerns of women in South Asia relating to dowry death, domestic violence and declining sex ratios which was complemented by her in-depth study and description of the efforts taken up to combat these evils in major South Asian countries. She engaged with the participants at the end and entertained their questions regarding a multitude of issues like marital rape, solidarity issues and immunity to rape accusation under AFSPA act.
She also elucidates the various contributions of transnational feminism like bringing in a radical geography by breaking the North-South divide and ushering in a new wave of intersectionality that has brought multi-directional approach to this domain. In her concluding remarks, she enlists the challenges that lay forward which includes decolonizing the analytic and the praxis and addressing the inequities brought in by neo-liberal policies and Covi-19 pandemic. She later took up questions regarding the domination of western feminists, spread of misinformation in the post-truth era and effect of neocolonialism on feminism.

Day 2

The second day of this immersive certificate course program included acclaimed speakers in this very domain like Dr. Linda Lane, Senior Lecturer,Department of Social Work, University of Gothenburg, Professor Indira Ramarao,Scholar-in-Residence, Center for Women’s Studies, Bangalore University, Bengaluru; Former Professor of Sociology, University of Mysore, and Professor Pushpesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.
Ms. Mahima Kapoor, IMPRI introduced the theme for Day 2- Intersectional feminism, social justice, and transformative change at personal and societal levels and welcomed the illustrious speakers by giving their brief introduction.
Professor Vibhuti Patel, course advisor, delivered the opening remarks while also giving a succinct summary of the previous day’s lectures to the participants.
Dr. Linda Lane, Senior Lecturer,Department of Social Work, University of Gothenburg, gave her insights on ‘Intersectional Feminism in the Industrialised World’ in her lecture. She started her presentation with thought-provoking quotes by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Patricia Hill Collins. She lays bare the core themes that feminism explores which ranges from patriarchy and stereotyping to objectification and oppression. She acknowledges and accentuates the problems with the modern-day feminism such as the lack of representation of experiences of non-white women. She talks about the sheer neglect on the part of white feminists to recognize the privilege and at the same time accept the added layer or axis of identity that is attached to Asian or Black women for that matter.
She very articulately describes intersectionality as the way in which multiple identities interact with and complicate each other to affect any individual’s experience. She stressed on the need for such intersectional feminism which takes into account the layered identities such as a the gendered, racialized and sexualized aspects of it. It thus emphasizes on the empathetic and inclusive nature of it. She concludes with a beautiful quote by Audre Lorde which urges feminists to unlearn the patriarchal notion of ‘divide and conquer’ with ‘define and empower’. She interacted with the participants by giving her detailed replies to the multiple queries raised by the attendees on the feminism in Swedish context, LGBTQIA+ rights and its comparison with the post-modern approaches.
Professor Indira Ramarao,Scholar-in-Residence, Center for Women’s Studies, Bangalore University, Bengaluru; Former Professor of Sociology, University of Mysore, spoke on the ‘Feminist Epistemology & Feminist Praxis’. She sees feminism as the freedom to write and speak in the language of comfort. She views it as an art of expression. There shouldn’t be any place for superiority-inferiority complex and choice should be given in terms of choosing a language for expressing oneself. She gave precedence to the lived-in experiences of women rather than a complete reliance to a feminist theory in all cases. She calls for condemnation of discriminatory knowledge base and word power in mother tongue and other languages.
She then signifies the importance of ‘protest literature’ in Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil. She mentions Akka Mahadevi, the Bhakti movement devotee and a Kannada poet who rejected the institution of marriage and defied the perceptions about dress code and beauty. From Malayalam literature, she highlights the works of Lalithambika Antharjanam who was enamored by the nationalist ideas of her time and writings of Rabindranath Tagore. She drew on her experiences and reflected the same in her writings like gender violence and social inequalities while accusing men of using ‘rituals’ as a tool to perpetuate their dominance in the society.
She speaks passionately about Lalita Kumari who writes under the pen name of Olga, a Telugu writer who brought out the idea of sisterhood in her writings like revisioning the Ramayana to underscore the bonds between Sita and Urmila and giving greater importance to the women characters. Lastly, she talks about Bama, a Tamil writer who wrote on the personal experiences of facing oppression and discrimination at the hands of upper-caste Christians. She concluded her lecture by taking in questions on the Brahmanical influences on language, misinterpretations in translations and the usage of sexist language in Bollywood and other mediums.
Professor Pushpesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad, centered his talk around the theme of ‘Intersectional Marginality and Feminist Responses in the Post-Colonial Countries’. He defines intersectionality as the power relationships in which the differences embeds domination and oppression. He thus makes a reference of Combahee River collective which is a Black feminist, lesbian and socialist organization which was based in Boston. It included race, class and sexual orientation as its dimensions and thus was unique and quite ahead of in its time. He brings an essential point of an interlocking system of hierarchy and oppression and terms the experiences as ‘simultaneous’ rather than exclusionary.
He used the examples of Angela Davis’ book, ‘Women. Race and Class’ and challenged the belief that women have ‘recently’ been allowed to work outside home. However, Black women have been enslaved ever since. Thus, experiences of oppression differ as well in terms of their context. She echoed the thoughts of Professor Collins that it is not about adding the categories and identities of women but to locate them in the context of domination at personal, community and social institutional levels. He summates all these points by giving a contradictory example of how privileged gay community publicly celebrated the right to sex in private life whereas the transpeople who were sex workers privately celebrated it as much of their identity was public and out there. He brought about Collins’ theory of matrix of domination which states that the intersecting oppressions are organized by social institutions which have maintained practices that discriminate.
It is interesting to note how Professor Kumar brings in the historic approach of colonialism and slavery which are responsible for the added categories and identities that exist today. He also talks about the visibility of certain identities which is much-needed in the intersectional approach towards feminism. He discussed various themes about policy implications for transgenders in future and the current allocation of the funds for them in the question-answer session.

Day 3

Day 3 of the course saw some of the most renowned academicians deliver their insightful lectures, like Professor Kanchana Mahadevan, Professor,Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai, Prof Roxana-Elisabeta Marinescu,Professor, Faculty of International Business and Economics, Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania, and Dr Chitra Sinha, Independent Academic, Author, and Gender Studies Specialist; Co-founder, Kooheji Training and Education Management, Bahrain.
Ms. Mahima Kapoor, IMPRI introduced the theme for Day 3- Interconnectedness of gender and other structures and systems in society within a global framework and introduced the panelists to the participants.
Professor Vibhuti Patel, course advisor, gave the opening statement while briefing the participants and panelists about the previous 2 days of discussions and deliberations.

Professor Kanchana Mahadevan, Professor,Department of Philosophy, University of Mumbai, presented her thoughts on the ‘Interconnectedness of gender and other structures and systems in society within a global framework’. She commenced her lecture by introducing the concept of ‘double decolonization’, as an attempt to decolonize western feminism to include aspects of race and at the same time decolonize Indian feminism to include caste and other categories. She says that acknowledging differences is just a step of undoing the privilege while including representation in feminism. She talks about the theoretical confrontation by Indian feminists with the Eurocentric ideas of the West. She fears that the assumption that Western women must ‘save’ other women in developing countries from oppression and cultural burden is highly problematic.
She refers to Chandra Mohanty who has critiqued the ‘western gaze’ of the feminism. She explains Mohanty’s three models of interaction between White and non-privileged feminists namely, feminists as tourist, an explorer and someone in solidarity with others’ struggles. She brings in the idea of social labor as an analytical category and how even Western women who emulate male autonomy and labor perpetuate the same material base for patriarchy. She mentions various authors like Shailaja Paik, Sharmila Rege and Urmila Pawar who have advanced the cause of Dalit women in feminism. She also unveils the philosophy of the care labor and how it is often looked down upon like the profession of nurses and care workers. She discussed various themes with the participants by answering their questions on prioritizing the different intersections and the need to emphasize the affective aspect of discourse over critique and rationality.
Prof Roxana-Elisabeta Marinescu,Professor, Faculty of International Business and Economics, Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication, Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania, delivered some noteworthy points on ‘Feminist interventions to challenge gendered structures and Systems in the European Union’. She clarified her position as a ‘second-world feminist’ which is constituted by the countries of ther Soviet Bloc. She commenced her lecture by demonstrating statistics of the Gender Equality Index of the EU and the disparity between the Western countries and the Central and Eastern European powers.
She then delves into the main trends in Europe which vary from conservative and fascist to illiberal senses and calls for a ‘re-traditionalization’ of gender roles by neoliberalism. Thus, there are renewed debates and oppositions to same sex unions and even reproductive and sexual rights. She then cited various examples of how these trends have manifested in Europe like the banning of gender studies in Hungary, abortion ban and attack on sexual rights in Poland and the protests against ratifying the Istanbul Convention in Croatia and Bulgaria.
She distinguishes the top-down and the bottom-up approaches taken by feminists and EU alternatively to achieve the same goal. She explained in detail about the six pillars of EU’s Gender Strategy which includes being free from violence, economic participation, societal equality, intersectionality, funding and addressing gender equality as its major themes. She also gave necessary details about the Horizon Europe project and then concluded by listing down a few criticisms of neoliberal feminism. She leaves us in the end with a list of possible solutions from Alexander Ana and Elzbieta Korolczuk. She also suggests a care-led recovery and transnational solidarity to further the cause of feminism. She answered questions posed by inquisitive participants on commonality with Indian feminism, role of trade unions in feminist agenda and rights to work.
Dr Chitra Sinha, Independent Academic, Author, and Gender Studies Specialist; Co-founder, Kooheji Training and Education Management, Bahrain, focused on the theme of ‘Feminist Tranformatory Agenda for Action in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)’ in her lecture. She dwelled on the MENA perspective and the dire need to bring in the diversity to that as it hardly gains any attention. She began by giving a context about the MENA region, its economic prowess and HDI performances while also shedding light on the conflict zones. Elaborating more about the women representation and gender HDI indexes, she showed a clear divide between a few rich nations like Bahrain and Kuwait and others like Iraq and Syria who perform poorly in this regard.
She also highlighted the MENA paradox wherein more women are getting educated but the same is not being reflected in the labor force participation rate. She took the case study of Iran followed by Bahrain and drew contradictions in the liberal Iran under Reza Shah’s rule and by the 1970s a lot of reforms were implemented. However, a coup by Islamists and Khomeini had undone all the efforts in this direction. Eventually, Islamic feminism dominated the discourse in Iran.
On the other hand, the economic dominance and significance of the banking sector in Bahrain has made it advanced and brought about compulsory education for all including girls. More girls in Bahrain are in higher educational institutions than the number of boys. However, women are not represented enough in managerial and board positions. She believes that feminism evolves in a context-specific manner and negotiates the structural constraints and finds innovative ways to overcome them. She is against the othering of the MENA women and their portrayal in the media.
She calls for more involvement of MENA women in discussions and conversations in the feminist debate. She also talks about secular, islamic and progressive islamic variants of feminism. She also encourages scholars to look at local knowledge and consciousness and include them as well. She answered questions on women representation, image of Hijab-clad women and presence of Female Genital Mutilation in the MENA region.
Professor Vibhuti Patel gave the concluding remarks by saying that it was encouraging to know the interest of younger generation in the discourses and expressed her pleasure and gratitude to the entire IMPRI team and especially Dr. Simi Mehta, for seamlessly conducting the nine extremely insightful sessions on feminism over the course of 3 days. She also displayed her elation at the enthusiastic participation by all the attendees and the stellar performance delivered by all resource persons.
Dr. Simi Mehta, Editorial Director at IMPRI, delivered a vote of thanks. She extended her gratitude to Professor Vibhuti Patel for guiding the course to its fruition and highlighted the diversity of participants of this course right from academic scholars to students and even homemakers.
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Acknowledgement: Manush Shah is a Research Intern at IMPRI India

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