Quick Read: Feminism in the Global South

By Zimpande Kawanu

Feminism is a movement that is dedicated to fighting for the equality of women and men. This movement has taken many forms and has been realised through a variety of methods across the world. For instance, the first wave of feminism in the west manifested itself through the suffragette movement calling for the right to vote and to work. In different parts of the world, especially South America and Africa, feminist movements contended with the existing legacies of colonialism. Therefore, the women who did not belong to the colonial class were assimilated into labour systems. These indigenous women were also an exploited labour force in the colony. As a consequence, the expression of feminism in these places was responding to a different set of oppressions.

Even after the end of formal colonialism, the legacies of domination continue to influence the way these societies continue to develop. The struggles that women in the Global South are interwoven with the resistance to histories of colonialism and racial domination. Theoretical paradigms coming from the experience of Western feminists have dominated as the quintessential feminist traditions. This hegemonic understanding of feminism has dominated due to the economic privilege that the West enjoys, and so this continues to translate into a monopoly of representation. Third world feminists have often been subordinated by the discourses that take Western feminism as representative of all women’s struggles across the world.

The struggles of women in the Global South are still largely concerned with labour exploitation, in conjunction with the more prominent matters of equal pay as well as equal opportunities in regards to promotion and selection for top positions. In the colonial states of Southern Africa, indigenous women were part of the workforce, serving in the capacity of domestic workers, farm labourers and in other forms of manual labour. Therefore, in tandem with the struggle for colonial liberation was the struggle against economic exploitation.  

Third world feminisms or postcolonial feminisms have argued that struggles against gender oppression are intertwined with issues of race, class, ethnicity, sexuality and contextualisation of notions of womanhood within a history of colonialism. In the postcolonial Global South, feminist struggles among indigenous women are informed by the history colonialism, racial domination and their enduring legacies.

For example, on the matter of gender roles, these were naturalised by conflating heteronormative ideas centring on marriage and sexuality with ‘proper’ gender. Even in the struggle against colonialism nationalist movements did not re-evaluate the compulsory heterosexuality imposed by colonialism. As a consequence, this led to the ongoing policing of erotic autonomy in the postcolonial state. This meant that just as colonialism censored and effaced the histories of indigenous counter-hegemonic, non-heteronormative sexualities, the liberation governments continued with this tradition.

Ironically, in the postcolonial nation, non-heteronormative sexual practices have been portrayed as western imports and so women (and men) continue to respond to these dynamics. So whereas the struggle for erotic autonomy is one that is ubiquitous in many societies (East, West, North and South), however, there is a great deal of differences in contexts that these occur.

Feminism in the Global South raises particular questions and responds to contingent dynamics facing women in daily struggle against oppression.