Global feminism, or the third wave of feminism, is demonstrated in various situations that we have encountered in and around Auroville. As described by Shweta Singh in Sage’s Multimedia Encyclopedia of Women in Today’s World, “while global feminism concurs with mainstream feminism that universal rights for women are desirable, global feminists also fear and dispute typologies that use cultural practices as a way of creating a hierarchy of values, and consequently the societies and people within them. Thus, global feminism argues for cultural relativism as an appropriate strategy to approach universalism.”
This characteristic of global feminism is inextricably tied to a participatory model, because it aims not to impart an all-encompassing truth from a western viewpoint, instead seeking to treat each cultural and social situation as unique and in need of its own contextual approach. While it may be extremely difficult for a traditional “hardcore” feminist to come to terms with this concept because it necessarily compromises ideas that are held as essential tenets of feminism, global feminism seems to have more potential to succeed in many contexts where traditional feminism involves too many radical changes that do not take into account the starting point of the culture involved.
In my work with the organization that I chose to complete my practicum with, I have had the opportunity to observe global feminist ideas in practice. When attending a meeting of the organization, which is run by western owners but employs and creates empowering livelihoods for many local Tamil women, a representative from the Tamil women brought up an idea that they wanted to propose for an upcoming inauguration ceremony for their new handicraft workshop. She said that the women would like to wear matching saris (traditional Indian women’s dress) for the day.
The western company owner told the women that he was fundamentally and philosophically against the idea of wearing uniforms, and also that the sari has deeper historical cultural implications that he did not agree with. He said that felt they would be able to display their unity in a different way. However, he made sure to emphasize that this was simply his opinion, and while he wanted to let them know his input as a leader in the group, he also did not want to impose his values, and that it was ultimately their choice whether they wanted to continue with their plan to wear matching saris or not. This is a real-life embodiment of global feminism because while he had some progressive feministic ideas, he also has an understanding of the women and their culture after living here and working with them for so long. Instead of a “my way or the highway” bulldozing of their idea, he offered a perspective for them to reflect on but ultimately left the choice up to them, showing a high level of respect and sensitivity to their situation.
In both theory and practice, global feminism seems to be the best approach to progressive societal change because it incorporates a dialogical model of communication, enhancing the buy-in for both sides and ensuring that all voices are heard and understood. Maintaining a feeling of worthiness creates confidence which will ultimately empower women much more effectively than a hardline imposition of liberal values.
By Jillsa Aringdale, AUP