Some excerpts from two young women who are writers, activists, and advocates in their own right – and whose writings have opened my mind to a new world of literature, new spaces of self-reflection, and inspiration from pain. Your words, for them I will be forever grateful.
The Value of Gender Analysis
The value of gender analysis at Stories of Conflict and Love
“Performing a nuanced gender analysis requires asking earnest questions about its value and dispelling some myths surrounding it. Simply put, there are three premises that underscore a gender analysis: First of all, “men,” “women,” “boys,” and “girls” are not monolithic categories that can describe a universal experience shared by people who share a sex; rather, gender is a fluid, dynamic, ever-involving system of power relations that need to be examined in the context of race, class, ethnicity, and other markers of identity.” Whole article here!
There is a passage by Cynthia Enloe, in her foreword to Carol Cohn’s excellent compilation Women & Wars, that summarizes much of the type of inquiry and conviction that motivates my work. Enloe writes:
“That is, gender analysis is a skill. It’s not a passing fancy. It’s not a way to be polite. And it’s not something one picks up casually, on the run. One doesn’t acquire the capacity to do useful gender analysis simply because one is “modern”, “loves women”, “believes in equality”, or “has daughters.” One has to learn how to do it, practice doing it, be candidly reflective about one’s shortcomings, try again.”
In another paragraph she states: In gender-related advocacy, particularly in relation to women in developing countries or conflict-affected areas, we sometimes fall into the stereotypes we seek to combat. It is of paramount importance to question our own inferences on strength, power, and vulnerability, rather than – for example – portray women and girls exclusively as victims and men and boys as perpetrators of violence
I had on many ocassions had to assess how I was relating to the women I was working with, the women who worked “for” me, and the women I worked for. I fight to liberate myself from the constraints of my education and the arrogance that comes with it.
Last month discussions from a seminar provoked a few questions on how we, as advocates, relate to each other and others in the movement.
- How does our identity as a speaker/trainer create our positionality? Positionality is a power dynamic, real or perceived. By the terms ‘feminist’, or as a ‘lawyer’, etc..one already assumes a knowledge that you seek to impart to others. There are ethical considerations behind this; of how attempting to ‘train’ or ‘educate’ others, you yourself create a hierarchy where feminist knowledge gives one an upper hand over the other?
- There is an interaction between knowledge and the subject of knowledge. There is a power starting from the power of the pen, which may translate as a sense of superiority over a subject and therefrom over lives, performance and knowledge.
- The great reminder: We should not be complacent with our knowledge and passion!
Yesterday in a meeting with our mentor from the Aspire Foundation, she asked us what our core values were. Amongst others, Anna said Friendship. I thought exactly that. Last night I had written an essay on Activism as Friendship. Because Friendship blurs out the barriers of class, education, geography, race, and religion. It is sought from a deeper authentic connection, based on love, trust, respect and compassion. This is how I feel with everyone I work with at F.I. and in Afghanistan –had it not been for friendship, movements are merely organizations with no soul.
Akhila Kolisetty is insightful because she looks inwards. Between her writings on law and women’s rights, there are questions she asks herself. We cannot be complacent. We cannot advocate blindly. We cannot advocate tyrannically. So it occurs to me how much dedicated activism requires dedication to self-awareness.
I think for all would-be and graduate lawyers, some of the most important tensions lies within ourselves – our purpose, our direction. She writes here about re-thinking our motivations.
“Examine your motivations for doing good. Because motivations are powerful, more powerful than you think. Your motivations are ultimately what will determine the tangible impact of your work on people – for better or for worse.”
Then in an article on victimhood and surviving – which explores the ways in which we have labelled women as “victims of a situation” or “survivors”, Akhila introduces a new term ‘thriving’. I smiled when I saw this. Because it was up-lifting. It increases the space for representing and labelling – from merely trying to live to fully living. Here I hear a laughter, see a smile, a sense a solidarity forged, and some genuine moments of happiness amidst it all. This captures the variety of emotions that women feel, both in war and in peace. It reminded me of an occasion when my colleagues had returned from a workshop at the outskirts of Kabul. They had faced much criticism over their words on women’s rights and their dress-code (more so the colour combinations used!) Coming home, a van started tailing them. After much dodging they arrived home safe. We sat in the tea room recalling what this Mullah and that wakil had commented. Some laughed over the stern smile of the other. They imitated the Mullah’s intonation and disgust! They pro-offered “If I were you I would have said…..*(&*&^&*%!!” screaming away at the insolence of some of the remarks made. We were all laughing so hard. And so we concluded “If we can laugh at the end of a hard day, we are brave, we are courageous, we are alive!”
Akhila writes “Thriving is truly moving forward, being mentally/physically/spiritually healthy, being able to enjoy a stable life financially, having healthy relationships, and being open to love. Thriving is having the opportunity to shape life the way you want it, to make the most of life, and to find joy in everyday life — it is not simply surviving, hanging on to a thread. I feel that this conversation about actually moving *past* surviving to actually thriving in life is missing when discussing domestic/gender-based violence. And I hope we can start thinking about this issue when talking about semantics.”
Ladies, I never have (or make!) the time to engage with the two of you enough. But there is a sense of connection I feel towards you – sometimes paths cross unexpectedly. But I hope one day we can collaborate to write new scholarship, forge exchanges and define the spirit of activism in our generation.