Posted for International Women's Day 2014, Saturday, March 8, from Ranjani K. Murthy, originally posted online March 2011 , cross-posted March 6 2014: Thanks to UN agencies, INGOs and several NGOs, I had the opportunity to visit rural areas and urban towns of a gender developing countries as a 'gender or social development' expert.
Nevertheless, the experiences of poor women point to several lessons learned which call for relooking at the monoculture in feminism with the collapse of the Soviet Block.
In rural Moldova which I visited mid 2000, Eastern Europe, poor women were happy with democratization, individual land titles, but wanted back the large laundry, good schools, health services and child care centers which existed in the past. They wanted land on joint names (not just on the names of man). Young couples wanted land to be redistributed periodically, as they lost out after the first distribution process. They were the poorest along with the old couples (heating was their first priority, food, water and sanitation came later). Several of the young women had gone through agents to Western Europe in search of jobs as domestic work. Some I learned landed up in brothels, while the husbands and mothers looked up to us to do something - while we were helpless. Both women and men made and drank wine, and I had some tasty red wine. Access to meso-credit to replant their grape vines was a concern of women's credit groups.
In urban Khartoum where women and men had fled from south Sudan in the aftermath of conflict, the immediate concerns were with security, depression arising out of rape (legal impunity of perpetrators), identifying missing relatives, safety of single women especially with adolescent girls, food, housing and livelihood security. Only those who were settled into a camp for two years or more talked about issues of female genital mutilation, polygamy and domestic violence.
In slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Chennai, India wherein I met transgender women and lesbians from low income group the concerns were with discrimination in education, employment, access to family support, housing, toilets, employment, health care (beyond HIV/AIDS prevention), forced marriages, compulsion into sex work to survive etc.
In rural Karnataka, India as well as Terrai belt of Nepal, the concerns of poor Dalit women were with caste-based discrimination in access to basic services, sexual harassment at work place and even access to temples. Dalit women in parts of Karnataka where dedicated to "Goddess" and forced into serving the upper caste sexually. In Tamil Nadu, Dalit families (landless) were leaving rural areas and coming to towns with the conversion of agriculture land for other purposes and, in towns, getting squeezed with migrant labourers coming from less developed states. Facing drunken husbands or husbands high on drugs who make sexual demands in front of their children while living in one room is an issue.; They asked me, "You come and go… what will you do?… convince elite to pay us just wages?...you spend Rs 2000 on a meal, no, pay us that much."
It is in this context, that we need to revisit what is feminism for those women who live under US$2 per day (PPP). More than one-half of the world's people (2011 statistics) live below; US$2 a day - including 79.6 percent in Sierra Leon, 82.4 percent in Rwanda, 66 percent in Ethiopia, and 43 percent in Indonesia and around 68.8 percent (2010) of India. (From World Bank data here.)
The website Wikipedia says "Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women."
But, for women living under US$2 per day, their struggle for equality with men is closely tied with the struggle for equality on the basis of race, caste, class, ethnic, religious, minority status and sexual/gender identity and with peace. It is closely connected with their right to live free of hunger and fear, with shelter, heating, clothing, water, child care, laundry, fuel, sanitation, health care, and education, with assets on their own name, with full employment, and without being trafficked. They saw a close connection between destruction of nature and of their lives, experiencing all these more adversely than men in the family. They wanted rights to land in their name and periodic redistribution. Some even suggested curbing the number of houses the rich could have so that real estate prices do not go up. It is time for the UN conferences to call women living with less than US$2 a day to come and speak for themselves in forums related to a Committee on the Status of Women and to speak in equal proportion to NGOs who speak on their behalf. They may air a few patriarchal and inequitable views, but they are also wise.
Cross-posted (with updated statistics) from Ranjani Murthy's article posted here in March 2011.
Ranjani K. Murtha: email@example.com