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What ‘White Feminism’ Is And 3 Things That It Gets Completely Wrong

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In September 2015, Annie Lennox, a white Scottish singer and songwriter, accused Beyoncé of not being a true feminist, calling her “feminist-lite.” Lennox explained saying “Twerking is not feminism. That’s what I’m referring to. It’s not liberating, it’s not empowering. It’s a sexual thing that you’re doing on a stage; it doesn’t empower you. That’s my feeling about it.” But seriously! Should Lennox talk about feminism while she’s sexualizing Beyoncé’s performance, reducing it, and her identification with feminism as well to mere “twerking”?

With all due respect to every white woman out there who is fighting for her rights or trying to make the world a better place for all women everywhere, the fight doesn’t apply to gender only, it must also account for class, religion, race, caste, culture and sexuality. But what Annie Lennox said has nothing to do with all of this, and it has nothing to do with feminism, because excluding or humbling someone’s effort is not feminism.

Does “White Feminism” As A Movement Support Intersectionality?

Intersectionality as a term was first introduced in 1989 by the law scholar and critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw, while the actual concept has existed since 1851. Intersectionality is defined as “the view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated, but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” Unfortunately, White feminism as a belief permits the exclusion of issues and experiences that affect non-white women. As one writer observes, “White feminists are an exclusive group of feminists in that they do not include women of color, queer women, or any other minority group of women in their talks of gender equality. They are only concerned about equality for white heterosexual women.” Which means it fails to be intersectional.

White feminists think that sexism is the only sphere of influence on oppression, or the biggest problem women face in society. But do you think ending sexism is going to end racism, for instance? Ladies, being lucky enough to not experience as much oppression as other non-white women should push you harder into helping other women, not making it all about your experience! And believe me, being all defensive and crying about how good your intentions are, and how we’re all in this together isn’t helping at all, it’s only wasting valuable time on nothing.

There’s also white feminists’ weird reaction around Muslim women’s hijabs or burkas. Believing that hijab is a form of oppression is understandable, but trying to force what you believe on people is totally not! Yes, many Muslim women are forced to wear hijab, whether by a family member or because of societal pressures. In Iran and Saudi Arabia women are forced to wear it by law. And of course women shouldn’t be forced to do anything. But on the other hand, there are so many who actually choose to wear it because it’s a form of their faith or commitment to their religion, and they have said many times that they’re not forced to wear it. In France, several laws were passed to prevent wearing headscarves in certain places; School teachers, for instance, are prevented from wearing it, or the burka, in public places. Burka is also prohibited in public places in Belgium. So please tell us how exactly speaking for them, claiming that you know better than them, forcing your opinion on them, or banning hijab in some countries is different than forcing them to wear it? How do you consider this as a form of empowerment?

Many White feminists call for preventing sex work because, simply, it’s ‘degrading’ and isn’t an empowering profession to be considered as a “legitimate choice.” This actually divides women into worthy and non-worthy. So you believe that women have the absolute right to do whatever they want about their lives except when it comes to a choice you don’t agree with, even if it is their choice and nobody is forcing it on them? Again… How do you think you’re different than someone who’s forcing something on them?

During her speech at the Oscar’s, Patricia Arquette asked for wage equality between men and women. “It’s time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get, the less the money they make The highest percentage of children living in poverty are in female-headed households […] It’s time for all women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now,” she said. So Patricia, don’t you think that women can also be “gay people” and “people of color,” and those especially are doubly oppressed, for their gender and for their sexuality or race? Many LGBTQ people tend to hide their identities at work out of fear of homophobia, and there are still no laws to protect them from workplace discrimination, and from getting fired because of their sexual orientation. And in fact, if we’re going to talk about wage gap, we’ll find that according to the U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics in December 2013, Black women and Hispanic women had the lowest incomes with weekly earnings of $606 and $541 respectively, while Asian women and White women made around $819 and $722 respectively.

How Can We Make The Movement More Intersectional?

I mention my own good luck/fortune/privilege something like 5 times in my UN speech and my wish to make sure other women have access to the same opportunities I have.” That’s what Emma Watson, actor and an ambassador of the He For She campaign, said after she was asked if she is a White feminist or not. Watson told Huffington Post that she cannot speak on behalf of intersectional feminism, but instead, she’s trying to give a platform to intersectional feminists to talk about their experiences and share their stories.

Being lucky or privileged because you haven’t experienced as much oppression as other women can also be used to help other women. Instead of making it all about your experience you can pave the way for others and stop being hurtful to other women. We need to elevate each other and hear each other’s voices. Be more inclusive instead of being exclusive. And remember that empowerment lies within free choice. Instead of forcing your opinions on other groups of people try to let them speak for themselves, educate them and help them know their rights not claiming that you know better.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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