Feminism Sans Frontières

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A work retreat of the Karen Women Organisation. Formed in 1949, with a membership of over 49,000 women, KWO is a community-based organization with which Inter Pares has collaborated for almost two decades.
 A work retreat of the Karen Women Organisation. Formed in 1949, with a membership of over 49,000 women, KWO is a community-based organization with which Inter Pares has collaborated for almost two decades.Credit: KWO

By Rita Morbia, Executive Director

Travelling through Eastern Ontario by train on a beautiful fall afternoon, Dr. Asha El-Karib of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development (SORD), an Inter Pares counterpart, recounts a heartbreaking story about her closest childhood friend. As young girls, Asha and her friend were idealistic, shared a passion for learning, and constantly discussed and debated the social and political issues of their day.

One day in rural Sudan, instead of coming back to school, Asha’s friend simply vanished. Against her will, she was suddenly married off. Many years later, the friends were reunited, but by then, too much had changed to renew their friendship. Asha still mourns the life that her young friend, so full of ambition, wanted to have.

This experience is one reason among many that Asha, who describes herself as being “born a feminist,” has dedicated her life to advancing women’s equality in Sudan and around the world. Her organization SORD provides legal aid to impoverished women in Sudan through five centres, and works to rewrite the government policies that enshrine women’s oppression.

Asha believes that gender-based oppression and violence are experienced worldwide, that misogyny and patriarchy are global. Feminism, as a way of seeing the world through power relations, provides a way of understanding these dynamics as well as a vocabulary for naming and denouncing them. Feminism challenges all of us to find alternatives. It is not a worldview invented and held solely by women in the global North. We have found over the past forty years that feminism resonates with social justice activists around the world. Whether in the East, West, North, or South, there are movements dedicated to shifting the balance of power for everyone who is discriminated against and marginalized.

Inter Pares supports many women leaders around the world like Asha – leaders who demonstrate that feminism is global, while determining how to localize it into their own particular domestic programs and positions.

Another such leader is María Ysabel Cedano, a lawyer and director of Inter Pares’ counterpart DEMUS in Peru. Through participating in the women’s and LGBTQ movements in Peru, and through debate and discussion with other feminists, María Ysabel enriched her work promoting human rights. DEMUS promotes sexual and reproductive rights through legal challenges, raising public awareness, and by enabling women affected by violence to receive support. DEMUS played an important role in pushing the Peruvian government to officially apologize for the forced sterilization of Indigenous women under the 1990-2000 Fujimori regime and to establish reparations.

Like Asha and María Ysabel, Dr. Junice Melgar was awakened to her feminism by observing the patriarchal attitudes around her and the suffering they caused countless women – in her case, while she was part of the national liberation struggle in the Philippines, during the Marcos dictatorship. It was a difficult time, ruled by secrecy, fear and violence.

As a medical student, Junice was involved in providing free medical services and had a particular interest in women’s reproductive health. She was inspired by the leadership of women in the rural communities in which she worked. These women had their own political analyses and proposed solutions. “My job,” says Junice, “was to ensure that these women could speak and act on their own behalf. And that is still what I and Likhaan do today.” Inter Pares’ counterpart Likhaan Centre for Women’s Health provides community-based primary health programs in impoverished urban and rural communities, with a particular emphasis on women’s reproductive health. Likhaan also advocates at the national level for high-quality, universal healthcare in the Philippines.

Asha uses a metaphor – of all women being on the same airplane. Some are in first class, others have it harder in economy. But in the end, all women are confined. We believe that feminism can help land the airplane safely and open the doors to achieving independent lives free of violence, marginalization, and fear.

Inter Pares supports many women leaders around the world – leaders who demonstrate that feminism is global, while determining how to localize it into their own particular domestic programs and positions.

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