What Does it Mean to Be Feminist?

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Rita Morbia (third from right) with members of a community women’s organization supported by Likhaan in Quinapondan, Eastern Samar, the Philippines.
Rita Morbia (third from right) with members of a community women’s organization supported by Likhaan in Quinapondan, Eastern Samar, the Philippines. Credit: Alfredo Melgar/Likhaan

By Rita Morbia, Inter Pares Executive Director

The word “feminism” is politically in vogue as never before.
As a feminist organization run by feminist staff, we’re pretty thrilled… I think. It hinges on what it means to be feminist.
If it means more people, more groups, and more government institutions are thinking about the world through the lens of power – who has it, who doesn’t, who wields it, and how – then that’s a good thing. Acting to challenge inequality is even better.
My personal feminism was born of witnessing events around me: as a student in Montreal when 14 women were murdered at École Polytechnique; as a friend and family member to women who experienced violence at the hands of those claiming to love them; as a young teacher outside of Canada, where my brightest female student got married too young with no choice in the matter. Patriarchy, it seems to me, is embedded in the very architecture of human relations everywhere.
What I understand now, more than ever, is that women’s bodies, lives, and aspirations are political battlegrounds for power. And that feminism, ideally, challenges domination in all its forms.
At Inter Pares, our feminist approach can be seen in our structure, our programs, and in the way we work.
In Inter Pares’ co-management structure, all staff receive the same base salary and make management decisions by consensus. As Executive Director, I am just one voice out of many around the table, with specific representational and administrative responsibilities.
Our programs strive to promote women’s agency, and the voices of some of the most marginalized people around the world. This includes women’s organizations and activists who are building movements for change and campaigning for policy and legislative reform so as to advance women’s rights globally.
(L-R): Inter Pares board member Amanda Dale, Khushi Kabir of Nijera Kori in Bangladesh, and Inter Pares Executive Director Rita Morbia.To name just two examples, Dr. Asha El-Karib of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development works to end entrenched legal and political discrimination against women in Sudan. And Khushi Kabir from Nijera Kori in Bangladesh ensures her work with landless people includes a strong women’s rights component, such as access to girls’ education.
Inter Pares’ feminism also means a commitment to process, not just outcomes. Facilitating learning opportunities and collaborative work are core programming activities. I have had the privilege of helping to organize some key learning moments to advance women’s movements. For example, in 2002, Inter Pares organized an exchange between women’s groups in Guatemala and Burma on the experience of conflict, exile, and return. A decade and half later, Burma’s women’s rights movement continues to draw lessons from what the Guatemalans faced before them. In addition, Inter Pares works collaboratively as a member of over a dozen coalitions, an expression of our feminism that also ensures a greater and more cost-effective impact.
We sincerely hope the recent popularity of the term “feminism” will translate into more allies in our work for social change, concrete progress in public policy, and greater success in our collective efforts to make the world a better, more equal place.

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  • John Harnett
    A most useful introduction to the concept of feminism and how it is addressed at Inter Pares.