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Global feminism is a feminist theory closely aligned with post-colonial theory and postcolonial feminism. It concerns itself primarily with the forward movement of women's rights on a global scale. Using different historical lenses from the legacy of colonialism, global feminists adopt global causes and start movements which seek to dismantle what they argue are the currently predominant structures of global patriarchy. Global feminism is also known as world feminism and international feminism.
During a seminar hosted at the Harvard Kennedy School in early 2021, Dr. Zoe Marks—a lecturer at the Kennedy School specialising in gender and intersectional inequality and African politics——adapts bell hooks' definition of feminism in relation to her talk on Global Feminism in the 21st Century. She defines global feminism as a “movement to end sexist and gender-based oppression locally and transnationally," (Marks). Addressing the two separate locales, local and transnational, invites people to consider the different experiences one may encounter as according to the social norms, history and culture of a particular area; separate experiences for women placed differently in the social hierarchy.
The three waves of feminism originated in the United States of America and at their origin, revolved around white women belonging to a higher strata of society. Though numerous improvements were implemented through this series of movements, there remained an inherent omission of women of colour and those from differing socio-economic standing (Dixon). These associations have perpetuated over time, wherein our immediate associations with feminism—how it is progressing as a whole, how the average woman is treated in a domestic sphere, in the workforce, their role in contributing to society, etc.—are linked to white women of the Western world. Whenever progress through a feminist lens is discussed, legislation and developments in Western nations are the primary focus and marker of modern feminism. This fails to accommodate the varied social and cultural climates of women in other parts of the world.
Parallel to transnational feminism is Third world feminism, that specifically considers the experiences of women in developing and underdeveloped nations. In her journal, Reclaiming Third World Feminism: or Why Transnational Feminism Needs Third World Feminism, Ranjoo Seodu Herr claims that Third World feminism "ought to be reclaimed to promote inclusive and democratic feminisms that accommodate diverse and multiple feminist perspectives of Third World women on the ground," (Herr). In order to make progress at a global scale and move towards a level foundation—in terms of access and opportunity, power and protection—those who are lagging behind should be prioritised first.
Pervasive and dominant across the entirety of the globe, the patriarchy is an inherent structure that plays a role in all women's lives. Activism and awareness has made a positive impact in unpacking this pattern in Western nations. However, developing societies wherein a strict code of behaviour for women directed by misogynistic belief systems were, and still are, strongly present are often overlooked when modern feminism is examined. Two historical examples Global Feminists might use to expose patriarchal structures at work in colonised groups or societies are mediaeval Spain (late eleventh to thirteenth centuries) and nineteenth-century Cuba. The former example concerns women of the Mudejar communities of Islamic Spain and the strict sexual codes through which their social activity was regulated. Mudejar women could be sold into slavery as a result of sexual activity with a Christian man; this was to escape the deemed punishment. Because of their simultaneous roles as upholding one's family honour and one of "conquered status and gender", "Mudejar women suffered double jeopardy in their sexual contact with Christians [in Spain]". As the world’s communities become increasingly interconnected, addressing varied social and cultural climates without further perpetuating unequal power structures becomes vital.
Moreover, nineteenth-century Cuba may be explored as an example of colonialism and neocolonialism working in tandem in a slave-based society to affect women's lives under patriarchy, where Cuba "remained a Spanish colony while enduring a neocolonial relationship with the United States". Havana, a city noted for its "absence of the female form", had, "of all the major cities in the West...the most strict social restrictions on the female portion of its population". Upper-class Cuban women were "a constant visual reminder of the separation between elite white society and the people of colour they ruled". It is important to consider that multiple femininities may be enacted and exist even at a local level. Divergence in race, economic standing, gender identity, marital status and cultural contexts all alter the opportunity and access offered to those who may originate from the same area.
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