Can women unite under diversity?


Bell Hooks, a famous feminist says, "Women do not need to eradicate difference to feel solidarity. We do not need to share common oppression to fight equally to end oppression… We can be sisters united by shared interests and beliefs, united in our appreciation for diversity, united in our struggle to end sexist oppression, united in political solidarity."

When we talk of women's unity, we speak of a diverse population of women--rich, poor, middle class and different ethnic groups of women. 

But women's issues are interconnected wherever they are. Yes, there are many factors that separate women -- religion, caste, class, patriarchal values, political ideology, etc. Those involved in the women's movement need to recognize the factors that separate them. Unless we develop sisterhoods within these diversities, women's unity will not be strong.

Undeniably, there are some weaknesses and divisions in the women's movement, but we need to appreciate women's efforts within different organizations. We need to interact and reach a consensus to move ahead. Our strategies should be to create a powerful woman's group by mobilizing women of both the cities and the villages. 

In our country, women are the backbone of our subsistence economy and contributing a lot to the social and political movement. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, women have been organized in different forms, especially in the rural areas. 

However, there is a lack of intermediary organization to bring them together for their cause. A lot of programs are taking place at the grassroots level, but there is a big gap between the government, donors and these programs. The main issue we need to focus on is to tie up these different groups involved in socio-economic activities, which are taking the shape of a campaign. 

The problem is that the majority of the programs are project-oriented and finished within a short period of time. The local groups are not prepared to take over all of the activities left by the projects. Because of this trend and political instability, development activities have become slow. The main focus of the development activities should be directed toward bringing equality, poverty alleviation and employment generation together with incorporating education training and reform in the law. Programs and Projects should enable women to come together to strengthen women's movement. Both government and non-government organizations should help increase the involvement of women in social, economic, and political fields.

Women's participation in politics and decision-making can be ensured through women's capacity-building and self-reliant programs. Otherwise, their representation will be only symbolic. For example, in our country women are coming together under savings and credit groups, cooperatives, consumer groups and community forestry program. They are doing well and respected in their respective communities. This is an important accomplishment in women's movement in Nepal.

Though we are trying to come together even during International Woman's Day, we have been unable to come together and organize one procession to show women's unity on women's issues. In this situation, women associated with political parties think that they are superior to the women who run social organizations. The women, who run social organizations, think that they are above the women politicians. All of us are showing our strength in our own way.  Some of us think that we are for liberal women. Some of us think that we are for radical women, and some are for trade unions. Because of this, we have organized different processions on women's day.

The main slogan raised on Woman's Day is always about woman's unity, but this action has showed disunity. We need to organize different programs according to our own target groups, but we must have one single procession on that day if we really want to be united. We all need to unite to organize women being above politics.

Now, there are many women's organizations affiliated with different political parties and many autonomous social organizations are working. What we are lacking clearly is that we are focusing on the symptoms of the problem rather than addressing the root-cause of the problems. These days it seems caste has been more important to put our own agenda in the decision-making process after the terai movement. Politics based on caste will further bring fragmentations among us. At the grassroots level, women's programs have been able to erase lines between class and caste, and create equality.

In a global scenario too, women from universities, political parties and different organizations are trying to work together. All over the world, women want to have their own identity, freedom of expression and equality, whether they belong to a rich or poor family or country. Women of developed countries are also disadvantaged workers in comparison to the men of their world. In the global woman's movement, professional women teachers and political women are joining hands to come ahead. 

According to philosopher, Aristotle, friendship is defined in three categories. The first is according to occupation or job relation. The second is according to socialization, or coming together because they enjoy each other's company. The third, and most important, is the sharing of the same values, morals, and issues. The third way is important for success and unity. Senior feminists have been suggesting to get united to achieve success in women's campaign. Feminists believe in developing sisterhood whether one belongs to different ethnic group, rich, middle class, or poor family.

(The writer is the founder president of Nari Chetna Kendra Nepal) (TKP, March 8, 2007)

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