By Dolores Chew
08 March, 2005
greetings, sisterhood and solidarity for International Women's Day.
In the past couple of weeks as we built up to today's event and I was
sending out information on my e-networks there were responses from friends
in India who were very enthused by what we had planned -- they wanted
report backs and commended our conceptualization of issues. This networking
that we do both locally and globally is so important because as the
pace of information moves faster and the powers that seek to control
our lives are constantly engaged in evolving new ways to dominate us,
we need to share information. And this is what we have been doing so
successfully over the past few years with our women's day events. It
is only by placing the local issues and struggles in a global context
that we can make sense of what is being attempted by the forces of capital,
patriarchy and imperialism. And it is only by sharing information, strategies
and making the connections that we can be successful in confronting
the behemoths that seek to dominate us.
Where do fundamentalism
and women's struggles against fundamentalism fit into all this? Are
there connections between global reengineering, the feminization of
migration and modern slavery? At first glance these seem slim. Isn't
fundamentalism about religious men trying to keep women in Afghanistan
and Iran in burkhas and chadors and living in medieval times? And isn't
global reengineering just the opposite -- about transforming the world,
making it a better place with democracy and justice being delivered
by bombs to people's doorsteps and rooftops (whether they like it or
not) and everyone having a camera phone to speak on while eating a Big
Mac and guzzling Coke because things go better that way (or perhaps
your chai latte, because of course the drinking water is contaminated)?
So aren't fundamentalists and democratizers in opposition?
Well one would expect
so, but surprise surprise, you have a democratizer with a Texas strut
committed to bringing justice to the world, who is also in opposition
to a woman's right to choose. And then you begin to see that the Dark
Ages (in some traditions, the Kali Yug) are right here and fundamentalism
and modernity or post-modernity are not necessarily in opposition!
As feminists we
need to remind ourselves that though there are chinks in the armour,
patriarchy is alive and well and like capitalism and its corollary imperialism,
it's constantly finding new and innovative ways to re-invent itself.
Patriarchy is about power -- for some, while convincing all men that
no matter how oppressed they are by political and economic systems,
there is always someone below them who they can control -- their wife,
their mother, their sister, their daughter. Fundamentalism too is about
power and control, often in collusion with patriarchy. What we need
to remind ourselves is that we cannot be smug. Fundamentalism is to
be found everywhere. Every tradition and culture has the possibilities
of fundamentalism. And fundamentalism has little to do with religion
and everything to do with politics and control. In fact we need to remind
ourselves that religiosity, spirituality have answered and continue
to respond to human needs. They are not in question. It is the manipulation
of people's religiosity and the exploitation of a sense of insecurity,
powerlessness, of not knowing where to turn to in times of economic
and political crisis, when there is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness
that fundamentalist forces move into the vacuum, with promises of formulaic,
quick fixes that are grabbed onto by those who feel they need something
to hold on to.
While we need to
make these distinctions we should not shy away from recognizing that
most major religions over time have become institutionalized and uphold
class and gender privilege. And as such afford opportunities for fundamentalist
articulations. However, around the world today it seems a no-brainer
-- Islam = fundamentalism. This is something we must vehemently oppose
-- every major world religion has its fundamentalist possibilities and
groupings -- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and yes, Islam
too -- to name the major ones. But religions in their practices and
rules are social and cultural constructs, despite individual belief
about divine revelations (and I know that this could be hotly contested).
The personal aspect of religion and the public face can be very different.
We see this with interpretations, rules that evolve, local particularities
and practices, etc.
But moving on to
some of the specifics about fundamentalism, we need to develop an understanding
of how fundamentalism works and recognize that it has very little to
do with ëtradition' and everything to do with maintaining control
-- political, national, gender. That it is a strategy and mechanism
that morphs and reinvents itself in adaptation to the times. So when
Hindu nationalists committed genocide against Muslim minority populations
in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, it had little to do with being
a good Hindu and everything to do with seizure of state power. That
Muslim women were especially, brutally targeted was an obscene blending
of gender-based violence and misogyny that is implicit in most fundamentalist
worldviews. In the aftermath of the murder of Milia Abrar in Montreal
in 1998 and till today, word on the street is that this is what happens
when a misguided young woman breaks from tradition. Across the border
many of those who are anti-choice for women support the death penalty,
so we know their concerns stem less from taking human life than controlling
women's bodies. In Canada today the debates and discussions around same
sex civil marriage are a fierce reminder of how in a modern democracy
the insecurities of people can be exploited to deny equality in law
to many citizens. Fundamentalism has little to do with brown people
who talk funny and wear flowing robes!
Repeatedly we see
that intrinsic to fundamentalist thinking and operating is the control
of women, their autonomy, their sexuality, their choices. And this is
where we find the nexus between patriarchy and fundamentalism. The two
are inseparable. That is why women are often the primary or exclusive
targets of fundamentalist forces. Control the women, control the community.
Give the men power and they will fall in line and support you. But this
can be somewhat simplistic. Again and again we see how women can be
as strident and male-identified in their articulation of fundamentalist
ideology -- upholding institutions that oppress them because it offers
some grounding, some familiarity -- better the devil you know than the
one you don't kind of logic. The slaves who prefer the known quantity,
slavery. Or the select few who profit from the subordination of the
Returning to our
theme of global reengineering, we need to remind ourselves that fundamentalism
is intrinsic to the efforts of capital and imperialism. In order to
have vulnerable, pliant populations, labour pools and markets you need
to keep populations in a state of crisis. And the cynicism is blatant.
While Afghanistan happened "for the women", when Iraq happened
the official line was "we don't do women". The flavour of
the day changes to suit the excuse at hand. And while fundamentalism
may garb itself in medieval drag it's all about the present.
Women's Day there are many reports by human rights organizations, women's
organizations, listing and documenting the abuses, torture, mutilations,
rapes, violence and death that women suffer with impunity -- sanctioned
and legitimized by cultures, societies and states on every continent
in the world -- the cultural specifics vary but the causal factors,
the ideological underpinnings are not very different. In no way do I
want to diminish this pain, anguish, suffering and stunting of personal
and physical growth that these practices cause. However we should not
explain them away as cultural peculiarities and backwardness, for this
can swing between racist labeling to various kinds of justifications.
Yet we should not lose track of the bigger picture -- patriarchy and
the control of women in the service of agendas -- national, multinational,
corporate, class and patriarchal. If we are able to do this we will
be able to interpret the shifting maps and faces of the forces of power
and control that seek to keep us subordinate in the shifting spaces
of global reengineering.
at 4TH annual International Women's Day event organized by the 8th March
Coordination and Action Committee of Women of Diverse Origins, Montreal
Saturday 5th March 2005 )