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Women’s Movements in the Global South: Towards a Scalar Analysis

Abstract

This article explores the politics and ethics of scale in reading women’s movements in the Global South—how they have always been simultaneousy regional, national and transnational in scale (materially if not imaginatively) and read through the twin lens of the global and the local. The first part of the essay underscores the constitutive internationalism in the history of feminism. From the ‘second wave’ of the women’s liberation movement, attempts at recognizing the internationalism in ‘global feminism’ have poorly served feminists in the ‘third world’. In more recent times, transnationalization has become the dominant signifier of women’s movements with renewed attempts at capturing the shifting scales of feminist politics in ‘transnational feminism’. Recent processes of transnationalization and NGOization bespeak an ontology of relatedness and a scalar epistemology as has been mobilized in recent writings in postcolonial sociology. The second part of the essay uses the mass protests around the rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in 2012 as a way of thinking through the changing scales and sites of contemporary feminist protest in the Global South. I use the spatial concept of the assemblage to emphasize the multi-scalar dimensions of this protest especially through the determining influence of the media. Such a ‘protest assemblage’ produced endless possibilities of mobilization in the name of women but not always in clearly recognizable ‘feminist’ ways.

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Notes

  1. The 23-year-old physiotherapy student died battling injuries including partial disembowelment inflicted by six men aboard a private, off-duty bus, including the bus driver. A male friend and Jyoti were taking the bus home after watching Life of Pi at the cinema in a popular neighbourhood of the city of Delhi.

  2. The term feminism is contested in India as it is in most postcolonial countries where it becomes an easy signifier of Westernization and elitism. For a recent overview, see Dave (2012) who also shows how this distancing from accusations of Westernization/elitism has historically translated into the IWM’s privileging of class over sexuality.

  3. I am referring here to the ‘wave model’ of historicizing the women’s liberation movement in the West in terms of the first, second and third wave.

  4. In the Indian context, neoliberalism refers to those reforms that were inaugurated—albeit stealthily and unevenly—from 1991 onwards as a response to the fiscal crisis of the state and in accordance with elite preferences and interests (Corbridge and Harriss 2000).

  5. While such an ‘aid chain’ has a longer, post-war history, it is traceable in the Indian context to the liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991.

  6. The IWM’s prioritization of the state and legal reform over other types of political intervention has been subject of much discussion and critique. See Sunder Rajan (2003) for overview.

  7. ‘NGOization’ is employed by feminists and leftists alike as an umbrella term to capture the many changes and transformations that have taken place in the IWM in terms of its form, functioning and the wider political context in which it exists. Coinciding with economic liberalization and the withdrawal of state funding from key areas, NGOs stepped in to deliver—and not merely demand—development. See Roy (2015) for overview of these debates.

  8. This turn to sexuality in the Indian context has to be located in the broader and very substantial challenges put forth by sexual subalterns—sex workers, sexual minorities and members of the queer movement—to the mainstream IWM that traditionally shied away from the issue of sex, if not being openly hostile to lesbian women and sex workers (see, for overview, Narrain and Bhan 2005 and Menon 2008).

  9. Two opposing ‘camps’ have since been read into the vocabulary of the 2012 protests: one that focused on justice as retribution, demanding the death penalty and even chemical castration of rapists (castration being an entirely new addition to the cause of gender justice in India), and the other that demanded widespread and structural reform based on enhancing women’s freedom, rather than further constraining it in the name of ‘protection’. Anupama Roy (2014) has designated these camps as representing, on the one hand, the masculinist/patriarchal izzat or honour strand of the 2012 protests and, on the other hand, the feminist azadi or freedom strand.

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Correspondence to Srila Roy.

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Roy, S. Women’s Movements in the Global South: Towards a Scalar Analysis. Int J Polit Cult Soc 29, 289–306 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-016-9226-6

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Keywords

  • Feminism
  • Gender
  • Women’s movements
  • Assemblage
  • Scalar epistemology
  • India