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Alternative Imaginaries: Feminist Transformative Politics in the Global South: A note on the conference* at the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP)**

Feminists in the Global South have stepped out of the conventional territories of ‘women’s matters’ into more fundamental structural changes. These efforts can be understood within the framework of feminist democracy, which is the core concept of this conference. To provide a definition, it's an alternative imagination which is exemplified in a collection of efforts that many feminists in the Global South undertake, not only to achieve gender equality but also to fundamentally change the unequal and undemocratic political and social infrastructures through a combination of epistemological frameworks, individual resistance, collective actions, or legal opportunities available to them.

Today, rooted-South feminisms view gender as an entry point to analyse society holistically with the aim of transforming social and political structures for the benefit of all. To understand the global shifts and challenges, new epistemologies are required, acknowledging the "collective struggles of racialized women" to borrow from the Colombian feminist Lina Álvarez Villareal.[1]

Feminists in the global south are constantly fighting multiple battles: against patriarchal oppression in their contexts, against the legacy of colonialism in the world system, and against inequality based on race, class and other forms.

One of the major stereotype accusations against global South feminists is that they simply follow Western feminism. This accusation not only ignores their independent subjectivity; it also overlooks the fact that South-rooted feminism inspires Western feminism both epistemologically and in terms of action. A prime example would be the establishment of the first woman's city, Jinwar[2], in the Kurdistan region founded in 2019 amid the Syrian uprisings. The word "Jinwar" means "Women's Land" in Kurdish. The idea behind Jinwar was to create a new form of society beyond capitalist forms of economy by prioritizing principles of communal ownership, self-sufficiency, and cooperation. Jinwar demonstrates a strong commitment to environmental sustainability by implementing practices that minimize ecological impact and promote harmony with nature. This city realized what Christine de Pizan the feminist philosopher of the 15th century just dreamed about, meaning establishing a city for women. [3]

The Global South feminism is significantly different from gender politics emerging during democratisation processes in Europe and North America. Rooted-South feminisms engage in multifaceted dialogues, not only between the Global North and the Global South but also with their specific contexts.

The questions that this conference was organized around included: What prospects do feminists in the Global South offer for a more democratic and inclusive society? What are their transformative actions? How do they bring change and what are their strategies for change in the diverse context of the Global South? How do they build solidarity networks and future collaborations? What are the backlash and responses to their equality demands? How do feminists deal with them? How do they inspire western feminism and the new generations?

Celebrating the IGP’s 10th anniversary, our aim was: First, to make visible the transformative imagination and actions in all forms including everyday resistances, intellectual efforts, and collective mobilisations visioning a better future. Second, to demonstrate the anti-gender backlash against women exemplified in right-wing populism, religious fundamentalism, state-sponsored violence, and conservative practices. Based on 1) several years of collaborative work with scholars across Balkan-to-Bengal- Complex working in TAKHAYYUL Project [4], norms and challenges to legislations in the Muslim contexts, and 2) a number of scholarly conversations drawing parallels across Islamic and non-Islamic contexts of the Global South, this conference was to understand the tensions between the gender norms and the new politics.

The conference included three panels, which examined the existing power relations such as the local legal structures, rules of piety, as well as the emerging forms of backlash against women’s right to self-determination.

In the first panel, two prominent forms of backlash including populism and natalism were discussed. As populism politicizes gender, feminists are engendering politics. Natalist politics is another backlash, which target women’s bodies for broader political ambitions. The participants also discussed how women respond to them. A general strike of Chinese women against natalist politics is a prominent example. They also explored how women in Turkey challenge the injustices of marriage by resorting to divine justice. The final case was Iran, where women’s transformative actions remained unnoticed and invisible for the most part due to the hegemony of regime change paradigm.

The second panel was dedicated to intimacy, gender, and the law. The panellists discussed the role of law in perpetuating discrimination and the ways in which women and feminists in the Global South challenge not only authoritarian rule but also discriminatory structures in cases such as law divorce, bills of rights, charters, constitutional amendments, and social mobilizations in the contexts such as Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, India, and North Africa.

In the last but not the least panel, subaltern forms of feminist resistance in both intellectual and practical forms were analysed. These include the challenge of Islamic Feminism, the political Imagination of the Kurdish Women’s Movement, and how indigenous feminists rethink violence in central America.

As the panels indicate, our perspective is to go beyond common divisions based on geography, religion, and culture—for example, between Islamic and non-Islamic countries. In this perspective, China can be compared to Iran in some respects, and there are significant similarities between the Kurdish women's movement and liberation movements in Central America.

The panels provided a rich understanding of the diverse and dynamic nature of south-rooted feminisms, contributing to the expansion of knowledge about women's activism beyond Western-centric frameworks. By uncovering women's experiences and perspectives in the context of the Global South, the conference advanced our understanding of the complexities of gender inequality and other forms of inequality and oppression.

The journey that we took to reach here was joyful and interesting. One significant moment was when we observed the global solidarity of women across the world cutting their hair as a symbolic protest against the killing of Mahsa/ Jina Amini, a Kurdish young woman in Iran who was killed in 2022 because of not “being properly veiled”. The global solidarity demonstrated that although hijab is not compulsory in many parts of the world, many women and men sympathize with the Iranian women because they suffer from similar yet different forms of discrimination that target their bodies and lives. What unites them was gender and sisterhood language.

We hope to extend invitations to more scholars and activists from the global south in an edited volume that we will publish, though we were not able to do that mainly due to the budget constraints and visa difficulties. However, we are committed to ensuring that the edited volume resulting from this conference reflects a broader range of voices from the global south.

[1] Lina Álvarez Villareal (2024) Rooted-South Feminisms: Disobedient Epistemologies and Transformative Politics, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 35:2, 116-137, DOI: 10.1080/10455752.2023.2259507

[3] Christine Pizan (1999), The Book of the City of Ladies, Rosalind Brown-Grant (Editor, Introduction, Translator), Penguin Classics.

[4] Imaginative Landscapes of Islamist Politics Across Balkan-to-Bengal Complex, Starting Grant (2019), no.853230: https://www.takhayyulproject.c...

Fatemeh Sadeghi is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Global Prosperity and the organizer of the conference.


I am grateful to my amazing colleagues who did this event possible:

Professor Henrietta Moore for supporting us throughout this journey and my dear colleague and friend Dr Sertac Sehlioglu, the PI of the ERC funded TAKHAYYUL Project at the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity. I particularly thank Dr. Yuan He, our fantastic organizer. I’m sure you'll agree that without her hard work, dedication, and valuable insights this event would be unimaginable. My thanks also go to Burcu Kalpaglioglu, who motivated us significantly and. I’m also deeply grateful to my excellent colleagues at IGP, who helped us through this journey: Dr Nikolay Mintchev, Dr Mara Torres Pinnedo, Eva Lamorgese, Elena Scali, Alexander Pymm, Louise Roberts, and many others behind the scenes including our amazing PhD students. I am very grateful to Prof. Juliana Demartini Brito, Prof. Silvia Suteu, and Prof. Alex Hyde for chairing our panels. Thanks also go to the honourable guests who came from abroad and those who joined online. Finally, I am grateful to all the audience for their participation.

Photo Credit: Fatemeh Sadeghi

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