I am a woman, a feminist, a Muslim. These three things are me, they are things that I have become, in that order. One is born with feminine sex, but it is only a biological determinism. I was born female and I have chosen to continue living as a woman. I decided to be and live as a feminist. I felt called to be a Muslim and I chose to listen to that call.
I love to be a woman, even in a world that hates me. The woman that I am, with my way of thinking, acting and feeling, my way of seeing the world and myself, is not a product of my sex, but of the story that I have gone through since I left my mother’s womb. The same goes for all women. Even beings born in the same country, city, year, even those who are sisters of blood, do not have the exact same story.
Each woman is unique in the way she interacts with reality. To pretend that there is a universal identity based on race, geography and religion is an arrogant pretension. Women share common experiences but how they live into those experiences is not the same. And here a right is generated: The right to speak for ourselves.
Participation as a social activist, as a political leader, as a committed citizen around a cause is, in the history of most women and in my own, a compulsive action: I lived something that took me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to reflect on my condition as a woman. This reflection then led me into activism.
I had political positions, held the power of action, decision and influence. From those experiences I learned important lessons: Power has no positive or negative charge in itself, it is the ends that dignify or pervert, therefore, with respect to power, that which determines whether it is good or bad is not the What? But rather the What for?
With regard to women, the relationship to power is complex: we struggle to achieve power and we fight this fight together as equals. But once one or some are done with it, the problems begin: on the one hand, we enter into the logic of patriarchal power, with its imprints and bestialities and, on the other, it is enough for a woman to have power in an environment traditionally reserved for men, so that the others begin with jealousy, envy, criticism and pettiness. Why?
The majority shrug and say: “women are like that”. Is not true. We have learned to be like that, we have been educated to seek legitimization of our actions based on our relationships with men and to compete with other women. The difficulty of the relationship between women and power will improve when we unlearn what we have learned through patriarchy. Let’s not forget that it is the patriarchy that molds us to its own convenience. Part of this convenience is that women compete among ourselves, as a result our struggles will always be sterile and there will be no possibility of counterbalancing their power. Of course progress has been made, but not as much as we would like, because we still have issues to deal with within the Sisterhood.
Sisterhood is a political gender pact between women who recognize themselves as interlocutors. There is no hierarchy, but a recognition of the authority of each one. It is based on the principle of human equivalence, equal value among all people because if your value is diminished by the effect of gender, the gender itself is also diminished. By relying on hierarchical thinking or deliberately hindering someone else, we lose all. Sometimes, patriarchal logic prevents us from seeing this.
When we say that the personal is political it means that there is no division between the private and public dimensions of a person’s life. There is life, and life influences and feeds itself from all areas. It also implies recognizing the right of each person to choose how they are part of the political. Religion, whether you believe in the divine or not is strongly political. Not only because it constitutes a powerful factual power, but because it is a dimension on which an individual bases her actions.
However, it is difficult for them to consider the Muslim woman’s spiritual experience in the same way as a political expression of the personal. In this case, the woman is stripped of her status as “zoon politikon”; it goes back to passivity and the prejudices that weigh on the gender images of Muslim woman. And this, why?
The feminisms of the first and second wave were the object of strong criticism, particularly the critique that they take into account only the voices of white, middle class women with academic training. Although conventional feminism and feminists have tried to incorporate a lot of things to address these concerns, there are still big gaps in terms of understanding and doing work within this area of feminism.
The above is one of the main reasons why women of color, feminists of the third world, black feminists, etc. do not recognize themselves in the mainstream of white feminism. Postcolonial feminism has recognized us as agents outside the canon of subordinations, hence the importance of this approach to understand the struggles for our rights.
My conviction is that feminism is not transferable. When we accept the concept of universalism for feminism in the conditions described above, we fall once again into the trap of the colored mirrors of globalization. Each woman must generate her own way of promoting equality in her context and discover in her situation specific forms of sisterhood and participation. This can be done by being militant or not, feeling feminist or not, sisterhood is not an academic theory, it is a daily practice.
Photo: Painting by Anjum Khan
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a specialist in training and community outreach in Gender, Communication and Interculturality. She’s also a learning and social projects designer and a qualitative researcher; an awarded activist for women’s rights who too does independent scholarship in Religion, Gender and Social Discourses. Nomadic writer. A woman with stories and geographies, lover of books, cats and spicy Chai.