Assembly-line sisters

The 'Nepali women' you get to know from the development blurb are conveniently homogenous. All are equally poor, illiterate and oppressed.

In the struggle against patriarchy, the idea of 'sisterhood' has been the key political force. However, since the 1970s the idea that "all sisters are equal" and that all women suffer the same oppression simply because they all are women, has come under serious criticism. The works of African-American, Latino, Asian and other Third World feminists have shown manifold vectors—class, caste, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation—that structure the way oppression is experienced. Such work has enabled us to not only see the dangers of ignoring differences among women, but also to see how the major systems of oppression are very much interlocked with each other.

In the US, black and other women of colour continue to accuse white 'sisters' of being racist and not being able to understand the double oppression they face being non-white and female in American society. The rise of autonomous dalit women organisations in India, asserting their differences with both the brahmanism of the Indian feminist movement and the patriarchal practices of Dalit politics, speaks to similar concerns. The issue is the manner in which a certain template of 'feminist/women's concerns' has been constructed and authorised by certain elite women.

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Himal Southasian