The Urgency of a Feminist South

By Anuradha M. Chenoy*

Equality begins from the womb in our feminized South. Female feticide because of male preference whereby more than 90 million girls are missing in India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone is now a thing of the past.1 Every girl child is nurtured here and the neo-natal mortality rate for girl children, which was 43% higher than that of boys in India as late as 2007,2 is part of history. And of course, girls are no longer kept out of schools since there is free and compulsory education for all in our global South.3

The 10% to 77% of the population of different Southern countries that lived on less than $2 per day or below poverty lines is no longer poor or undernourished, since all states have enacted rights based on social accountability laws. The minimum wage is a living wage. The peasantry has been freed from debts and there are really no more farmer suicides. The millions of internally displaced persons in each of the Southern countries, because of huge projects and big dams have been rehabilitated, each with a place to call home, as the policy now is land in exchange for land.

Since every index showed that inequality had actually increased after neoliberal globalization policies, it has been decided that the South will go back to sustainable and self reliant development, whereby gaps between town and countryside decrease; land reforms help to create common and collective and community farms; village commons are revived and protected by laws; and public welfare is at the core of economic policy.

And yes, in our feminized South, minorities are no longer at risk. Whether it is the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Chittagong tribes in Bangladesh, Muslims and Sikhs, Christians in India, the Karen or the Kurds, they all have equal access to justice, their religious sites are safeguarded, and they are not seen as threats, demonized or backed by state-sponsored majoritarianism. That is because democratization has become an ongoing process and the judiciary functions with accountability and without delay. Democracy itself is feminized. Women’s representation in parliaments, which was low and uneven with India at 9%, Pakistan 20% and Bangladesh 15% and none in many West Asian countries, has been reversed with affirmative action giving women 50% in parliaments and all positions of power. And what’s more? This has impacted international institutions, and we have heard that the World Bank will follow the South!

There is free clean drinking water and sanitation for all. Energy comes from wind power, located in every village, while cooking gas and energy comes through solar heating. Schools and workplaces are within walking distance and there is a system of free bikes available in every town. People are healthy in the global South because public expenditure on health in countries like India that used to be 0.9 % of GDP, 0.4% in Pakistan and 1.8% in China (HDI, 2008) has been increased to 20% of GDP. This has been possible because military expenditure in countries like India, China and Pakistan that used to continuously increase has been cut, as the military is no longer necessary.

Girls are no longer veiled because they themselves led movements for autonomy and empowerment, since they do not have to be markers of their community. And their community is not marked as ‘outsiders’. Since there is no patriarchy why do we need nationalisms? Now we wonder what crime these women committed that they were hidden from society? Now only criminals have to be veiled. Those who killed women for daring to marry and love outside their communities have been punished. Sexual choice is respected, and you do not have to be jailed or ostracized for it.

Given that there is full employment, women are no longer designated to perform unpaid household chores. And unlike in our past where women earned 50% to 90% less than men in different countries of the South, now we have equal wages for equal work. Domestic work is valued and shared by men and women in the family. And to beat it all, the South has feminized labour laws. This mean that life and work is balanced, pensions are guaranteed, crèches are available, bosses are accountable, salaries are regulated, and unemployment benefits have been reinstated.

What was previously invested in arms is now invested in people. South Asia and West Asia have followed East Asia and Central Asia by becoming nuclear-free zones. This has been made possible because peace treaties have been signed between India and Pakistan; China and India; North and South Korea; and Palestine is an independent democratic republic. The Taliban has been marginalized by progressive forces, as a democratic and secular government has stabilized in Afghanistan and women have access to public spaces. There is democracy in Myanmar, where Aung Sang Suu Kyi is president; and Iran has had free and fair elections. North and South Korea have united. There are no more insurgencies since people have rights, access to justice and localized development and governance. What is more, we are going to follow Costa Rica, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic, who went through demilitarization and have no more national armies. The dilemma of the South has been resolved as a feminization has replaced patriarchy; gendered human security has replaced national security; and human development has replaced growth.


How do we transform vision into reality in everyday practice? The history of women’s activism provides some clues. These have to be carried out as simultaneous and holistic measures and certain approaches have to be taken:

Feminist researchers and activists have to continue with the stellar tasks of unpicking the myths and theories that justify oppression. This is the combination that first showed the extent of gender inequality; that patriarchy lies embedded in personal, community, social, economic, national, political economic, cultural and international structures; that it is the most pervasive and common form of identity politics and marker of exclusion and hierarchical difference. Research is now showing that under neoliberalism there is a clear gender bias against women and that the high growth rates and rising incomes of middle development countries have not translated into addressing poverty and undernutrition, especially for women and children. Furthermore, the privatization of health in most of the South has led to increased exclusions in health care.

This research and activism has also shown that no development policy is effective when women are absent from it and that no peace is just or sustainable when women are not part of the process. This clearly shows that women have to be an integral part of all policymaking, implementation, supervision, etc. The Gender Empowerment Index has established that high human development, deeper democratization and the human rights of a country are linked to gender empowerment. Research has also shown that international relations theory and practice has been a ‘womenless world’ (Anne Tickner). It has shown that militarization, patriarchy and xenophobic nationalism intersect, gendering violence in all armed conflicts. Research has also established that poverty and underdevelopment contributes to conflicts, that it adds to identity/ ethnic/ grievances and that it is easier to manipulate the oppressed as cannon fodder for these movements. And more women are part of these conflicts in the South than ever before.

Activists have taken their experience, message and ideas to the field to advocate rights, expose oppression, intervene against violence, and give succour to the victims. Social movements, the women’s movements, international institutions of the UN, and NGOs have taken this message to the international regimes and helped bring in a body of laws that are beginning to make a difference. They have been able to gain some limited access to the high tables of policy makers. These collective attempts have overcome some obstacles and have extracted the right to limited representation. This work has to continue. They now have the task of making sure that resolutions like 1325 and the responsibility to protect are implemented everywhere.

Under neoliberalism, there is a clear gender bias against women and girl children. To counter this, economic and social policies must be gendered and the emphasis should be on improving the incomes and the influence of women. Government should formulate and carry out national gender justice missions. Only when that happens will economic policy actually be gendered. Female stereotypes should be changed through systematic education, adult education, and the mass media, particularly that which is government influenced. Students should be encouraged to discuss issues of gender and their resolution as part of their studies. There should be significantly more representation of women in decision-making bodies, i.e. the legislature, executive, and judiciary. Women must play a prominent role in the mass media and consciously tackle gender stereotypes instead of propagating the importance of gender development and equity. Teaching materials such as text books at all levels must also be gender sensitive. Short films showing gender problems and their resolutions should be taken to more inaccessible sectors of the country, especially to the illiterate poor in order to foster a gender consciousness.

There are multiple paths, multiple visions, and the task before us is to connect people, researchers and activists to the policy makers so that the subjects of our research, activism and policy acquire their own agency and voice. Feminization is the way forward for the South.

1 [The Lancet Journal showed that 10 million female fetuses were aborted between 1994 and 2005. Lancet, 9 January, 2006] This is common in China and other parts of the South [Unicef, 2007 Report on World’s Children] []

2 Unicef, 2007

3 India passed the Right to Education in 2010. It is, however, yet to be implemented.

* Anuradha Chenoy is a professor in the Jawahar Lal Nehru University in New Delhi

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top