Feminisms: fragmentation vs. collaboration - A reflection from fieldwork in Spain

During my fieldwork in Madrid with migrant care workers I had the chance to meet a group of women that call themselves “Territorio Domestico”. This space brings together migrant domestic workers and Spanish women, and all share a feminist commitment to fight against the invisibilisation of domestic work. They’re seeking to improve domestic workers’ working conditions, for instance by lobbying political parties to commit to the ratification of the ILO Convention 189 if elected in the next general elections. They also have several years of experience in organizing and reaching out to the public through demonstrations, theatre and public events. Taking part in their meetings made me reflect upon grassroots feminist mobilization and its challenges.

Members of the group included both migrant and Spanish feminists so that they can fight together to bring care related activities from the margins to the center. All members were committed to support domestic workers to have their rights acknowledged (through legal advice for instance) but also fought for justice through a great diversity of initiatives aimed at the general public. During their meetings there were at times discussions around this collaboration and they reflected upon the roles of the Spanish and migrant women, as well as generally speaking issues of representation of the group in public fora. The times I was there they highlighted the need to work and fight together while being aware of the efforts needed to ensure a certain balance so that each member can find its place (not to speak on behalf of but also not to marginalize the role of Spanish women within the organization).

These conversations resonated with me as I have followed from afar the destructive oppositions that have emerged among feminist movements in France. I found the work of Territorio Domestico in this perspective particularly inspiring. Since some decades already, and even more so since the 2000s, feminist discourses and mobilizations in France developed to some extent in opposition to each other, especially on matters of religious identity, an issue that triggered more polarization that joint reflection. Organizations that turned the headscarf into a symbol of women’s oppression went so far as to reject these women’s participation in their activities while others assimilated secular feminism (in its French version of laïcité) with imperialism and the silencing of the subaltern, and thus rejected its contribution to feminist thought altogether. While this depiction is a bit of a caricature, religious and ethnic diversity in feminist movements could certainly do better and enrich feminist thoughts. I do believe these debates are necessary within feminisms, but focusing on these also weakens the potential for common ground. That all women do not face the same oppression cannot be denied, but does this mean we shouldn’t seek to strengthen feminist potential for change by actively reflecting upon this? I think Territorio Domestico is an example of the possibility to engage and fight together while being aware of this. Care ethics and the claim for an alternative organization of our capitalist and patriarchal societies might constitute a foundation to go beyond such divides, constructing a discourse around justice, equality and social progress without falling into the traps of identity politics.

I had the chance to take part in one of their performance and I share with you this experience in this short video (the part about them starts at 2’20”). Their claims build upon feminist fights in South American countries and call upon the decolonization of our minds. By doing so, they point out one of the causes of the current marginalization of migrant women in post-colonial European societies.

I would love to read your thoughts! There are also cases when migrant/minority ethnic feminists chose to create a dedicated space for their fights and it would be great to hear your experiences and ideas.

Posted in: Migration, Minority
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Comments

# k.aziz@londonmet.ac.uk
17 February 2015 11:23
Thank you Nina for this interesting reflection! Its a difficult discussion for me as well, it reminds me of my early student days (a long time ago) when I was caught up in the debate between multiculturalism and feminism. Back then it was easy for me to choose to support the dissidents within, never mind if of the minority or the majority, but really taking on their perspective is impossible if you're not an insider. I stumbled upon this text today claiming that feminism has been hijacked by white middle-class women http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/feminism-has-been-hijacked-white-middle-class-women
I do agree with a lot of the arguments like the critique of a patronizing Western/white feminism ('they say they don't need liberation but their eyes say help me'), but as you noted it does bare the danger to loose common ground. When the author paraphrasing bell hooks suggests, that there is no point in trying to make women equal to men if men are not equal to one another, it reminds me of the predicament the suffragettes found themselves in - taking back their claim for a general good, fighting for that general idea and not realizing their own claim. It should be possible to have an intersectional claim for social justice. Often activists will focus on one major claim, but that doesn't mean it has to alienate others. It seems the activists in your case managed to incorporate their differences. Maybe they could inspire more conflictual positions.

Congratulations on your film - its a great overview on care regimes and a nice introduction to Territorio Domestico!
# n.sahraoui@londonmet.ac.uk
17 February 2015 14:19
Thank you Karima for your comment - yes I truly hope so ! I think building alliances is possible - not everywhere, not with everyone - but definitely with all feminists aware of the dangers and racist outcomes of an instrumentalization of feminist claims to universalism. I do not mean that the multiculturalism/feminism debate shouldn’t take place, it definitely should, but as you said I agree that trying to make the voices of the ones most affected by an issue heard is key - and sadly this is rarely the case in mainstream media. Nancy Fraser wrote about this principle of 'double participatory parity’ that looks at the meanings of a cultural norm within the group in terms of participation and upon minority-majority relations in terms of equal rights to participate in society. I think this could be a starting point even if her analysis lacks a postcolonial perspective that might transform the meaning of a cultural practice.

I think one sentence in the article you’ve mentioned is quite explicit: 'There can be no equality between men and women until there is a redress of the global inequities which posit whiteness at the top of human hierarchy and consequently posit white bourgeois women as the benchmark for female emancipation.’

I share this point fully - I think emancipation can mean different things and there’s definitely no unique philosophical basis or process attached to it. One example comes to my mind. I talked once with a researcher whose project was about measuring the emancipation of women in rural areas of Morocco in an attempt to find out if when the husband migrated it contributed to women’s emancipation. The problematic question was how to define emancipation ? Is having a paid job a sign of emancipation ? I guess most European feminists would answer yes. The answer of Moroccan women in this specific situation was ‘no’. Why ? Because working meant in that context a very poorly paid job that amounted to exploitation and increased control of the family-in-law upon their daily activities. I wish I could remember more details around this research but the point is that we need to be aware of these potential contradictions that ‘ready-to-think’ concepts tend to erase.

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