International Women’s Day: How to Support Women Activists
As a scholar in the field of international human rights, with a particular focus in gender and sexuality, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about legal reform and activism, and how activists working in one country can support those working in another. Of course, social media and the Internet in general make international support much easier on a media/intellectual/writing level. But there are still a lot of problematic stances that come up that are a disservice to women everywhere. The following are a few tips I’ve picked up in my reading and activism that I’d like to share in celebration of International Women’s Day:
- Take a back seat. If you are foreign to a cause, don’t try to crowd the stage. This is true not just in the sense of being from another country, but also applies to gender, race, ability, age… pretty much any identity marker that puts you outside of the issue at hand. White people shouldn’t be leading POC movements. Men shouldn’t be leading women’s movements. So why do we find it acceptable for Americans and Europeans to “bring” education, democracy, etc. to women in the developing world? Sit back, chill a little, listen and learn. Be an ally or a participant, but don’t try to run the show.
- Lend resources where resources are needed. Instead of “helping” people in a way that seems to make sense, listen to what’s needed. If you want to get involved with an issue in another country, research what’s going on. Ask questions. Learn from those directly involve. Find out what’s needed–fundraising? Legal support? Support with infrastructure-building? For example, think about what would be possible if US sources provided funding for women’s education, but asked what women wanted to learn and developed a book list based on extensive listening to a particular culture’s needs.
- Apply lessons at home. So many activists travel to another country to “help” the local population, only to learn how messed up their home situation is. Women all over the world are struggling under the yoke of sexism, patriarchy, colonialism, and oppression. Apply lessons learned abroad to local communities. Listen to women in other countries and cultures, and also to women in different neighborhoods of your home community. Grassroots activism, microenterprise, and phenomenal educational efforts often spring up out of communities where change is needed both at home and abroad, and these efforts can teach all of us a lot about the nature of our societies and our lives.