Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Tina Fey. These names are well-known amongst young feminists today. When they discuss feminism, they talk about fighting for equal rights for women, for more representation in media for women and to get rid of the wage gap. What they neglect to mention is how these issues, and more broadly, sexism, affect different women differently. Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
In response to mainstream feminism, black feminists in the United States wrote about how for black women, racism and sexism did not operate separately, rather they reinforce one another. The term intersectionality was then coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe this theory. Although intersectionality began as framework for understanding how womanhood could be racialised for black women, this theory has been useful for understanding how oppression affects women differently, based on the various facets of their identity.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, statistics reveal that 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime and that disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of violence compared to other women. These statistics highlight that domestic violence is a gendered issue, however, it is clearly more complicated than that.
These socially constructed categories of women, and the category of women itself, exist to undermine and disempower women in different ways and are all embedded in capitalism. In order to address the higher rates of violence experienced by disabled women it is imperative that we look into how ableism and sexism reinforce one another, and how these oppressions can be further complicated when disability intersects with gender, race, sexuality and class.
Our current mainstream systems for victims of domestic violence cater primarily towards Pākehā women, with very limited resources and in turn, support for indigenous women, migrant women of colour, LGBTQI women, disabled women and economically disadvantaged women. This can be seen with the recent Ministry of Social Development decision to decline funding to Shakti Wellington Refuge. This can lead to marginalised groups receiving support that is either inadequate or leads to further violence.
Intersectional feminism is a useful lens to analyse the oppressions that affect marginalised groups and it is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with other theories. Mainstream feminism as it stands is not intersectional, but it does need to be. Intersectionality is crucial to create solidarity and understanding amongst us so that we can better support each other as we try to dismantle the oppressive capitalist patriarchal systems around us. As a wise woman once wrote, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”
By Jasmin Singh
As a new migrant into this country, there is no handbook on living in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. Learning the history of the country while also trying to fit in, make friends, study, work etc. seems overwhelming but it does play an important role for migrants. Waitangi day according to many of us is the day that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed and another public holiday that falls during the summer months. However, it’s important to learn about the treaty and all that occurred after its signing to understand our current context as migrants living on colonised land.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but after over 5 years of living in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, 2 weeks ago was the first time I learnt about the Treaty of Waitangi in any depth. I had heard about the Treaty through my university study but it was more like a 2 point summary of what we needed to know. Point one being that Māori were not given the rights they were promised and the second point that due to the flaws of translation Pākehā assumed they now had rights to all the land, whereas Māori were under the impression that they were still sovereign and Pākehā would govern among themselves. The way that I learnt about the Treaty recently though was a far more comprehensive, although brief overview of the 150 year or so timeline from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi to present day. More importantly it focused on not just what had occurred since the signing of the Treaty, but also Māori responses and how we as immigrants fit into this timeline.
The xenophobic and racist sentiments of colonisers were clear from the outset. Non-European migrants were considered undesirable and continue to be seen as such regardless of the fact that White migrants made up and still make up a bigger proportion of immigrants coming into the country. In this same vein to continue the colonising mission Māori are often depicted as one of many ethnic minorities to downplay indigenous rights with the common misconception being that Māori are receiving special privileges when they demand them. The guise of a multicultural New Zealand is used to justify denying Māori their rights as tangata whenua.
From the first few weeks being in Aotearoa/New Zealand to present day I consistently hear stories and opinions that seem to place migrants in opposition to Māori. As if it has to be one versus another. This is a harmful way to shape the relationships between our communities as opposed to seeing the similarities, we are often forced to see the differences and encouraged to compete. To challenge the systems of power that control our lives we need to all work together as opposed to absorbing the hateful messages used to encourage competition among us while keeping the status quo in place. It’s crucial to understand the history of colonisation and its role in the continuing racism faced by not only immigrants but Māori as well, and how racism is very closely linked to colonisation and the relationships of power that colonisation has created across the world. It is important to recognise that as immigrants we are also complicit in colonisation as we have come to live here in most cases without the consent of Māori.
Many of us come from countries that have been colonised so we can understand, empathise, work together with and support Māori to reach better solutions to our social problems rather than the ones we are currently provided with. We need to ignore the divisive messages we are bombarded with and stand in solidarity with Māori. Liberation for migrants from racism, sexism, violence and oppression comes from decolonisation and liberation of tangata whenua from colonial powers.