Rural Women and Feminism
Aweek ago I was invited to consultations for a feminist mapping of the Caribbean by a well-known feminist organisation, of which the name will remain undisclosed. While the event brought together some of the brightest young minds in the regional feminist sphere, I couldn’t help but feel that I was out of place. Issues—from sexual and reproductive health, LGBTQ matters, mentorship of young girls and mental health—were all at the forefront of the discussions. While these issues interweave into those faced by rural women and girls, they all took precedence over the topic of rural women in the agricultural sector—a demographic probably needing the most attention from feminist groups. At one point, someone even insinuated that the issue of rural women was more of a developmental issue and that the feminist advocacy sphere may not be the best place to gain support. But if not here, then where else could these women gain assistance?
I realized that the issue of rural women’s rights in the feminist sphere was not only overlooked in the Caribbean but worldwide and that the disconnect was rooted in the misconstrued conception of who or what is a feminist. Unfortunately many view feminists as male-hating, braburning women when, in fact, the opposite is true. Feminists can take many shapes and forms, from a schoolteacher to a bodybuilder, as long as they hold the simple belief that both men and women should live and thrive equally. Many rural women may not call themselves feminist but believe that they should be able to benefit from the same training, technical support and access to land that men do. Dare I say that they are feminist too? The problem is, in the Caribbean they don’t have feminist groups to assist them in getting the equality they desire. However, the feminist agenda, like any ideology, can become exclusive and focus on persons who are highly educated and most often those who live in an urban setting, while feminism should seek to include all, regardless of urban or rural context.
Some will support the prior claim that the feminist sphere cannot support rural women because they represent more traditional concepts such as having a nuclear home. However, for ages there has been a high percentage of households headed by single mothers and it hasn’t changed yet. Furthermore, if feminism, as Chimamanda Adichie powerfully said, represents the “social, political and economic equality of the sexes” then why would rural women in agriculture, who represent a substantial part of the Caribbean population and who are plagued with the same issues of inequality as women in other professions, not be at the forefront of the feminist agenda?
Isn’t it about time that we had a rural feminist agenda?