Middle class problemsPosted: November 9, 2011
The feminist movement is often criticised for being too focused on white, middle class problems. And at the moment, I’m mostly preoccupied with all the stress of having a brand new kitchen fitted, so I realise I can be guilty of focusing on my middle class problems too much.
So for this post, I am going to look back at a trip I made to Uganda a couple of years ago with the charity Send a Cow.
There were so many things I found incredibly inspiring about this trip, but one of the moments that stayed with me was a community workshop I attended. In this workshop, attended by about 30 women, mostly widows from a very rural area, the community support worker asked them to call out “what makes a man” and ” what makes a woman”. The answers were clear and without argument – women have babies, they cook, they have breasts, they look after children and nurse others. Men are responsible for discipline, for knowing the boundaries of their land, for working and providing food for their families.
And then a woman stood up. She said “I am a widow, I don’t have a man. So instead, I do all these things. I work my land and provide food for my family. I make sure my children go to school. When you are a widow, you realise that you can do everything a man can do and even more.” And the other women in the group started nodding in agreement. This group, that ten minutes before had been absolutely clear in where the gender divides were, had suddenly turned around and removed the divides.
Another group who had been working together for much longer then came to this village, and put on a show with drama and music. Men, women and children all gathered together. The drama was about a married couple. They were poor and hungry, and the woman kept shouting at her drunk husband until he started beating her. Then a woman from a group working with Send a Cow came to them, and said “There is another way. You can work together to grow food for your family. You can work as a team and solve your problems together”. The play was funny and captured everyone’s attention, which was a brilliant way to persuade families to work together to improve their lives.
This to me was real feminism in action. It was women working together within their communities to improve their world. And as such, it makes me proud to be a feminist. It’s a really long way from my middle-class feminism, but I think it is related. When he was shadow-development secretary, Andrew Lansley MP praised the Send a Cow model so highly, for involving communities. Working from the ground up is vital for this kind of development aid to work effectively and lastingly, and Send a Cow works solely in this way. And more often than not it is women that join Send a Cow groups – perhaps because as widows they have few choices, but also because as women they realise how close to poverty they are living, and that working collaboratively is the best chance to bring whole communities out of poverty.
As a feminist, I whole-heartedly support this approach. I also admire the determination of women across the Middle East to make sure they are counted in the new waves of democracy. Our government has been vocal in making sure that women are represented in Libya, Tunisia and the other new democracies. But this is where it brings me back to my middle-class feminism. Why should someone believe David Cameron when he says women should be involved in democracy? Look at his version of democracy – how many women do you see in key positions? What percentage of UK MPs are women? How many women have broken through the glass ceiling to head up FTSE100 companies? How does our media treat women?
So perhaps by being angry about my middle-class feminist issues I am changing the world. How can I expect our government to lobby for the involvement of women in developing countries when women are sidelined by this same government?
I’m not saying feminism isn’t perfect, or that we shouldn’t work hard to ensure that our concerns aren’t the preserve of rich white women. But I’m also saying that this is one movement, and actions that help improve equality at one end of the spectrum will have an impact on the rest of the world.
Feminism is worth fighting for, whichever battleground we choose.
PS – while I’m talking a lot about Send a Cow here, I want to stress that these are my views and opinions only, and they have not been read or in any way endorsed by the charity. I do encourage you to find out more about what they think at Send a Cow and on Twitter @TweetaCow