By Lisa Glass / @lisaaglass
Currently, the value of global gender equality is top of the agenda for many WesternÂ governments and organisations such as the UN. The move to empower women and girls onÂ a global scale is obviously in itself a positive step. However, the consequences of WesternÂ interventions in the global South need to be properly considered and addressed. In certainÂ situations, the field is opened up for corporations and others with commercial interests toÂ exploit this heightened interest for capitalist gains.
In her talk, â€œExporting Girl Power: Nike and the Girl Effectâ€ at the Womenâ€™s Library inÂ east London on 18 April 2012, Professor Rosalind Gill, Kingâ€™s College London, discussedÂ Nikeâ€™s â€œGirl Effectâ€ campaign. The powerful, rhetorical narrative of theÂ campaign is that by educating girls in the global South, they will delay marriage, hence havingÂ fewer children, reducing the countryâ€™s population and thereby improving the overall economyÂ of their country. The focus on the education and empowerment of young women is a positiveÂ message in itself, but at the same time this campaign homogonises and generalises womenÂ in the global South. Further, it suggests that the reason for poverty is because women in these countries are oppressed. The real causes of global poverty are clearly much moreÂ complex and multi-faceted than that. The role of colonialism and capitalism in causing andÂ perpetuating global poverty are completely overlooked here. The Girl Effect campaignÂ suggests that the need for feminism is displaced to the global South, and that there is noÂ need for it in the West, and furthermore effectively excuses the West from blame for globalÂ poverty.
The motivation for Nike and organisations like it is to develop new markets in these countries,Â Gill suggested. By improving the economies of these countries, they create new markets forÂ their products. Furthermore, certain campaigns such as the UNâ€™s Girl Up encourages girlsÂ and women in the West to express their solidarity through acts of consumption by buyingÂ branded products. A real feminist solidarity, it can be argued, would operate outside ofÂ consumerism and commercialism and would work with women in their own countries, startingÂ from their own priorities, agendas and struggles.
Another issue discussed was the â€œfeminisingâ€ of responsibility for survival. Dr Kalpana Wilson,Â London School of Economics, who also spoke at the Womenâ€™s Library event, has workedÂ extensively with women in rural labour movements. She argued that the motivations of certainÂ organisations have little to do with gender equality and that the empowerment of women andÂ girls, and more to do with mobilising the labour of women in the global South, in the interestsÂ of global capital. Dr Wilson considered that the promotion of gender equality is linked withÂ broader neoliberal policies. This, she explained, means that women are expected to stepÂ in and provide a safety net from poverty by doing more work. Another example of this kindÂ of ethos is the World Bankâ€™s â€œGender Equality as Smart Economicsâ€ Action Plan, whichÂ reconstructs women as entrepreneurs who are able to cope with and overcome poverty. TheÂ rhetoric is not about eradicating poverty but teaching the poor to take responsibility and findÂ ways of coping with it.
The message from the session seems to be that, for true equality to be established, it mustÂ be contextualised within every country and understood for itself. It cannot be imposed inÂ broad strokes from the outside. Western governmentsâ€™ and other organisationsâ€™ attempts toÂ impose gender equality on the global South is not only misguided but a consequence of theÂ capitalist politics that dominate the Western world.
Lisa Glass is a London-based feminist writer and editor.
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