The topic for this week’s meeting was women and poverty.
We heard about the Green Belt movement in Kenya.
It is a human rights group which focuses on the perspective of women planting trees, becoming stewards of the environment and subsequently gaining empowerment. The Green Belt Movement works with schools in Kenya to provide natural resource education. And the group works for the rights, health and welfare of women in Kenya including on education for young girls, AIDS education, and of course networking with other women's groups.
We discussed whether the impact of poverty was greater in women’s lives and whether women were more likely to be poor.
There was a view that contemporary feminism did not address the issues faced by women having to walk miles for firewood and water or women having to survive and feed their children on meagre state benefits/welfare. Does it concentrate too much on issues such as sexuality and equality in the workplace and not on the daily exhausting struggle many women face just in order to survive?
Many of us present had suffered from a shortage of money, or had seen our mothers suffer that way; nevertheless we had never experienced the extreme poverty which so many women in the world have to endure.
However are we more effective when we connect with women with shared life experience?
We heard that studies show that the greatest factor in poverty among older women is the absence of a husband. This is depressing but not surprising since earning potential among women is still lower and welfare and pension systems assume the contribution of an effective ‘bread winner’.
To make the point one member came in an old woman avi.
: last week you were a pink scuba diver
: And I had a better time than as an old lady, let me tell you
: That's...interesting in a disappointing way. D:
We considered how we make these issues more visible as feminists and what are the examples of good practice that we can learn from.
There are the living wage movement and labour unions. In Canada there is the New Democratic Party, which deals a lot with work and poverty issues, but we were not really sure the Democratic Party in the US is quite the same.
Some views :-
I'd argue, though, that feminism does take into consideration the globalization of poverty as well as welfare issues.
I agree that it’s important to have a global political analysis .... However I also believe that to engage others in activity means each individual focusing on issues that have real relevance in their own lives.
I don’t think we should overlook however that women who live in poverty also suffer sexual exploitation and will find it even more difficult to escape it
Environmental issues are not seen as women's issues. Until they are, I believe the fight against poverty will be unsuccessful. Taking an ecofeminist approach, a hierarchical, dominance-based philosophy won’t work environmentally and it also keeps women down. So you don't have to decide whether you want to be a feminist or an environmentalist.
The discussion then took a new turn:-
I'm wondering if there's an undercurrent in this conversation - has academic feminism let women down? Do you feel that academic feminists do a lot of talking, but you don't see them on the streets?
Well, I am an academic who used to be in poverty and I am ashamed to say I still hold a lot of resentment towards the academic world.
I would think their main role would be to inform and enlighten people on subjects and issues they weren't necessarily aware of.
Feminist praxis - reflection and action - and the process of conscientization - a critical consciousness - that freire (liberation theologist and radical educator) are ways that people can be engaged to change their own worlds. starting to look at our own situations and understand the politics behind it. The personal as political in other words.
NB "There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
—Jane Thompson, drawing on Paulo Freire
I believe there is a place for rigorous intellectual analysis of political issues ...when it comes to actually making changes ... these will only come about ...I believe ...when people get together to make changes in their own lives and communities
like consciousness raising groups .... and the Chinese speak bitterness meetings .... and that whole realisation, wait, it's not just me it's the systems and structures we live under.. the light bulb moment.
There was so much more ...including discussion on how we can have an impact as feminists in SL ....impossible to distil into notes. If you want to be part of the discussion do come to the meetings which are held every Sunday at 1pm SLT.
Next week the topic will be Women of Iran.