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The global struggle against the war on women

Sunday 12 May 2019, by Deepa Kumar, Glória Trogo, Josie Chavez, Natalia Tylim , Sarah Jaffe

The following speeches were presented at a panel discussion, “The Global Struggle against the War on Women,” at the 2018 Socialism Conference in Chicago. The audio of the panel is available to download at WeAreMany.org.

Deepa Kumar is an associate professor of Media Studies and Middle East Studies at Rutgers University. She is the author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (Haymarket Books, 2012).

This is a terrific time to be having this panel because the #MeToo movement, like the “SlutWalk” movement before it, has sparked an international conversation around sexual violence.

I was in India in May, visiting family, and I was struck by how many people want to talk about sexual violence. This is a new development. It wasn’t always something to be openly talked about. If you’ve seen the movie Monsoon Wedding, it’s something to be hidden, repressed, denied even, but not something to be discussed, analyzed, and fought against. Of course this isn’t new, this is something that has been going on since 2012 when a young woman by the name of Jyoti Singh was gang-raped and died of the horrible torture inflicted upon her. What you saw after this was a massive rise in protest around rape and sexual violence in India.

Most recently, what brought this issue back again into the news was the murder of an eight-year-old Kashmir girl, Asifa Bano, who was brutally gang-raped and murdered. The #MeToo campaign along with the murder of Bano is what prompted the magazine India Today(roughly equivalent to Time magazine) to run a cover story on sexual violence against children and the men who are behind it. Of course the article doesn’t go into the political nature of this hideous crime: the fact that the rapists were Hindu government and police officials who targeted Asifa as a way to get the Muslim community she was a part of to move away from the area where the horrific incident happened, or the fact that Kashmir is under Indian occupation, or that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed silent at first because, after all, it was a Muslim girl who was the victim. So there is no discussion of occupation, racism, and right-wing nationalism and misogyny. Despite these absences, it was nevertheless significant that the premier magazine in India saw fit to highlight the scope and scale of violence against girls.

As I was reading this article on the plane back to the States, an announcement was made accompanied by a video explaining that British Airways was collecting money to save children around the world. We were asked to donate our spare change to help the poor children in the Global South live better lives; many passengers did actually fill the packet provided. This example typifies the ruse, the trick that sustains an unpalatable system like neoliberalism. That is, if you look at the level of devastation and poverty created during this era of neoliberal capitalism over the last forty years or so, which is responsible for the kind of problems articulated in the British Airways video and the problems of violence against women and girls as India Today outlines, then the solutions presented are really shallow and self-serving. At the end of the day, it makes British Airways look good and it presents the market as the solution to precisely the problems created by the market. So in my talk today, I want to focus on how not to fight the global war on women and to make a case for why we should reject the dominant logic of neoliberal imperial feminism.

First, what is imperial feminism? Imperial feminism is a false feminism. It is the use of women’s rights and women’s liberation to advance empire. It has its origins in the period of the