Liberal feminism is driven by an emancipatory vision; it aims to highlight inequalities faced by women, and address these through legal and political reform.Liberal feminist writing, therefore, draws attention to the various forms of oppression which women around the world are subjected to, and seeks change through the removal of legal obstacles to gender equality. The liberal feminist normative vision of the emancipation of women is thus one which is assumed to be universally applicable. Western feminists participate in discursive colonization when they appropriate the experiences of non-white and non-western women to support arguments which only seek to better their position. It is this paternalistic treatment of the “other” which misses the point. Liberal feminism relates to the failure of Eurocentric scholars to acknowledge that oppression of women may vary because of race, class and ethnicity. This essentialist claim that female oppression is problematic, reluctance to recognize differences between women disregards the relational nature of those differences. It is to this regard that we should critique liberal values as they tend to be ahistorical, implodes the need for ethical and cultural reflectivity. This need for a different voice is what led to the rise post-colonial feminism.
The question of what is “postcolonial” is a complex one. Post colonialist writers argue that western academia, while masquerading as disinterested in imperialism, colludes in perpetuating racist structures and relations. A key goal of post colonialism, therefore, is facilitating progression past the legacy of colonialism, and it offers a number of ways of achieving this. One such strategy involves the opening of space for the disenfranchised “Other” to speak. While rejecting the “narrative of the oppressed” which has dominated western writing on the other, western scholars who neglect non-western subjects, shirk their responsibility to the disempowered. European historical texts continue to be glorified as the foundations of modern political thought, while non-European texts are considered historical relics .Furthermore, the dominant Eurocentric timeline of history supports racist power structures, by measuring the progress of other cultures in terms of their “distance” from Western modernity. This ideology of progress was used to justify colonialism, deeming certain societies not yet ready for self-rule and it continues to be facilitated in the labelling of parts of the world as “developing”, according to their ability to impersonate Western “progress”. Post-colonial feminism promulgates new ways of formulating knowledge by applying local memories
The crisis in feminism has reached an impasse, it has negated the usefulness of cultural relativism or are in danger of tumbling to the depth of that other extreme cultural relativism. Women in patriarchal societies have been induced to adopt a depreciatory image of themselves. They have internalized a picture of their own inferiority, so that when even some objective obstacles to their advancement fall away they might not even notice. Women in “other” cultures are condemned to suffer low self –esteem and image depreciation. I strongly agree with Edward Said that Europeans have projected an image of such people as somehow inferior, uncivilized and have been able to impose this idea of superiority. It is within this framework that misrecognition and misrepresentations of “African” women shows not just lack of due respect but can inflict wounds saddling victims with self-hatred. Recognition of those different from “us” is not just a courtesy but it is vital.
We should advocate for a profound historical and cultural review in understanding women issues so that feminists will stop relying on the ethnocentric analysis of Western feminism. Oppression is experienced at personal and local levels in the community and realm of mind. Objective patriarchal conditions are interpreted through the subjective filter of consciousness which is culture specific. In this regard through multiculturalism we should call for a study of culture that will encourage a creation of a meaningful feminist paradigm. Respect for other cultures allows western feminist participants to engage in a dialogue with and listen to the women in question not impose morals on them. Because of their exclusive nature it seems western feminist marginalize the actions and experience of many Third World women. More time is spent on ideological discourse than on the formulation of strategies to redress the problems they highlight.
Post-colonial feminist are vehemently contesting Eurocentric notions of emancipation that privileges Western ideas of liberation and progress. Third World women are primarily portrayed as victims of ignorance and restrictive cultures and religions. Chandra Mohanty’s essay “Under Western Eyes” argued that much Western feminist writing about Third World women 'discursively colonize[s] the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the third world, thereby producing/re-presenting a composite, singular "third world woman"-an image which appears arbitrarily constructed, but nevertheless carries with it the authorizing signature of Western humanist discourse’. Mohanty highlights how Third World women tend to be depicted as victims of male control and of traditional cultures. In these characterizations little attention is paid to history and difference. Rather Western feminism comes to function as the norm against which the Third World is judged. If Third World women's issues are analyzed in detail within the precise social relations in which they occur, then more complex pictures emerge. Mohanty argues that Third World women, like Western women, are produced as subjects in historically and culturally specific ways by the societies in which they live and act as agents. Moreover they have both voice and agency. This can only happen if there is recognition of these silent voices as equals.
It is beyond the scope of my argument to fully address what it means to be an “African” woman and the relationship between the status of women in Third World societies and the point of view from which that status is perceived, it briefly draws attention to the risk of Euro-centrism in the concept of women emancipation. The study of the “subordinate”, a category for which the majority of women in African societies qualify by Western standards, we subconscious don the lens of our own experience. In this case, by the very nature of the inquiry at hand, we are making an assumption about the ‘Other.’ Specifically, that assumption is that women, by the very fact of their “African” identity or location in an African-majority society, have a ‘statuses and that status is probably oppressed. Furthermore, their status requires action in order to bring them into alignment with the Western standard called ‘universal human rights.’
(Image Credit: World Economic Forum)