What Feminism Means to the Women of the Global South

Aya Anzouk, Writer

I like to think that I am so much more than a visibly Muslim woman, that my individuality distinguishes me from all my fellow human beings, and that I am independent in my thoughts from the community that I supposedly belong. I do not feel like I have the responsibility nor the ability to represent a diverse community united by faith through the fictional stories I write.

Not so long ago I wouldn’t have felt the absolute necessity to refer to myself as a Muslim or try to affirm my belonging to the global Muslim community, because back home where the majority of people are Muslim, whether they are practicing and devout Muslims or not, there was no need for me to defend an identity that isn’t necessarily under constant scrutiny.


Living in America as a visibly Muslim woman was an interesting and thought-provoking experience for me as a woman who would today proudly call herself a feminist and who has gathered enough knowledge through reading about the movement’s history to know that her choice of wearing a head-scarf is not anti-feminist.


It was because of the long fight that the first feminists led that women were able to gain their basic human rights. For the first time in history, to be a woman wasn’t just an afterthought, to be a woman was no longer synonymous with being a side character in human history. Women made the conscious choice to participate in the making of history, they took to the streets and protested against what once was the norm, and they challenged the status quo in the western world. But as the movement was growing and attracting more and more supporters, it slowly became the movement of white women instead of being the movement of all women. Black women in America decided to create a new branch of feminism, which is called womanism after they were basically abandoned by their “allies”.


At the time when women in the west were protesting against the patriarchy and shouting slogans like “The Personal Is Political”, women in the global south were still under colonial rule. Not only was the native woman of the global south preoccupied with her own sorrows as a woman who was somehow condemned to obedience to patriarchal and oppressive social norms, but she also had a duty towards her homeland and her people. She hid arms underneath her haik in Algeria, she spent plenty of long boring days eavesdropping on the enemy while disguised as a nanny or a babysitter in French-occupied Somalia and Djibouti, she single-handedly fought an entire army in British-occupied India, and she joined popular demonstrations in Morocco condemning the exile of the country’s rightful ruler and she received her fair share of violence and public humiliation from French soldiers. The native woman was constantly under the examination of a foreign gaze during a time where imperialism was at its peak, that is the gaze of the colonizer. The colonized world was never the same even after the creation of independent states out of previous colonies. Even in our “post-colonial” modern world, the native woman is still fighting for her right to be seen as something more than a white man’s exotic vacation, more than a fertile ground waiting to be conquered or seized.


Yet while the bravery of the first feminists in the western world was and still is applauded, women of the global south are somehow still seen as weak and fragile creatures in need of saving. This represents a moral and ethical paradox that is ought to raise questions among people who claim to be genuine allies of women all around the world in their struggle for liberation.


To the women of the global south, feminism is freedom from all oppressive systems. It is the genuine solidarity that unites women from different backgrounds, the bonding between a group of hopeful and optimistic women who all speak the language of reason. These women are unafraid to challenge social norms and expectations, they thrive in different fields, and in doing so they seek to inspire the next generation of brave women who once were little girls haunted by self-doubt. Feminism for women in the global south isn’t a social media trend or a viral marketing scheme used by greedy businesses that exploit women while claiming to empower them. Our feminism is intersectional, it doesn’t applaud murderous regimes nor does it cheer for war and destruction. It is not a tool to spread propaganda and manufacture people’s consent for war, nor is it an instrument used to ensure cultural hegemony.


Our feminism is global. It is for all women, not against them.