Kevin S. Boiragi: Women empowerment can be both material and fluid. Here, by material I see women’s agencies in gaining economic solvency, and education for instances, while by fluid I mean the women’s abilities in breaking the patriarchal barrier.
Although at stages these two are mutually conclusive, but at large they are independent. At an international conference on immigration, integration and inclusion in Quebec last week I presented a documentary in which I interviewed one female person.
This person finds psychological ‘freedom’ (I doubt if one can have freedom at all in life) after migrating to Canada, for which she is happy- I analyze this as a fluid form of women empowerment.
Let me put forward a different way of thinking: why do we (individuals, governments, international organizations, etc.) constantly think of empowering women but not dis-empowering men? Thinking of women empowerment, which is the dominant stream of thoughts puts the whole discussion into a power structure, where it is taken for granted that women are powerless, or at least due women empowerment.
The assumption of men holding power becomes hegemonic and it shapes the ways in which we think of social justice, social (in)equalities are analysed. As a result, women also think that they are powerless, and they need power overcoming the obstacles that come in their lives.
Thinking this way pushes the women in the back foot, thus it requires more time and resources to move up the ladder for them. This shouldn’t have been the case in the first place. For me, it is pivotal to question and hence challenge this form of power (fluid) than thinking of empowering women (material) by at large.
The participant in the documentary used to work in academia with a reputed public university in Bangladesh as an Associate Professor. Due to the structural barriers, racisms, discriminations, and lack of ‘Canadian Experience’ (see the forthcoming documentary), like many others, this person also fails to secure position in her field after migrating in Canada. She now survives through working in a factory.
Her story is not unique in this way since there are thousands of doctors, engineers, academics driving taxis, working in restaurants, and doing precarious jobs here. However, the uniqueness of her story lies with the fact that she is mentally free here, there are no (male) people to dominate her.
This was far opposite in Bangladesh where she was constantly monitored by her male colleagues, and in societies; her thoughts never got valued, her efforts remained unrecognized, and more fully she was always discriminated and dominated by patriarchy. I’m not trying to say that Canada is a better place than Bangladesh (one could make arguments against and for), rather there are much more freedom exercised by women here than in Bangladesh-and this is important.
So addressing patriarchy is key prior we think of working, let’s say with NGOs, in the field of women empowerment. Addressing the source of power is important in families, and in the society, than for example, offering micro credit loans.
Although there are tons of motion pictures being produced, and tons of books and journals being written favouring micro credits, there are also hundreds of studies that show the negative aspects of micro credits; they explore the fact that by no means these micro credit loans empower women/men, rather disempower them economically and fuel the capitalists. In other words, through micro credits and agency, it cannot be justified the true women empowerment in Bangladesh, for example. At the end of the day, power still lies in patriarchy.
Therefore, I suggest to actively question patriarchy and analyse the patriarchal system that continue to dominate our country (in this way of thinking our prime minister and other leaders are also puppets of patriarchy). Fluid, not the material aspects of empowerment should be the primary concern than anything else.
Kevin S. Boiragi, York University, Toronto.