It is delicious serendipity that my first column for FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter coincides with the 25th anniversary of the start of the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing, China.
Before I start, a request: If this historic gathering of more than 30,000 activists, representatives from 189 nations, is covered in a way that centres one woman - Hillary Clinton - I want you to stop reading whatever it is you’re reading.
This is where FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter comes in. I don’t give a flying fuck about Hillary Clinton or what she said as the then U.S. First Lady, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing - as it is officially known. I created this Newsletter because I want what you read about feminism to be about the world and the feminist activists fighting back against patriarchal fuckery. I created it as a reminder that the U.S. is not the centre of the Feminist Universe. I created this Newsletter because I want to write as I speak and I say “Fuck” a lot and FEMINIST GIANT is unfiltered and increasingly ungoverned.
In 1995, soon after I turned 28, I took a month off from my work as a correspondent with Reuters News Agency in the Cairo bureau to go to China for the UN Women’s Conference, which used to take place once a decade.
It was feminist paradise. I flew there a few days earlier than the official conference to be at the NGO gathering. I met feminist activists and thinkers from all over the world and I was ecstatic. I felt I had plugged into a universal life force.
Once the official conference began, I was part of a reporting team on a feminist newspaper that was published daily for conference attendants by a feminist media service that was founded by an Indian feminist called Anita Anand. I am thinking of Anita today as I write this first column for FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter to acknowledge that there have always been feminists who have produced truly global news. She recruited feminist reporters from around the world to cover delegates of their regional background. My roommate was Indian, one of my closest new friends was Argentinian, and during our downtime, I visited the Great Wall of China with fellow reporters from South Africa.
Feminism has never been about white women for me - it has for the longest time been a global life force.
I determined to go the Beijing conference a couple of years before it took place. I learned that the U.N. conferences on women took place every 10 years. I had already missed the ones that had taken place in Mexico and Kenya and I was eager to catch the one in China. And so what a gift when in 1994, the U.N. Population Conference took place in Cairo. During my daily reporting at that gathering, I met Anita Anand who asked me if I would join her reporting team in Beijing the next year. Fuck yes, I would was my reply!
And wow am I glad I did. Because that Beijing conference was the last one held every decade by the UN. A sinister dynamic that was already apparent at the population conference later became one of the reasons that the conference in China was the last time the U.N.held a global gathering on women every 10 years. The Vatican, leaders of conservative Christian and Muslim countries and Christian Evangelicals in the U.S. were learning to put aside their hatred for each other and agree instead to focus on their hatred for women and queer people. Horrified at the increasingly progressive platforms being decided at the Cairo and then Beijing meetings, they determined to dig their misogynist and homophobic heels in and play every god and culture card they could in order to control the wombs, genitals and identities of anyone who was not a cisgender, heterosexual, conservatively religious man.
When I yell “Fuck the patriarchy” it is not just for shits and giggles, comrades. It’s war out there.
The world has not gathered for a women’s conference again because those misogynist, racist, homophobic and classist fucks would have ruined the most progressive platform for women’s and gender rights. And it’s not as if all the progress made in Beijing has been translated into action.
“Twenty-five years later, no country has fully delivered on the commitments of the Beijing Platform for Action, nor is close to it. A major stock-taking UN Women report published earlier this year showed that progress towards gender equality is faltering and hard-won advances are being reversed. Women currently hold just one quarter of the seats at the tables of power across the board. Men are still 75 per cent of parliamentarians, hold 73 per cent of managerial positions, are 70 per cent of climate negotiators and almost all of the peacemakers,” UN Women said in a statement for today’s anniversary.
AND IT WILL GET WORSE. MUCH WORSE.
“Research shows the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and threatening to halt or reverse the gains of decades of collective effort – with just released new data revealing that the pandemic will push 47 million more women and girls below the poverty line. We are also witnessing increased reports on violence against women throughout the world due to the lockdowns, and women losing their livelihoods faster because they are more exposed to hard-hit economic sectors,” UN Women said.
Feminism is a daily struggle, a daily revolution. It is not something I keep in the closet and which I wear once every couple of weeks when some man has been a shit to me. Feminism is more than men, more than misogyny. It’s a struggle to destroy the patriarchy and its attendant oppressions. I began making FEMINIST GIANT Dispatches from the Pandemic videos because I wanted to connect the lessons I learned from my time at the NGO and official women’s conference: about the multiple oppressions that Dalit women in India are subjected to, the missing billions and billions of (insert currency) in every country’s Gross Domestic Product because women’s unpaid labour at home and in caregiving is unpaid and unvalued, and about the ways that sex worker activists fight for safety and respect. I wanted to take all those lessons and connect them to the octopus I call Patriarchy - where each tentacle is an oppression (see my video in my introductory newsletter). It is rare for just misogyny to be the only oppression in effect. We are more often squeezed between many of the patriarchy’s tentacles.
I call those the Multiplicity of Fuckeries.
I began FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter to accompany the Dispatches from the Pandemic because we must pay attention NOW to the multiplicity of fuckeries that the pandemic is accelerating. Feminism must fight structural inequalities and injustices resulting from patriarchy. It is a daily revolution for what we are told is “impossible.”