Sensitivities of Change

Liza van Soelen
Liza van Soelen

By Liza Van Soelen

‘Feminist’ is an interesting word that we label ourselves with. In one sense the all encompassing meaning formulates a commonality between like minded people. It allows us to state the grand goal: equality. We allow ourselves the luxury of claiming a clear nemesis: patriarchy. But I would ask that despite this that we remain invested in increasing our knowledge about the intricate and varying needs of individuals, groups and societies.

So often I find my newsfeed on Facebook clogged up by issues arising in American politics. Issues of abortion and contraception or the woman’s body as represented in the media.

But, as I open up the BBC news homepage each morning to read about the world outside the bubble of my life in South Korea, I read far more horrifying stories than access to contraception. I read about a woman in Bangladesh. She registered for university against her husband’s wishes. To punish her, he came home one day and cut off the fingers on her right hand. Yesterday BBC reported on the disturbing secret in Uzbekistan: that women who go to hospital to give birth via c-section are, without their knowledge or consent, being sterilized. According to the report this is to keep the population number down (although the government does deny this is happening). In this country, the interviewees are all anonymous; too scared to speak out for fear of what the backlash for themselves and their families might be.

On reading situations such as these, the amalgamation of my feelings and thoughts lies somewhere between helpless and intense desire for change. And yet, what change would be the most effective?

It is for this reason that I bring up the necessity of being sensitive to the individual needs of situations. The Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz’s (daughter of the ruler of Saudi Arabia) personal testimony is reproduced on the BBC new site as well where she speaks about the feminist needs of her own country. The headline was intentionally provocative indicating that she does not believe it is time for the women in her country to drive. Yet she writes in a way to explain how allowing that right now would be detrimental for the woman. Instead she focuses on changes she wants to see in law, education and the social services; changes that must be put into action before a driving permit is issued. Her arguments, most importantly, are tailor-made to her country and her culture.

In another country now, Yemen, child brides are still quite normal, despite the official illegality of it. If you did not manage to read the article in the National Geographic Too Young To Wed by Cynthia Gorney (with photographs by Stephanie Sinclair) I highly recommend it. Mainly because the writer comes in with our sense of wanting to rescue the child by taking her away from it all, but she learns that such a simple solution is not the answer here. As she pulls back layers of reasons and societal norms that bring about the scary situation of marrying off a child we, as readers, are constantly put in a position of realizing that there is a much bigger change needed than simply stopping a wedding. Why the wedding is though necessary needs to be stopped.

The point I hoped I have been able to make with these last two examples is that feminism’s goal is simple, understandable and universal. But the means to achieve that goal must include an intensive dialogue with the women who are involved. It needs to be made by looking at factors in the social environment and engaging in debates with all the parties involved. We can never impose a solution but work to create one with those affected. If we do not tailor-make our own solutions based on our country, history and culture we might not achieve the success we might otherwise. Our goal is simple: but our means of achieving it must be more complex in order to be more effective.


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