Giving Compass' Take:

• Kamla Bhasin shares learning for 40 years of feminist development activism in India, including insight into local and global feminist movements. 

• How can donors support feminist development? How can individuals support women in their lives to fight the patriarchy locally? 

• Learn how female surge staff can improve disaster response

How did your transformation from a development activist to a feminist development activist happen?

I began my career as a development activist, to deal with poverty and the exclusion of the poor. As I worked at the grassroots in Rajasthan, I increasingly found that amongst the poor, women were poorer. Amongst Dalits, women were more Dalit. Amongst the excluded, women were more excluded. So even though I didn’t begin my journey as a feminist activist, I slowly became one without even knowing the word ‘feminist’ at that time.

We cannot talk about class without recognizing how it affects men and women differently in a gender-unequal society. Similarly, we can’t get rid of patriarchy without getting rid of caste or race because all these structures are connected.  In the last four-five years, people have been talking a lot about ‘intersectionality’; we have been doing this for the last 40 years.

How has the relationship between feminism and patriarchy changed over time?

Feminism, like water, is fluid. Feminists have been around forever. The first feminist was probably born the day patriarchy was born.

Because feminism is a challenge to patriarchy, it is always different, because patriarchy is not the same everywhere and also women have different experiences and perspectives. Because it is not a theory we are implementing, but a reality we are challenging, it is always local.

You have said in the past that education and economic development are not going to automatically bring about gender equality. Why do you believe that is so?

Education of women and economic empowerment are essential for equality, but not enough. For example, I know women who are medical doctors and yet are happy to be given away in kanyadaan. What value has education offered here? Has it liberated us from patriarchal practices, traditions, religions, or from caste, exploitation, class, etc.? In fact, our education system today continues to promote gender, caste, race and class hierarchies.

Read the full article about feminist development in India by Rachita Vora and Sangeeta Menon at India Development Review.