Sisterhood is Powerful?

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by Elizabeth Wong
"...we can be sisters united by shared interests and beliefs, united in our appreciation for diversity, united in our struggle to end sexist oppression, united in political solidarity." - Bell Hooks, Afro-American writer

The ideal vision for a united women's struggle: transcending race, class, ideology, national boundaries and religion. However, how much has the women's movement and especially young feminists in Australia contributed to this vision? One would be able to answer the question by looking at the dismal participation of Coloured/Non-English backround/Overseas students in women or feminist groups.

For too long, many have heard women's groups (predominantly white) moan about why they are unable to insolve or interest "other" women. For too long, many attending women's conferences have experienced frustration at the way which the issues of racism, Aboriginal women and women of Colour have been tokenistically represented and perceived. Too often we have read one or two articles about "women and racism" or "feminism as tool of cultural imperialism" in women's magazines. But this is where it all stops: comments and words. Nothing transcends from that other than the intention to do something and of course, nothing is done about it. Surprised? Well, I'm not.

The flow of feminist idelogies and what is considered "women's issues" is generally a one way street, from the dominant minority of white, middle-class feminists to women who do not fit into this category. There is very limited aknowledgement of the diversity of experiences and knowledge that women of colour contibute to the overall women's movement. Feminism in Australia is, in reality, positioned within a context where an imbalance of power-relations exist. Women of colour can only address their issues within defined space that is allowed in women's organizations. Anything more than that would be considered outside feminist "priorities" or peripheral issues. There is no serious attempt by white women to educate and understand amongst themselves about the real issues within racism, the women's movement in the Third World, and other essential issues that women of colour are addressing such as human rights, development and militarization.

Let's face the facts... progressive people can be and are often racists. Just because one is in the "activist" category does not mean that she/he is free of racism. Nothing is worse than white progressive people masquerading as non-racits when they are obviously not interested in addressing the pressing stereotypes residing within themselves and their white friends.

I can still recall an experience performing with an Asian women's theatre group at the International Women's Day breakfast, fundraising for the International Women's Development Agency. Minutes before the performance, we suddenly realised why we were invited to perform; we were to be used as some sort of imagery of Asian women that would be identified with the organization. Amidst the images, issues and songs that were presented, I observed the various expressions that ran through the audience; confusion, amusement, and oh-wow-an-Asian-women's-performance.

At the end, we were greeted with polite praises about how wonderful we were. Instead of feeling empowered and productive in bringing up our issues, we felt sickened, patronised and used by the women there. Our issues were not taken back for serious consideration nor were our politics discussed amongst the women. That was the space given to us and not an inch more. Since then, we vowed that we will never again be treated like some Asian sideshow or to relieve anyone's guilt of not addressing our issues.

Can we ever abolish the racism that exist in the women's movement? Yes... but not until after a long and hard struggle. There has to be a lot of education and actions. White women have to look deep into themselves and question their intentions, actions, analysis, even their words.

If we do not start now, it will be the women's movement that will lose out. There is no limit to what we, coloured women can do... study groups, concrete actions, intervening in the women's collectives or organization, initiating a coloured women's collective and participating in coloured women's groups and organizations.

Act now before it is too late...


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