Let me start, then, with my own patriarchies. I am British and Australian. I live in France. To select some individual examples from each: under one of my patriarchies, pregnant refugee women are threatened with deportation to Rwanda. Under another, First Nations women are 12 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. Under the patriarchy where I currently live, women and girls are excluded from fully participating in public life if they wear certain types of Muslim dress.
It is this last fact that seems to present the most headaches when it comes to supporting the women of Iran from France. It should be simple enough to hold the position that women should be able to wear whatever they want, anywhere in the world. They should not be forced into a hijab in Tehran, nor legislated out of one
in Paris. But this logic escapes people who would support the women of Iran only because of the particular garment they are burning, rather than the freedom of choice they are demanding. (Again, the comparison with abortion arises: if you don’t like it, don’t get one yourself, but let other people do what they want.)
Commentators outside France do not help matters by saying the hijab is “banned” here. It is not. But just
because all veils are not prohibited in all circumstances does not mean the restrictions placed on women and girls at school, on the sports field or in the public service are acceptable. And just because women and girls have more freedom in democratic France, Britain or Australia than they do in authoritarian Iran does not mean we cannot fight for full freedom for all of them, everywhere.
Our work as a feminists requires us to know our own
patriarchies, and to challenge them. It also requires us to stand in solidarity with women fighting elsewhere, knowing that the grim calculus we are trying to upend is always the same: that women and gender minorities are worth less than men, and thus deserve fewer choices.
Our job is to support the women and girls of Iran without co-opting them into our own battles, and without forgetting the work we have to do at home.
Goodbye to the world’s first feminist foreign policy
Sweden’s new right-wing government has abandoned the country’s “feminist foreign policy”. The policy was launched in 2014 and was the first of its kind worldwide – Mexico, Canada, France, Spain and others followed suit.
But freshly appointed foreign minister Tobias Billström has called time on the eight-year project. “Labels on things have a tendency to cover up the content,” he said, in a display of remarkable ignorance concerning the inherent function of a label. Yet covering up content is exactly what the government has since been doing, by deleting references to the policy from its official websites.
There are compelling critiques of feminist foreign policies in general, and of Sweden’s in particular. Rafia Zakaria, author of Against White Feminism, writes that these policies can be guilty of “centering white women’s nationalistic and security interests and thus somehow promoting feminism for the whole world.” Certainly there is nothing feminist
about a foreign policy that includes selling arms to the United Arab Emirates to then be dropped on Yemen.
Still, when it comes to whether the word “feminism” is necessary, it’s best not to trust the instincts of a government that is only in power thanks to the support of the far-right. In a world where countries like the United States will openly lobby to remove the words “sexual and reproductive health” from international agreements, it may be better to demand more from the feminist foreign policies we have instead of ripping them up entirely.