March 7, 2022
Welcome to the new Impact
By Megan Clement (follow me on Twitter here)
Today, we are relaunching Impact. Your bi-monthly feminist newsletter will become a weekly dispatch on gender and politics — straight to your inbox, every Monday morning.
I’m moved by the significance of ramping up our coverage of women’s rights and feminist organising at such a crucial time in world politics.
We often think of world historical events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as taking place over and above questions of identity, but make no mistake, these actions have a gendered dimension and, as the conflict in Tigray has shown us most recently, war will always have a specific cost for women.
Ukraine is currently being torn apart at the whim of an exaggerated archetype of a strongman figure who would be comical if he weren’t so dangerous. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 have been told to stay and fight. Yet many of Ukraine’s soldiers are women, and have been since this crisis began. Back in 2014, where the roots of this war lie, the far-right attacked feminists on the Maidan, while one group that came out of the Maidan protests, the First Women’s Squad, were associated with the far-right themselves.
In the lead-up to the war, the US government warned the United Nations that Russia had placed members of the LGBTQ+ Ukrainian community, along with dissidents, journalists and ethnic minorities, on a list of citizens to be killed or sent to detention camps in the event of war. Notorious Chechen leader and Putin footsoldier Ramzan Kadyrov, who has overseen horrific anti-gay “purges” back in Chechnya, says he has deployed his fighters in Ukraine. Meanwhile, trans Ukrainians report that they are unable to flee the war because their identity documents do not match their gender.
There are other considerations. Before the invasion, Ukraine was the cheapest destination for people fleeing Poland’s near total ban on abortion, which is believed to have killed three women since rules were tightened in January 2021. It has also become a hub for the commercial surrogacy industry. When geopolitics shift, reproductive politics often shift with them.
I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and the hardest part of my job is often convincing people that stories about women and politics are worth running. Too often, I have proposed a story about, say, femicide or abortion rights to an editor (inevitably a male one), only to be told: “We have something on a similar topic running this month” (note: women only matter once a month); or “We are focusing on the conflict in X country at the moment so we don’t have space”; or “We are only covering authoritarianism, nationalism and populism right now”.
Every journalist in the world loves to complain about editors who don’t take their pitches and I am no different — so take it with a grain of salt if you wish. But what sticks with me is the subtext of these rejections: that murdered women, or people who are forced to give birth against their will by their governments, are not as important as the many other implicitly male-coded subjects Serious News Desks wish to cover.
But the reality is that these subjects are always connected.
How many times do we have to see a terrorist carry out a deadly attack on innocent people and find out only after the fact that he had a history of misogynist abuse without realising that the roots of political violence often start with violence at home that we would never describe in such terms?
How many times do we have to see an autocrat decriminalise domestic violence, ban “gay propaganda” and refuse to provide sex education before he goes on to invade a neighbouring country?
How many times do we have to watch Muslim women become weaponised for political point scoring — which is happening right now where I sit in Paris at the same time as it is happening 7,500 kilometres away in Karnataka — before we understand that our right to autonomy is as fundamental to the current political reality as any opinion poll or parliamentary vote?
At Impact, we understand that the roots of authoritarianism can invariably be traced back to attacks on the human rights of women and minorities; that nations — and by extension nationalism — are built on untold hours of unpaid care work that is unfairly carried out by women and unacknowledged by decision makers.
We understand that populism, while often poorly defined, is all too often based on an appeal to a time when men were men, before women and minorities took things too far by claiming their right to decide how many children to have or how much space to take up in public.
We understand that the white supremacist conspiracy theory of the “great replacement”, which motivates terrorists but has also become part of the political mainstream in Europe and the US, has at its core the racist, misogynistic fear that non-white women will exercise reproductive choice.
Feminist victories, like the decriminalisation of abortion in Colombia last month, are many and we will try to celebrate them all — we will bring you an interview with one of the architects of this victory later this month. But more than celebrated, our victories must be defended in the face of a global, increasingly coordinated, backlash against women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
The South Korean election, to be held in two days’ time, has been dominated by explicitly anti-feminist messaging as men’s rights groups work to undo the progress of one of Asia’s most successful MeToo movements. In Texas, parents of trans children are under threat of being investigated for child abuse for providing gender-affirming care, at the behest of governor Greg Abbott.
There is so much work to do. That’s why, from today onwards, Impact will appear in your inbox every week. You’ll still receive our feminist newswrap and feature investigation each month, but you’ll also get an editor’s note, like this one, from me, as well as in-depth interviews with feminist thinkers, organisers and activists around the world and highlights from other publications.
Impact is a place where everyone is welcome. Our feminism is global, it is intersectional, it is anti-racist, anti-ableist and, it feels particularly important to say in our current moment, not merely inclusive of trans people but grateful to them for helping us push towards collective liberation from harmful gender norms.
Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. If I’m honest, I don’t much care for that event any more — it is as likely to be used to sell me soap these days as it is to sell me a revolution.
I can’t help but think of how exhausted Chinese feminist writer Ding Ling would have been to hear us still talking about it. Back in 1942, she wrote, with a discernible eye roll, in ‘Thoughts on March 8’:
But she also took the occasion to recommend four things we should pay attention to in everyday life as we fight for equality: “Don’t allow yourself to fall ill”; “Make sure you are happy”; “Use your brain, and make a habit of doing so”; and finally “Resolution in hardship, perseverance to the end”.
So here’s to staying healthy and happy, using our brains and persevering to the end.
Consider our forces mustered.
P.S. Do you have questions about Impact? Want to write for us? Get in touch: [email protected] (just don’t try to sell me anything for International Women’s Day, please.)
P.P.S. If you like the sound of what we have planned, please recommend Impact to your friends.
This issue of Impact was prepared by Megan Clement and Steph Williamson.
Impact is financed by the New Venture Fund.
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