For an Anti-Racist and Decolonial Feminism

Multicultural Europe. Brussels, June 2018.

“Women are not liberated in spite of themselves,” recalls a collective of anti-racist and de-colonial feminists, claiming their right to “access to private and public employment, education and training, culture and cultural expression and full citizenship, including political citizenship” and urging them to “tackle systems of oppression that intersect to weigh heavily on them”.

A Belgian school organises a celebration: Muslims and terrorists are not afraid to mix up; Muslim women in headscarves are attacked; calls for murder are made on social networks. In France, there is no shortage of cases such as Decathlon, burkini, Etam. Not to mention the terrorist attack in New Zealand, motivated by the Great Replacement theory. Islamophobia is a reality and it kills.

In Belgium, Muslim women or women who are or are supposed to be Muslim, and in particular those wearing headscarves, are stigmatised, excluded from employment and training and denied access to secondary schools and non-university higher education, as well as to public sector jobs, with a few exceptions. In some feminist and anti-racist circles, they are considered as submissive and oppressed, “to be liberated”. These postures, which stem from a colonial heritage, trivialise and legitimise racist and anti-feminist measures.

This deleterious climate prevents us from fighting together against the three systems of domination that are capitalism, racism and patriarchy, which are fed respectively by oppressing all women – and men too – everywhere in the world.

These racialised women are not only discriminated against as women but as women of foreign or assimilated origin – converts – because of their real or supposed social class, skin colour and religion. Instead of attacking the systems of oppression that intersect to weigh like a lead over them, they are marginalised and condemned to confinement in their homes, alone in the grip of male domination, and silenced in the name of freedom!

Wouldn’t the risk be that they could emancipate themselves? Yet, is not the objective of self-emancipation the same as that of feminist struggles? However, the “racist mechanics” fulfils its role: the assignment to otherness, contempt and exclusion that these women suffer serve our main enemies.

What Anti-Racist Politics?

We are told that girls and women are forced to wear this damn thing on their hair. It is an abuse of power that we must denounce everywhere. But we are also told that in order to “save” them, they must be denied access to spaces that would allow them to free themselves from the shackles that weigh on them.

This is contradictory, inconsistent and antifeminist. Women are not liberated in spite of themselves; their paths to emancipation are multiple. These prohibitions are a double punishment for forced women and a non-receipt for those who want to become society by seizing the opportunity of a democratic system that enshrines the freedom of conscience and the freedom of expression of all our convictions in its Constitution. They thus undermine the principle of secularism and pervert that of neutrality.

Fundamentalists of a distorted secularism, like those of a religion instrumentalised for political purposes, take advantage of these structural discriminations that prevent us from building together the society we share.

We, antiracist and decolonial feminists, demand, for Muslim women, as well as for all women, access to private and public employment, education and training, culture and cultural expression and full citizenship, including political citizenship.

That the real problems are dealt with by political leaders: there is no denying the resurgence of anti-Semitism; the unemployment rate of immigrants is 17% compared to 6.8% for non-immigrants; 25.5% of them are from the Maghreb and 21% from other African countries. 47% of Belgians consider Muslims as a threat and 59% of Roma.

Institutional racism represents a dividing line that trivialises exclusion: it considers undocumented migrants as disposable, asylum seekers as dangerous, immigrants as poorly integrated or involved in crime on “our soil”. Few people are concerned about white-collar crime.

To Protect Refugees, We Must Confront Anxiety Over Muslims in Europe

The elections are coming up, we are not fooled. Let us fight together against the inequalities and discrimination that underpin racism and fascism. Despite its international commitments, our country still does not have an inter-federal plan to combat racism and discrimination. We must do something about it. Without delay. Together.

More than ever, feminist, anti-racist, ecological, decolonial struggles…all struggles against systems of oppression – which move us apart from each other to reinforce each other – are linked. We are stronger when we work together because our common enemies – capitalism, racism, patriarchy – are powerful.

Translated from Pour un féminisme antiraciste et décolonial. Published under a Creative Commons license. Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. All rights reserved.