What began as a women’s rights protest in response to Poland’s latest abortion restrictions erupted into the largest public demonstrations against the Polish government since 1989 only a few weeks ago. Tens of thousands of protestors, both men and women, blame the conservative leadership for corroding their hard earned post-Cold War freedoms, linking the protection of womens’ rights to the integrity of the justice system.
The movement in Poland represents a microcosm of a global recession of women’s rights around the world. A UN report published earlier this year explains how the current pandemic is revealing deep economic, social, and health disparities between women and men, especially for those experiencing poverty. Women’s rights act as a temperature check for inequality and inequity across society.
The United States is no exception. During the pandemic, and throughout the entirety of Donald Trump’s presidency, women’s rights have taken a backseat in our country’s politics. Notably, a number of states have pulled back on women’s health and reproductive services, evoking parallels to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale in what some call the resurgence of a repressive, wealthy, white patriarchy. While these events paint a grim picture of the future, there is hope for the United States government: feminism.
In order to reestablish respect on the world stage, the next U.S. administration needs to embody and advocate for feminism in its fullest sense: moving beyond tokenism, recognizing intersectionality, and projecting feminism in foreign policy.
As proven by the selection of Kamala Harris as the Vice President-elect, the next administration will offer at least one woman a seat at the table. But frankly, the U.S. needs to dream bigger. Although the percentage of women in positions of power has globally expanded over the past few decades, gender equity has not come to fruition in part because gender equality is typically addressed as a distinct sub-issue and not as an integral part of all policy initiatives. In the U.S., there exists a widespread assumption that the inclusion of select women in politics removes the need for purposeful gender equality initiatives.
The Trump administration has tokenized women in leadership positions as a technique to distract from conservative policies that infringe on women’s rights. In regard to the Supreme Court nomination process, conservatives focused on Amy Coney Barret’s qualities as an accomplished professional and mother of seven: the ideal working woman. However, Judge Barret’s conservative Christian views may sway her to vote against Roe v. Wade, eroding protections against gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and reproductive rights.
Judge Barret’s nomination demonstrates that gender is not the ultimate qualifier of women’s identity. We also have to consider race, religion, and socio-economic background. Just because Judge Barret identifies as a woman does not mean she will support all women, just as having a wife and daughters does not mean you respect all women. (I’m talking about you, Ted.)
True feminism is intersectional.
True feminism addresses a wide and complex conversation about the asymmetry of inequality while recognizing the unique experience of the women. True feminism recognizes the unique challenges for women of color, indigenous women, women experiencing poverty, LGBTQ+ women, women with disabilities, young girls, older women, and the list goes on. When prioritizing feminist policies, a government must consider all of the different factors that interact with gender to create stronger, more encompassing policy solutions for the social, economic, and health issues facing society.
Gone must be the days of the feminist movement led by the white and wealthy, and in come a diverse coalition of Black Lives Matter supporters, Indigenous American activists, and many more communities advocating for a more equitable society. We must support and fight with the Breonna Taylors, the Debra Haalands, the Laverne Coxs, the Chanel Millers, the Anita Camerons, and RBGs because their stories and voices are an integral component of a feminist U.S. political agenda.
Intersectional feminism also recognizes that the movement for gender equity extends past American borders. As disheartening as the situation might seem at home, the United States ranks above most countries in terms of reproductive rights, educational achievement, and economic opportunities. The U.S. administration has a unique opportunity and obligation to incorporate intersectional feminism into the country’s domestic policies and embody feminism in its foreign policy conduct and goals.
From day one, the Biden administration needs to acknowledge the critical role that women play in security, economic, and peacebuilding efforts both as U.S. officials and foreign partners. By including American women — a diverse coalition of American women — in the diplomatic process, the U.S. administration will more accurately represent the interests of the American public in foreign policy. But greater than that, the government needs to ensure that its representatives promote the interests of the complex range of American women regardless of their personal identities.
In terms of foreign policy goals, the U.S. should support global initiatives that embody feminist mindsets and ensure women have the opportunity for economic, educational, health, and leadership success. When governments and organizations disregard protections on the basis of gender, they put women in a more vulnerable position to health risks, abuse, and economic struggles, which are counterproductive to development and peace around the world. It is imperative that the United States not address women’s issues in isolation, but recognize the interconnectivity between women’s issues and all policy sectors.
Women’s rights are human rights. In Poland, protestors recognize that the degradation of women’s rights ultimately signals the degradation of all rights and the institutions designed to protect them. We can predict the same events unfolding in the American context with the current threats to Roe v. Wade.
The U.S. has had a rough couple of years, to put it lightly. But now, we have the chance to rise up in the eyes of our fellow Americans and the international community. We have the responsibility to build upon the foundations of intersectional feminism and advance the prosperity of our nation.