What is Feminist Community Practice ? Explained

The feminist community practice is described in this post along with its application to the subject. It outlines the feminist practices that a social worker or development professional should be aware of when working with women. Additionally, it emphasises the necessity of women's collectives in challenging the current system of inequitable gender relations and how collective action is at the heart of feminist community practice.

Content

  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding Feminist Community Practice
  3. Power and Women Empowerment
  4. Principles of Feminist Community Practice
  5. Summary

Introduction

A practice-based knowledge of feminist viewpoints is provided by feminist community practice. The blog explains the basics of feminism and women's empowerment. Additionally, it emphasises how women's empowerment is merely talked about unless the current quo is overturned. Additionally, it suggests that when women question the established gender roles, conflict is unavoidable since it reshapes the established power structures. For the purpose of assisting the field practitioner in conceptualising the group action, the fundamentals of feminist community practice are thoroughly explained. Feminist community practice is centred on collectives and this theme throughout the entire module. To provide the reader with an overview, the idea of "power with" is just briefly touched upon. The importance of the feminist perspective in achieving gender equality is discussed in the conclusion by looking at a few specific examples.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Realizing the value and necessity of feminist community practice 
  2. Gaining a critical comprehension of empowerment and power 
  3. Acquiring practical experience with feminist community practise ideals

Understanding Feminist Community Practice

What exactly is feminism, as defined by the field's practitioners, is the key query. There are many interpretations that may be made of various feminist ideologies, but there is one aim that unites all feminist theories and movements: to overthrow the social order that oppresses women. Despite the fact that women have diverse identities, the fact that they are all victims of uneven power relations in some way or another makes them all connected by the identity of being a woman. In order to comprehend the politics in women's life, the feminist catchphrase "personal is political" highlights the importance of personal experiences for women. Women's movements have fought hard to convince politicians to finally see violence against women as a serious development issue, which is how feminism came to be by bringing the personal into the political sphere. As a result, feminist community practice arises as a means of putting feminist viewpoints into practice and helping to make sense of the entire feminism discussion. Feminist community practice is based on distinct concepts, which makes it extremely strategic when working with women to raise their social position. One of the most radical ideas in the feminist practice framework is that in order to empower women, social norms must be upended and unequal power relations must be challenged. Given that it is difficult to break down gender barriers, field practitioners must be prepared to deal with conflict.

Community practice with women is not the same as feminist community practice since the former places more emphasis on identifying, criticising, and questioning the current quo that marginalises women. In order to explain the gender disparities that exist in society, feminism attacks the very ideology that places value on males over women. Women's participation in community practice frequently ignores such power dynamics, and their objectives for community development differ greatly from those of men's, where men's efforts are focused on achieving specific social, environmental, and political objectives while women are merely the means to those ends. Women's movements actually started due of this, mostly because at first women's struggles were never given enough attention in everyday life. Another difficulty one could encounter when working with women is being critical and aware of social injustices if the feminist perspective is absent. It happens frequently for people to lose sight of the structural inequality and power structures that control the lives of women. Community work with women is therefore frequently non-feminist and instead serves to reinforce the current power systems. Collective power and action are of utmost importance in feminist community practise. It holds that through banding together, women may challenge the existing power structures by exerting more pressure on the oppressors. A further assertion made by feminist theory is that social structures that place women behind males will never alter if there isn't any conflict. According to research, only when women speak up and unite to defend their rights can there be such a conflict; otherwise, one woman's voice can be easily muted. What enables women to develop "power with" and "power inside" to subvert power hierarchies is the creation of more collective spaces for women built on the pillars of emotional connection and a sense of sisterhood. Feminism is sometimes viewed negatively, yet when used as a lens for work in the field, it has enormous potential. This has been demonstrated by the tactics employed by groups like SEWA, Mahila Umang Producers, Lijjat, and others.

Power and Women Empowerment

Due to its overuse, which has made it more of an appealing concept than a genuine need, the word "women empowerment" has lost much of its original meaning. Developing an understanding of empowerment is another challenge because the feminist literature emphasises the psychological and sociological aspects of the concept while the new neoliberal literature discusses empowerment in a highly materialistic way.

Rowlands (1997) describes four types of power: power over (authority to dominate another, which is met with compliance or resistance), power to (constructive power), which increases one's critical consciousness and results in a sense of self-esteem and self-worth while also respecting others, power within (increase in one's critical consciousness), and power with (collective power that the group of oppressed individuals is able to exert to resist domination). The "power with" and "power within" that woman are expected to develop as they take part in feminist community practice initiatives will be discussed frequently in this session.

Jo Rowland contributes a more comprehensive analytical perspective to the discussion of participation, empowerment, and power. In her study, she emphasises that if the power dynamics and distribution aren't examined, women's empowerment is meaningless. When it comes to power transfers or even when women begin to recognise their lack of power, the social structures in which they are situated are crucial. The concept of empowerment has been described as a shift toward the oppressed of unfair power relations.

Principles of Feminist Community Practice

We'll now go through crucial tenets of feminist community practice that will direct development specialists in their interactions with women. The importance of "power with," which develops when women come together, relate to one another, and examine the problems they encounter in their daily lives, is emphasised by women collectives, which are a recurring theme throughout these principles. Women's organisations are the cornerstone of feminist community activity, it must be underlined.

Recognizing and addressing women-specific issues: 

It is crucial to identify and examine gender-specific challenges before beginning any work with women that aims to bring about systemic change. There are always some problems that only affect women. Because women fill the water, the issue of water seldom receives attention. Their labour is regarded as a natural law, and the difficult, unpaid work they do to convey water is not valued. Similar fuel difficulties also went overlooked because women are the ones who gathered the fuel wood by travelling long distances on foot. This allocation of labour by gender might highlight some of the challenges that are unique to women. It's important to note that women prioritise taking care of their families over anything else, thus they will never participate in activities unless those priorities are met. Many times, organisations first serve the practical needs of women in the community before moving on to serve the strategic needs of women. Because women are so overburdened with home duties, according to feminist literature, finding time to work with them is the largest obstacle. Due to these daily responsibilities, women hardly ever join in discussions. By taking care of these practical requirements, women are relieved of their work obligations and given more time to engage in conversation and mobilise other women. The introduction of handpumps and gobar gas plants undoubtedly had a positive effect on the lives of women. The needs that advance equality and confront societal inequalities are known as strategic gender needs. Instead of only conforming to socially prescribed gender stereotypes, it allows people to have more influence over their life. Such requirements aim to bring about long-term behavioural change, so moving toward fulfilling such needs requires a lot of patience. In a very broad sense, feminism refers to the realisation that women have always been denied equal rights as a result of gender disparities that are ingrained in social institutions (Hyde, 2004). Understanding the gendered aspects of social issues that occur in many communities is crucial for bringing about significant social change.

Sisterhood: Emotion as a critical strength

In most corporate environments, emotions are viewed as a weakness, but in feminist community practice, emotions are seen as a crucial strength. Women are most effective in collective action when they are emotionally, socially, and politically connected. There is an awareness of shared realities, struggles, and experiences. Another justification for choosing women from the same community to locate, persuade, motivate, and organise other women is because of this. Because of her inherent benefits, women from a different backgrounds will eventually fail to mobilise. It is discovered that emotions are very important and specific to any women's movement's overall success. In communal practice, feminism views emotion as a source of strength as opposed to a flaw.

Women organising other women is far more than mere women supporting women, according to feminist community practice, and it results in a level of empowerment that would not otherwise happen. The two most important elements that support women's groups are empathy and emotion. Whether or whether they have experienced oppression themselves, all women feel a sense of sisterhood and an alliance in the face of injustice. Women describe how they feel a sense of belonging to one another and how they think they can solve any problem if they work together in the case of many organisations that are run by women. Women feel more comfortable in these settings, and the results stretch beyond the goals of such groups. Because of this link, the women are given additional sources of support and grow to feel independent. What enables women to develop "power with" and "power inside" to subvert inflexible power structures is the creation of more communal spaces for women built on the pillars of emotional connection and a sense of sisterhood.

Group development creates transformative potential

Feminist community practice begins as the groups are constituted rather than halting with collectivization. When dealing with women, groups are acknowledged to form the foundation of many social change efforts. Professionals frequently stop at the stage of group formation and end up doing more harm than good. The majority of SHG (self-help group) movements in the nation, which are led by both governmental and non-governmental entities and reduce the groups to transactional spaces, fit this description. Without a clear goal or direction, a group of women loses their motivation to work together and weakens their bond. They tend to turn really negative, and it becomes very challenging to recollect them. Therefore, it is crucial to encourage and regularly assess the group's growth through strategic capacity-building seminars and exercises. Planning group development activities should take into account the setting in which women are positioned. The next step in this can be workshops on rights awareness where women can come together and cultivate critical thinking. This opens up a tonne of opportunity for what Paulo Friere refers to as "conscientisation," where such consistent capacity development might heighten women's critical consciousness. Again, this is crucial because women have internalised their oppression so thoroughly that they never challenge the injustices done to them. Women's individual experiences and collective understanding of the same reveal gender politics and point the way to remedies. In feminist praxis, it is stated that the process of change, not the end result, has a great deal of transformational potential, which may be fulfilled when both the process and the ultimate result are concentrated upon.

Cooperative, Collective & Participatory Decision-making: Flattened Hierarchies

Groups suffer from the power dynamics created by hierarchies. Even though there is a need for various positions of responsibility, the ecosystem should be designed from a feminist perspective so that the conversation space is not hampered. Although a new professional paradigm may require virtual hierarchies, they must not impede the natural process of empowerment. To enable women to make decisions collectively, governance mechanisms must be in place. The secret to fostering collaborative, group, and participatory decision-making processes is flattened hierarchies. In these collectives, group dynamics are essential since a competitive spirit can ruin everything. When it comes to selecting/changing leadership, allocating duties and responsibilities, and overall collective direction, it is all the women in the movements, organisations, etc. who are seen as paramount. Shared leadership is emphasised in flattened hierarchies because it fosters a strong sense of teamwork. Some of the key components of flattened hierarchies are shared or rotational leadership, group decision-making, and democratic work division. All voices are often treated equally important and must receive equal attention in such flattened hierarchies. Initially, organisations operate according to these principles, but as they expand, real-time hierarchies emerge, and it becomes more difficult to maintain their flatness.

Reclaiming women’s spaces

The gendered nature of specific indoor and outdoor environments is very clearly highlighted by the feminist perspective. When dealing with women, this gendered awareness of the spaces is very important because it is these gendered spaces that either enable or impede women's advancement. Reclaiming locations that are off limits to women is a key component of feminist tactics. In a village setting, it can be a Panchayat where women are not permitted. The panchayat is a crucial forum for people to voice their concerns, but women in rural areas are deprived of this chance. The market is another area where women are typically forbidden, although it is crucial to a woman's development because the economy determines the social relationships one can have in a given community. In our country, there are numerous barriers preventing women from entering the market regardless of their caste or class. Women have recently questioned and battled against the Sabarimala temple's limited access, which has made headlines. There is a vast number of places where a woman's moral character would be called into question. Feminist practice, which openly discusses conflict, emphasises the need for women to reclaim these spaces since they are extremely important and have a direct bearing on women's chances. Women cannot be subjected to gender-based discrimination in these spaces. One of the main reasons why women struggle to leave unhappy marriages is because they are economically dependent due to their lack of equal access to the market. After a certain age, for women, schools remained gendered spaces. Thus, reclaiming these places becomes crucial for the development of every woman.

Celebrating women’s history and traditions

There is little doubt that women's identities are tied to specific traditions and histories. It is indisputable that women are more suited to occupations like sewing, knitting, cooking, teaching, child care, craft-making, and many others, even though gender inequity is to fault for this. Unfortunately, the majority of us despise all of these occupations, but feminist ideals emphasise their significance and contribution to daily life. Women get confidence and a sense of worth from such attention. This is one of the reasons the garment business has so many firms with female leadership. There are certain theories that question why women's organisations carry out incredibly stereotyped labour, but feminist theory takes a totally different approach. Such community work, according to feminist beliefs, should be about commemorating and reclaiming women's history and customs. It draws attention to the fact that women's labour is significantly more valuable than is often believed. Building on women's existing skills can therefore be particularly empowering because women tend to associate more with this type of work. Once more, it is not about limiting women to such occupations but rather about utilising their abilities while developing new ones. In order to engage women and transmit information in a distinctive way during gender training, dance, music, and art are used. Feminist community activists must therefore make sure that women's history and traditions are honoured.

Celebrating women’s acts of courage

Patriarchal systems function in a way that allows women to defend and uphold the system. Even if a woman makes an effort to scale back these barriers of oppression, she is barely noticed. She is viewed negatively by other women, who never back her decision. Here, feminist theory discusses praising such women for their courageous deeds. These actions may include a woman's atypical reaction to violence, her determination to pursue her career goals while married, or any number of other things. Such deeds won't be accepted by groups in particular and societies in general until they are celebrated. Thus, this will aid in empowering other women to resist being oppressed. Field practitioners could participate in activities like telling their tales and playing out plays with happy endings for ladies to honour such brave gestures.

Recognizing cultural diversity among the women

Two crucial principles of feminism are diversity and inclusivity. Feminists are dedicated to putting an end to all forms of violation and work to increase participation by bridging gaps. Gendering also entails acknowledging variety and promoting inclusivity in order to develop innovative value systems based on a sense of community. However, because women have different identities that are moulded by caste, class, age, colour, marital status, and other factors, it is critical to acknowledge the group's diversity. Because generalising experiences weaken social cohesiveness, an identity viewpoint is crucial. It doesn't mean that groups must be completely uniform, but inclusion is stressed in feminist praxis as a key aspect of the society that feminists aspire to. This feminist principle emphasises how women in these communities value each other's uniqueness and collective pride.

Summary

The majority of efforts are gender-blind since feminism is largely misunderstood in mainstream practice, yet understanding feminist practice theories is crucial when the goal is the empowerment of women. Women are emphasised as being their own best experts in feminism. This is a result of the most well-known adage, "Personal is Political," which implies that political analysis of what women individually experience is necessary. The fundamental tenet of feminist analysis holds that it is crucial to recognise the demands and problems that women face that stand in the way of their advancement. The problems that women face at home have frequently gone unnoticed by the media. It took the women's movements a long time to articulate why understanding the power play against women starts with understanding the human realities of women. By organising women, feminist praxis also seeks to close the gap between constitutional rights and the social norms that frequently allow for their violation. Renegotiating citizenship is a key area in feminist theory and practice where women are fighting to assert their rights.

Social workers and development professionals can examine whether a particular intervention is widening or narrowing the gender gap with the use of feminist practice. Building assets may seem like a good idea, but it's important to consider who benefits from them and what kind of assets a woman needs to enhance her ownership or negotiate the gendered division of labour. Even in the case of livelihood promotion, it is important to consider if the programme has led to more or less work for women. In order to comprehend why women need to be empowered and in particular to acknowledge that women are a disempowered category, it is crucial to grasp gender and its associated marginalities. Feminist viewpoints are clearly relevant to community practice for long-lasting and more significant transformation. Women must be included in the change planning process for community development to be comprehensive and sustainable. This type of community practice, where feminist principles are deeply ingrained in the techniques executed in the actual world, has much to teach modern development professionals.

Reference

  1. Hyde, C. (1986). Experiences of women activists: Implications for community organizing theory and practice. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare, 13, 545. 
  2. Hyde, C. (2005). Feminist community practice. The handbook of community practice, 360-371. 
  3. Rowlands, J. (1997). Questioning empowerment: Working with women in Honduras. Oxfam. 
  4. Smith, D. (1977). Feminism and Marxism, New Star Books, Vancouver

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