“There is no one-size-fits-all feminism,” says author Rafia Zakaria Rafia Zakaria
PAKISTAN-BORN activist and author Rafia Zakaria has said there is no one-size-fits-all feminism and that she hopes to “decentre” white feminism through her new book Against White Feminism.
In an interview with The Guardian, Zakaria said she wanted to challenge the “liberation trajectory” of the Muslim woman’s story, so that Western women stop thinking, “Oh, it’s so bad over there… it must be so great here”.
In the book, Zakaria outlines how one-size-fits-all white feminism has been complicit in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in destroying native aid and empowerment structures in low-income countries, and in denying the cultural backwardness of Western societies vis-a-vis women’s rights.
She told the newspaper why she wrote the book: “I am a Muslim brown person from Pakistan, and the assumption when I meet people in the West is that all the oppression I’ve ever faced, all the hardship that I’ve ever faced, were back in Pakistan, and were the consequence of cultural mores and beliefs.”
At 17, Zakaria agreed to an arranged marriage to a Pakistani man living in the US. The marriage was unhappy, she said, and Zakaria left her abusive husband at the age of 25, seeking refuge in a shelter with her toddler.
According to Zakaria, a white feminist is someone who refuses to consider the role that ‘whiteness and the racial privilege attached to it have played in “universalising” white feminist concerns, agendas and beliefs as being those of all of feminism and of all of feminists’.
‘Female professors told me to quit’
In 2002, when Zakaria ran away from her husband with “a baby on her hip”, she had no money, bank account or credit card. A black woman “took her on” and offered her an apartment. After a few challenging years, Zakaria finished law school and completed a postgraduate degree in political philosophy.
She said a lot of white female professors told her to quit and added that white women “obstructed” and sabotaged her “in every possible way” from doing her job in NGOs.
White feminism, according to Zakaria, is still connected to the patriarchy through the power pool of white men.
She said, “There are doors that open for you, things available to you that are not available to a trouble-making brown feminist like me, because I am going to ask questions and I’m not going to take it.
“I have sympathy for them; for literally hundreds of years that has been the only way to get anywhere close to power.”
Zakaria also noted recent comments by Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on rape as a manifestation of a legacy of cultural ranking that no one has “really bothered to take apart”.
“That cultural ranking says that cultural crimes occur in these places and those sorts of cultural crimes don’t exist in other places in the West. There isn’t some particular British form of violence against women, it’s just violence against women,” she told The Guardian.
According to Zakaria, the real goal of her work is to comfort women of colour who have been “gaslit”.
“I struggled very much. I had come from trauma, I went into trauma. I feel a very strong sense of responsibility towards other women like me, who’ve been through traumatic marriages, migration, being a single mother. Women like me never really make it,” she told the newspaper.
“I feel a responsibility towards other women who are just as smart as me, just as articulate. Now I’m here, I’m going to say all those things. I believe that you can tear things down when they’re not working, and build them up again. That is one of my core beliefs because I’ve done it.”