Femonationalism: Women’s rights for whom?


Although our societies are ever-changing with an increasing number of women in positions of power and leadership, women are still underrepresented and more work needs to be done. The world’s most respected institutions, such as the United Nations (UN), have put women empowerment up on their agenda. In fact, one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals focuses solely on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. SDG 5 aims to:

“5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life….5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

However, despite these objectives listed by the UN, increasing equal opportunities for women in decision-making doesn’t necessarily promote the empowerment of all women at all levels. On the contrary, most of the time it lacks diversity. It creates a ‘gender equality dilemma’ caused by a new populist trend that sociologist Sara Farris coined as Femonationalism.

What is Femonationalism?

According to the statistics published by the European Parliament, women now constitute almost one-fourth of parliaments with 24.1%. However, these statistics need a closer look: Despite the increasing numbers, some female politicians embrace ideologies that reproduce traditional patriarchy and legitimize the image of women from different cultures as a threat to their ‘modern’ society. As a solution, they go as far as to suggest that these women should have social and economic equality only on certain conditions, mainly that these women should partly or completely give up on their culture & lifestyles. As an example, Austrian sociologist Ruth Wodak does a remarkable investigation on gendered politics in Europe and how it puts Muslim women on pedestals by constantly debating a possible headscarf ban in schools and workplaces. What is surprising is that it would be wrong to assume that these claims are made based on sexist ideologies. On the contrary, as Farris suggests, these political parties advance such agendas in the name of women’s rightsThat being said, Femonationalism, is the association between populist-nationalist ideologies and feminist ideas, which are based on discriminative motivations. The term refers to the processes in which female decision makers line up with so-called feminist claims in order to justify and legitimize prejudices around people from different religions and ethnic backgrounds.

How Femonationalism works

In order to understand this intersectionality, we can look into body politics, which plays a pivotal role in right-wing populist agendas. The negative consequences it has on gender equality are undeniable. Ruth Wodak, suggests that body politics often create the perception of representing a ‘us; modern and progressive’, and a ‘them, others’ by using women from minorities and their appearance and bodies to embody ‘otherness’. Images or statements are used to loudly promote Islamophobia or Xenophobia, consciously used to trigger fear in the public sphere, a fear that originates from the idea that ‘these women’, with their lifestyles, are threatening ‘our modern-day feminist culture and lifestyles’. Unfortunately, when looking beyond these political discourses into real-life experiences, these approaches of politics are the ones creating a dangerous level of social exclusion, hindering the integration processes of women from different backgrounds. According to a studyLinz University carried out in the past years, “For applicants with German names 18% of the companies responded with an invitation to an interview, while a ‘headscarf penalty’ was proven since only 3% of Muslim women wearing a headscarf in their CV photos were invited to an interview.” Of course, this comparison was based on applicant CVs with the same level of work experience and qualifications.  

In case you ask, this is why we don’t need it

It is inevitable that minorities that are positioned in the center of political debates will face not only social but also institutional discrimination, which will eventually have concrete negative impacts on their daily experiences. Take workplaces as an example. It is not likely that a woman would agree to work under conditions where she only has access to a job opportunity because she agreed to give up her cultural, religious traditions. And she shouldn’t. Hence, with such regulations, femonationalist agendas only misemploys and damages gender equality in the name of feminism- blocking women’s way to economic independence and eventually make them dependent on a male breadwinner.

Women’s empowerment is only achieved when women of all levels are provided with the same opportunities without prior conditions that restrict their freedom.
A woman’s rights and ‘safety’ cannot be protected through assimilating another woman’s identities. Similarly, equality to a group of women cannot be provided through the assumption that ‘these women need rescue and emancipation’ from their cultures. In the future of gender equality, feminism will of course always have a key role in achieving equal rights and opportunities. However, We don’t need femonationalism to be a means to our end. Women in politics, who take active roles in leadership positions all over the world and adopt
progressive, humanitarian agendas will motivate us to challenge the patriarchy embedded in our social, economic, and political systems the right way.

Image: dkatana on Pixabay

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