Transnational Feminisms

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt and Kiana Anderson

Invocations of transnational feminisms can be found as early as the 1960s through the ideals of global sisterhood.” The term transnational in reference to feminism is distinct from “global” feminism. With the publication of Robin Morgan’s Sisterhood is Global in 1984, it became evident that many mainstream US frameworks of feminism were still rooted within western notions of progress and oppression that foregrounded the points of views of white, middle-class, and liberal feminism. Transnational feminism critiqued the assumption of a global sisterhood, rooted within white, middle-class, western feminist subject positions that frequently have ignored non-western cultures, geopolitics, and paradigms, and the lived experiences of women in the Global South. Furthermore, transnational feminism and feminists attempt to dismantle the hegemonic power structures implicit in this divide between western feminists as “saviors” and feminists attempting to save the disadvantaged women from non-western spaces. Instead, transnational feminism pushes for radically reshaping feminist geopolitics by including perspectives of women and feminist movements that otherwise have been ignored or glossed over. Transnational feminism also suggests a politics rooted in solidarity, rather than an assumed shared experience.

Transnational feminists believe that the term international emphasizes nation-states as distinct entities, while the term global speaks to liberal feminist theories on “global sisterhood” that ignore so-called women in the Global South, especially perspectives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). The fact that perspectives of feminists from the Global South have been ignored is most evident in discussions on gender inequality, labor politics, economic disparities, and various other imbalances produced by globalization and neoliberalism that privileges capital and profit-making while glossing over the working conditions of the poor and working classes, women, and racialized subjects.

Why Is CEDAW Important?

by Shannon Garvin

When European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Turkey on April 7, 2021, with EU Council President Charles Michel, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Michel received chairs in which to sit, but President von der Leyen did not. When the same meeting had occurred in 2017, all three leaders were men, and all three were provided chairs. While this may seem a minor blunder to many, the truth is it reflects substantial cultural ideas that women do not have a place or voice—literally, “no seat”—in a society or its government. In cultures where women have no place, they are not treated as valuable and gifted people, but as property that one can use and abuse as one sees fit.

In 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It defines discrimination against women and sets forth a plan to eliminate it. In March 2021, Turkey withdrew from CEDAW just weeks before refusing to give President von der Leyen a chair at the international summit. CEDAW plays a vital role in addressing and elevating the position of women in local cultures by giving international groups common ground from which to grow and expand their resources and opportunities. The Istanbul Convention and the UN Beijing Platform for Action have built on the initial agreements of CEDAW. To learn more about CEDAW and women, check out the UN website.

Transnational feminist academic paradigms draw from various frameworks that investigate interlocking systems of oppression, including postcolonial feminist theories and critical race feminism (CRF). While these theories intersect with and draw from each other, transnational feminism is distinct from postcolonial feminism and critical race feminism. For instance, a postcolonial perspective is rooted in decentering the white, western, Eurocentric experience. Hence a postcolonial feminist lens seeks to both understand and undo the legacies of colonialism within feminist activism using a postcolonial perspective, emphasizing how colonialist legacies, racism, colorism, and casteism have shaped and continue to shape the social, economic, and political oppression of people across the globe.

Critical race feminism, in contrast, derives from the intertwining of three jurisprudential movements: (1) critical legal studies (CLS), (2) critical race theory (CRT), and (3) feminist jurisprudence/womanist theory. Feminist jurisprudence/womanist theory is rooted in the belief that while law is necessary, it is not sufficient to overcome discrimination and achieve success for communities of color. CRT favors a multidisciplinary approach that intersects with various social science, education, and humanities-oriented disciplines to developing the rights of people of color, particularly women. Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the notion of intersectionality (which is a part of the CRT and CRF framework within the legal discourse) to fully understand the complex situation of women of color, rooted in Black feminism. According to Crenshaw, understanding the oppression of Black women requires us to not only look at their race and gender, but to also explore the intersection of these identities, as well as class, sexuality, ability, and geography, among other aspects of identity and experience.

Transnational Black feminism foregrounds the long history of Black feminist praxis and theorization, dating back to the nineteenth century with writings by Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells. According to the Transnational Black Feminisms Working Group, “transnational Black feminisms can move us beyond survivability and demands for recognition, and instead generate alternative frames and understandings around belonging, community, justice, and equity” (Naylor and Nadasen n.d.). Transnational Black feminisms also emphasize the importance of racial politics in the development of capitalism and global politics—what Cedric Robinson (1983) called “racial capitalism”—as well as the need to integrate a gendered analysis.

CRF literature has expanded beyond the borders of the United States. Global CRF offers transnational perspectives and contributes to postcolonial theory, given that women of color around the world are marginalized within various contexts. Global and transnational CRF promotes the perspectives of women in the development of international and comparative law, including public international law, human rights, and international business transactions. While transnational feminism rejects the idea that people from different regions have the same subject position and subjectivities and experiences with gender inequality, it recognizes that global capitalism has also created similar relations of exploitation and inequality. Nadine Naber, in “Arab and Black Feminisms: Joint Struggle and Transnational Anti-Imperialist Activism,” charts the formation of the diasporic anti-imperialist Arab feminist group and the Women of Color Resource Center in the United States. By tracing its history from the 1960s and 1970s, Naber maps the alliances among Black feminist thought, radical women of color movements, and Palestinian history and contemporary methods of decolonization (Naber 2016, 116-25).

In order to address issues of inequality and intersectional oppressions, transnational feminist practice is involved with and rooted in activist movements across the globe that work together to understand the role of gender, race, class, sexuality, and the state in critiquing and resisting heteropatriarchal, capitalist power structures. Thus transnational feminism is both a liberatory formation and a practice that continuously resists forces of colonialism, racism, and imperialism rather than being complicit with these historic forms of oppression.

Women’s UN Report Network: A Global Resource

by Janet Lockhart

Looking for information specific to the experiences of women and girls in every part of the world? Women’s UN Report Network (WUNRN) is a comprehensive online resource for news and research about issues facing women and girls worldwide. Created on the basis of a United Nations report on the status of women, “WUNRN addresses the human rights, oppression, and empowerment of women and girls all over the globe.”

With themes from child marriage to women, girls, and technology, their searchable database includes a huge scope of news articles, reports, documents, and research from across the globe. Topics are timely, such as thisone article about women and Zoom fatigue, and research-worthy, such as this one about existing matrilineal/matrifocal societies (yes, there are some!). Their archive goes back more than ten years; click here to access the search function. They also maintain a listserv that sends subscribers UN reports, resolutions, and other publications. The site can translate items and articles into Arabic, Chinese (Simplified), English, French, Russian, and Spanish.

A nonprofit, nongovernmental organization, WUNRN provides these resources as “tools, to move forward advocacy and activism, local to global, on the human rights, oppression, and empowerment of women and girls all over the world.

WUNRN also organizes occasional high-level events on women’s rights at the UN in Geneva, New York City, and Rome. They also cohost webinars on subjects like violence against women, cyberbullying, and women and addiction issues.

In the early 1970s, Angela Davis visited Egypt, later writing about her visit in the book Women, Culture, and Politics (1990). Davis’s trip and her thoughts exposed how white western feminists have both represented and excluded many of the lived experiences and conditions of Egyptian women. Davis’s collaboration marked an approach of transnational feminist solidarity through the eyes of multiple generations of Egyptian feminists and African American women contextualizing gender oppression within multiple structures, including globalized capitalism.

Conditions in Egypt in the 1950s through to the 1970s allowed for the formation of new international forms of solidarity focused on material conditions. This enabled Egyptian feminists to forge solidarity with women across the globe, including with Angela Davis, who located gender oppression within the same structures—namely, capitalism and imperialism. More recently and in a post-9/11 world, Arab feminists like Lila Abu‐Lughod challenge western representations of oppressed Muslim women. In her book Do Muslim Women Need Saving? she writes, “gendered orientalism has taken on a new life and new forms in our feminist twenty first century” (Abu-Lughod 2013, 202). And in her important critical essay, “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others,” Abu-Lughod explores the ethics of the war on terror and justifications made for American intervention in Afghanistan in terms of liberating, or saving, Afghan women.

Rather than “saving,” Abu-Lughod (2002) writes:

I argue that we need to develop, instead, a serious appreciation of differences among women in the world—as products of different histories, expressions of different circumstances, and manifestations of differently structured desires. Further, I argue that rather than seeking to “save” others (with the superiority it implies and the violences it would entail) we might better think in terms of (1) working with them in situations that we recognize as always subject to historical transformation and (2) considering our own larger responsibilities to address the forms of global injustice that are powerful shapers of the worlds in which they find themselves. (783)

woman holding sign that reads 'Free Palestine' (link to file)
Palestine is a feminist issue

Transnational feminist activism has also forged deep alliances with Palestinian women linking their struggles for gender equality to national liberation. Feminists in the Global North have failed to understand the importance of connections between gender and nation, and as a result, “Palestinian women have been at the receiving end of well-intentioned but misguided initiatives which have disregarded their agency, needs and resilience, and have focused on a narrow understanding of ‘women’s issues’ and critiques of patriarchy and nationalism” (Sharoni et al. 2015, 654). There are, however, encouraging signs of emerging transnational feminist solidarity in response to the political and humanitarian crisis in Palestine. Foremost among these actions is the emergence of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has created new momentum for a coherent feminist response to the crisis in Palestine.

In November 2014, at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, several members of the association crafted a petition that presented a rationale for feminist support of the BDS movement. The group was moved to action in the aftermath of the siege on Gaza a few months earlier and sought to stress the connections between systemic forms of oppression and the transformative potential of collective transnational resistance and solidarity (Sharoni et al. 2015, 654).

Transnational feminist theorists and practitioners vary their use of terminology. Some of the variations used include “transnational feminisms,” “transnational feminist praxis,” and “transnational practices.” Richa Nagar and Amanda Lock Swarr, in their book Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis, provide a list of terms that have been used at various historical moments to describe transnational feminist practices. They emphasize that the term transnational feminism is merely a product of its time in US and Canadian academic institutions. The terms previously used to describe transnational feminist solidarity include “women of color” feminism (Combahee River Collective 1981), “Third World” feminism (Mohanty, Russo, and Torres 1991), “multicultural” feminism (Shohat 1998), “international” feminism (Enloe 1990), and “global” feminism (Morgan 1984).

In Women’s Studies on Its Own: A Next Wave Reader in Institutional Change, Caren Kaplan and Inderpal Grewal, two prominent scholars of transnational feminism, claim that they do not think the term “transnational” is better suited than either “international” or “global,” but that it is useful inasmuch as it is free from the implications that other terms may have:

Transnational as a term is useful only when it signals attention to uneven and dissimilar circuits of culture and capital. Through such critical recognition, the links among patriarchies, colonialisms, racisms, and feminisms become more apparent and available for critique or appropriation. The history of the term “international,” by contrast, is quite different. (2002, 73)

Along with Grewal and Kaplan, other feminist scholars like Chandra Talpade Mohanty and M. Jacqui Alexander claim that the term transnational feminism has political power and can intervene into essentialist binaries like First World/Third World, or heteronormative gender constructs. These scholars believe that the term “international” puts more emphasis on nation-states as distinct entities, while the emphasis on the “global” draws attention to liberal feminist theories and the concept of what Robin Morgan calls “global sisterhood” (Morgan 1996), without taking into consideration race, class, culture, or colonialist and imperialist histories. It is evident that under the term “feminism,” transnational feminism intersects with these concepts while also remaining its own distinct entity.

woman in protest holding sign that reads 'My mom, sisters, aunties + grandmas are sacred' (link to file)
Indigenous feminisms are also transnational

Transnational feminism, then, begins with the idea that power—economic, political, cultural, social, and other forms—has become global where borders are crossed. These border crossings have multiple implications, as the act of crossing borders entails subjects being confronted with one’s alliances with multiple national identities and citizenships. The prefix trans– suggests on or to the other side of, across, or beyond. So, this idea of movement across borders is at the core of transnational feminism as people are constantly influx. For instance, workers move across borders to find jobs. Money and currencies move all over the place, at faster and faster rates. Movements are not only global but also transnational and transactional.

Saskia Sassen has studied the new economies and transnational movements in which she elaborates on how power as understood by transnational feminism has become global caused by movement and migration of workers. Along with this labor movement is the movement of transactions—labor and economic, familial, religious, education, and skills. In Cities in a World Economy, Sassen describes the situation of the global economy as existing on the backs of women and other marginalized people:

The last decade has seen a growing presence of women in a variety of cross-border circuits. These circuits are enormously diverse but share one feature: They are profit- or revenue-making circuits developed on the backs of the truly disadvantaged . . . They include cross-border migrations, both documented and not, which have become an important source of hard currency for governments in home countries. The formation and strengthening of these circuits is in good part a consequence of broader structural conditions. . . . I conceptualize these circuits as countergeographies of globalization. (Sassen 2006, 185-86)

Transnational Feminism and Globalization

Within the past decade, Global South nations have entered the new global economy by sending women across borders to work in wealthier countries and send home their wages as remittances. Rhacel Salazar Parreñas in her book Servants of Globalization (2015) studies migrant Filipino domestic workers who leave their own families behind to do the caretaking work of the global economy. Parreñas’s groundbreaking work discusses the invisibility of labor migration and transnational families. She explores the role of domestic workers and their labors, the separation from their children and children reunifying with their mothers, and the plight of the aging care workers.

Such feminization of labor is also linked to what Sassen refers to as “feminization of survival” (Sassen 2003, 59-77). The government of the Philippines, for example, sends women as care workers—in particular, nurses and domestic workers—as part of its national economic development program. While nurses are often considered part of the middle-class professional stream of migrants, two-thirds of the female migrants from Philippines are domestic workers. These women migrant workers go to Canada, China, Hong Kong, Italy, countries in the Middle East, and the United States. As a result, many of these migrant workers are often exploited as their cultures become displaced; this transaction becomes transnational given the multiple borders being crossed on both a geographical and bodily level. Not only are these migrant women exploited, but also their loss of relationship with their children constitutes a sacrifice. Valerie Francisco-Menchavez, in The Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in the Digital Age (2018), discusses her interviews and collaborations with a group of working migrant mothers from the Philippines. Francisco-Menchavez provides an analysis of the emotional sacrifices resulting from the separations between migrant workers and their children, and explores circuits of care for these transnational migrant mothers. She pays particular attention to how technologies like Facebook, Skype, and recorded video have opened up transformative ways of bridging distances produced by globalization while still supporting traditional family dynamics. All of these practices demonstrate what Sassen (2006) has called the “feminization of survival.” In “The Feminization of Survival: Alternative Global Circuits,” she writes,

These circuits can be thought of as indicating the—albeit partial—feminization of survival, because it is increasingly women who make a living, create a profit and secure government revenue. Thus in using the notion of feminization of survival I am not only referring to the fact that households and whole communities are increasingly dependent on women for their survival. I want to emphasize the fact that also governments are dependent on women’s earnings in these various circuits, and so are types of enterprises whose ways of profit-making exist at the margins of the “licit” economy. Finally, in using the term circuits, I want to underline the fact that there is a degree of institutionalization in these dynamics—they are not simply aggregates of individual actions. (Sassen 2003, 61)

Diar Foundation: Microloans for Women in South Sudan

by Lauren Grant

South Sudan has spent most of its independence in conflict. Since 2013, “armed groups have targeted civilians along ethnic lines, committed rape and sexual violence, destroyed property and looted villages, and recruited children into their ranks.” With most of the population under age 18, women take on immense family responsibilities—made much more difficult in the face of conflict, gender-based violence, and few opportunities to secure an income and basic needs.

“Even before the crisis, more than half of [South Sudan’s] citizens lived in absolute poverty, were dependent on subsistence agriculture and suffered from malnourishment.” Now the country faces radical political instability, weak state structures, and few formal financial institutions, limiting small business and enterprise work opportunities, and deeply affecting women who seek to support their families through agricultural and handicraft-making activities.

Microfinance and lending practices for small business owners in rural South Sudan have grown among civil society organizations such as Diar Foundation, an Indigenous women and youth rights and development organization. In central rural South Sudan, Diar Foundation hosts more than 550 women at Yirol Farm, where it brings them together in small savings groups. Each week, women contribute 1,000 SSP (about $7) and basic household items to a collective pot, including sugar, flour, and cooking oil, and two women are selected on a rotating basis to take home the pot. Diar’s model for collective financial management, accompanied by trainings on savings and small business, empowers women’s groups to provide for their families, purchase seeds and livestock, save and invest in starting up small businesses, and, most importantly, to become decision-makers in their lives and communities.

Savings equals women’s empowerment in rural South Sudan, where 90 percent of borrowers are women. Microfinance and lending and trainings on business management, saving, and bookkeeping are tools for poverty alleviation and development. By providing initial funds for the collective pot, Diar Foundation empowers women to find financial freedom and climb out of poverty, a monumental win in a country where more than 7 million people experience hunger and need humanitarian aid.

Transnational in Transnational Feminist Research

Transnational feminist research is seen both as a radical and an essential framework that seeks to reveal connections and various forms of inequalities between the Global North and South. Given the histories of global colonialism and the forces of capitalism and globalization, such research allows transnational feminists to confront colonialism, imperialism, and neocolonialism and the multiple forms of political oppression based on gender and sexuality.

Building Bridges between Postsecondary Institutions and Prisons

by Shoshana Pollack

Walls to Bridges Canada (W2B) is a national university-based program housed in the Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Inspired by the US Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, W2B brings together incarcerated and non-incarcerated students to study for semester-long courses in prisons and jails. The W2B mission is to create educational opportunities in correctional settings where the experiences of teaching and (un)learning challenge assumptions, stigmatization, and inequality. The values underpinning the program include a commitment to solidarity with people who are incarcerated and to the creation of collaborative learning spaces where critical analysis, dialogue, and self-reflection dismantle preconceptions about prisoners and punishment.

The leaders of this program are women incarcerated at a federal women’s prison in Canada who have taken many W2B classes and have co-developed the pedagogy with the director. They work as teaching assistants for W2B professors and co-facilitate a five-day instructor training, during which educators from Canada, Europe, and the United States come to the prison to learn the unique educational model of W2B. Once professors take the instructor training, they can establish W2B classes in their own communities. For educators and students alike, assumptions and stereotypes are challenged through relational learning and by unpacking how we come to hold certain assumptions about the “Other.” Research on the impact of W2B classes found that both incarcerated and non-incarcerated students report an increased awareness of how structural factors such as racism and gender-based violence affect criminalization, a strengthened commitment to social action, and an increased sense of voice and belonging as a result of being part of an innovative collaborative learning community.

In “What Is the Transnational in Transnational Feminist Research?” (2019), Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Ioana Szeman, and Joanna Pares Hoare articulate the aims of the transnational in feminist research.

The focus on the transnational in feminist research aims to decentre Western epistemologies, shaking the foundation of the sometimes taken-for-granted framework of Western—and specifically UK, US or European-focused—feminist research in the English language; it aims to disrupt the embedded hegemonies of nationalist ideologies, in all their heteropatriarchal connotations. (3)

woman holding sign that reads 'Smash the patriarchy' (link to file)
Transnational feminist scholarship is grounded in transnational feminist activism

It is also important to note how “transnational feminisms, as activism and scholarship, have largely been developed and influenced by the work of self-identified women-of-colour feminists located in the Global North and postcolonial scholars or ‘Third World feminists’ located both in the North and South” (Hundle, Szeman, and Hoare 2019, 3).

Transnational feminists also locate and articulate various intersections of power and domination across the globe. They critique many central sites of domination/subordination to determine where power is concentrated and how gender is defined within these various sites of power. Grewal and Kaplan refer to these sites as scattered hegemonies. As the understanding of feminism and its intersections with movement continued, the theory termed “transnational feminism” was first used by Grewal and Kaplan in their book Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices, which situated transnational feminism among other theories of feminism, modernity, and postmodernity. Grewal and Kaplan remind us that

We need to articulate the relationship of gender to scattered hegemonies such as global economic structures, patriarchal nationalisms, “authentic” forms of tradition, local structures of domination, and legal-juridical oppression on multiple levels . . . transnational feminist practices require this kind of comparative work rather than the relativistic linking of “differences” undertaken by proponents of “global feminism”; that is, to compare multiple, overlapping, and discrete oppressions rather than to construct a theory of hegemonic oppression under a unified theory of gender. (1994, 18)

Here, “scattered hegemonies” suggests a way of thinking about dominations across the globe from various disciplines. Grewal and Kaplan urge critics to consider and locate these ways of thinking by taking in multiple and intersectional perspectives and reading them side by side, rather than developing an entirely new and singular definition.

woman in march holding sign that reads 'Enough' (link to file)
The Black Lives Matter movement foregrounds intersectional feminist activism

Three years after the publication of Scattered Hegemonies, M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Mohanty published Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures, an important book in formulating transnational feminist frameworks. This text, building on Grewal and Kaplan’s, focused more on the ways in which a theory of transnational feminism foregrounds feminist activist practices in global contexts. We can see this today in many contexts. For instance, various activisms addressing global racial justice and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement have led to intersectional collaborations. BLM is a global networked organization and a decentralized movement that has highlighted police brutality and criminalization of Black people. Furthermore, the BLM network works to connect global struggles of Black subjects by organizing and highlighting how oppressive systems (including those resulting from white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and imperialism) continue to threaten Black girls, women, femmes, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people.

Given that our lives are saturated with images, transnational feminism is also deployed within the fields of film and media studies in order to understand and analyze transnational media representations. Topics ranging from decolonization and gender to the global circulation of gendered images and their effects within and outside of national polities, along with critiques of contemporary forms of Orientalism within transnational media forums (from gendered perspectives), are all evident in feminist studies of transnational media representations. The edited volume Transnational Feminism in Film and Media (Marciniak, Imre, and O’Healy 2007) extends the dialogue beyond the academic debate in understanding how media representations vis-à-vis the analysis of film, television, theater, music, visual culture, various art installations, and video art have global and transnational implications. The book, according to Sandra Ponzanesi, provides

a thought provoking and refreshing analysis of the transformed understanding of migration, borders and media that has shifted in focus from the postcolonial subjects to new racialized others: Muslims, refugees and asylum seekers who reshape notions of East/West, North/South, but also of Europeanness through a focus on Eastern Europe, linking questions of transnationalism to postcoloniality and postsocialism. (2011, 353)

For example, the multilingual Academy Award-winning film Babel (2006), by Alejandro González Iñárritu, creates a transnational framework by challenging old and new global borders post 9/11 along with the portrayal of women, namely, Moroccan women who are represented as voiceless and seductive, replicating Orientalist tropes. Similarly, another Oscar-winning documentary, Born into Brothels (2004), while representing women in the sex industry in Calcutta advances the trope of both a white savior complex and the narrative of the unfit mother. The documentary centers around a white western woman’s attempt to rescue the children who are born into brothels from the abuse and neglect of their mothers. Patti Duncan in her article “Saving Other Children from Other Women: Born into Brothels” explores how such rescue narratives are both gendered and racialized and are shaped by various colonialist, imperialist, and Orientalist tropes (Duncan 2013).

Research Methods, Methodological Approaches, and Praxis: Interdisciplinary Approaches

Research methods, methodological approaches, and praxis in transnational feminism are interdisciplinary and continue to evolve. They include qualitative, quantitative, and empirical approaches, using an intersectional feminist lens of gender, economics, human rights, and the politics of race and ethnicity, often located within the context of colonialism, imperialism, nation, nationalism, and nation-states. Transnational feminist research focuses deliberately on the problem of epistemology, particularly western epistemology as a site of knowing and being. Epistemology can be understood as the study of knowledge where questions of how one knows, what one knows, and how that came to be are studied. This type of research relies heavily on one’s experiences (as experiences are a valid form of knowledge) to draw conclusions about what transnational feminism is. Such knowledge that comes from spaces of colonial structures is important to consider when attempting to subvert and push back against knowledge that emerges from sites of colonial oppression.

The study of epistemology is vital to feminist methodologies and praxis since it is used to locate the positionality of women and gender geographically and geopolitically as a way to decenter and interrogate colonial structures. By interrogating what has been considered by western feminists as “liberatory frameworks,” transnational feminists interrogate the very mode of organizing knowledge and its relationship to heteropatriarchal and hegemonic power structures.

girl holding sign that reads 'Fight like a girl' (link to file)
Activists of all ages are part of transnational feminist struggles for justice

Transnational feminist frameworks are also continuously subject to interrogation and contestation. These critiques, as Nagar and Lock Swarr (2010), Fernandes (2013), Roy (2017), and others suggest, when they operate within the same systems of power and privilege, and from the same imperialist networks they seek to critique, do not address any change or seek to empower the disenfranchised. In fact, critiques that try to amass power and pander to neoliberalism and other liberal political projects do not advance transnational feminist practices.

Transnational feminist research and praxis is therefore a radical framework with an ability to connect various forms of inequalities between the Global North and South; to confront histories and contemporary practices of imperialism, colonialism, and nationalism and their effects on women, gender, and sexuality; and to displace Eurocentric and liberal feminist theories and ideologies. Much of the research relies on role of reflexivity within transnational feminist research while being cognizant of one’s positionality and sites of what Donna Haraway calls “situated knowledges.” Situated knowledge reflects the particular location of the knower and rejects any impulse to universalize and essentialize both knowledge and experiences (Haraway 1988, 575-99). In other words, all knowledge comes from particular positions we hold and reflects particular conditions within which each form of knowledge is produced. Thus, in conducting and reading about transnational feminist research, one must also be reflexive; considering one’s own identity and biases is key to contributing to this research in ways that can incite change and enact movements for social justice.

The Youth Are the Future and the Present

by Laura Galindo

In the United States and across the world, young leaders are not just demanding change, they are leading it. Over the past several years, we have experienced an international movement of youth leaders like no other. From Greta Thunberg in Sweden advocating for global climate change awareness; to Emma Gonzales in Parkland, Florida, taking a stand for gun control after experiencing the worst high school shooting in American history; to Darnella Frazier in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose quick and empathic video response helped shed the light of accountability on the murder of George Floyd, youth have sparked international conversations.

Young leaders are using social media to mobilize their communities toward equitable action and are creating a cultural shift in consciousness and awareness. They are leading important accountability conversations with elected officials and people in power to push for just representation in their schools and in their communities.

Girls Learn International (GLI), a program of the Feminist Majority Foundation, empowers and educates middle and high school students to advocate for human rights, equality, and universal access to education, and collaborates with girl-focused partner organizations in India, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Uganda. Organizations like GLI are needed to support and empower girls, boys, and nonbinary young leaders into action. Their service-oriented after-school club model makes it easy for students to work with advisers to establish chapters in their schools.

A just, equitable future free of oppression can be lived today, and young leaders are a constant reminder of that.

Learning Activities

  1. Working alone, with a peer, or in a small group, explain the differences between “transnational feminism” and “global feminism” as discussed in this chapter. Why do contemporary feminists prefer the term “transnational” over “international” or “global”? Why do you think the title of the chapter describes plural transnational feminisms, rather than a singular transnational feminism? After reading this chapter, how would you define transnational feminism in your own words? How does this chapter’s discussion of transnational feminism build on and/or complicate what you’ve learned about feminism from other sources (e.g., news articles, other classes, your personal experience)?
  2. In this chapter, Dutt-Ballerstadt and Anderson discuss a variety of feminist issues, activism, and scholarship that could be considered “transnational,” including:
    • intersectional collaborations between the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and global racial justice issues and organizations;
    • solidarity with Palestinian women and the emergence of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement;
    • and the role of migrant Filipinas and caretaking in the global economy.

    Working alone, in pairs, or in a small group, select one of the topics listed above. What do you currently know about the issue you’ve selected? How much do you know about it? Where did you learn the information that you know? What questions do you have? Second, take a few minutes to search the Internet for more information about your topic (always taking care to select reliable sources as you gather information). What else is there to learn about these topics? How might transnational feminist analysis and activism provide new ways to address the issues you discovered in your research?

  3. This chapter, and indeed all the chapters in this textbook, includes specialized vocabulary that may or may not be familiar to you. Over the course of the semester, you will want to build a familiarity with these terms and learn to use them in class discussions and in your writing. Working in a small group, create a class glossary that you can continue to add to over the course of the semester. The following terms from this chapter provide a great start for your glossary: transnational feminism, Global South / Global North, hegemony/hegemonic, liberal feminism, neoliberalism, colonialism/postcolonialism, feminist praxis, feminist methodology, critical race feminism (CRF), intersectionality, globalization, feminization of survival, Orientalist, epistemology.


Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2002. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104, no. 3, 783-90.

———. 2013. Do Muslim Women Need Saving? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Alexander, M. Jacqui, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, eds. 2013. Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. New York: Routledge.

Combahee River Collective. 1981. “A Black Feminist Statement.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 210-18. New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press.

Duncan, Patti. 2013. “Saving Other Children from Other Women: Born into Brothels.” In “Motherhood in Global Context.” Special issue, Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement 4, no. 2, 23-33.

Enloe, Cynthia. 1990. Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Fernandes, Leela. 2013. Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, and Power. New York: New York University Press.

Francisco-Menchavez, Valerie. 2018. The Labor of Care: Filipina Migrants and Transnational Families in the Digital Age. UrbanaChampaign: University of Illinois Press.

Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan, eds. 1994. Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives.” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3, 575-99.

Hundle, Anneeth Kaur, Ioana Szeman, and Joanna Pares Hoare. 2019. “What Is the Transnational in Transnational Feminist Research?” Feminist Review 121, 3-8.

Kaplan, Caren, and Inderpal Grewal. 2002. “Transnational Practices and Interdisciplinary Feminist Scholarship: Refiguring Women and Gender Studies.” In Women’s Studies on Its Own: A Next Wave Reader in Institutional Change, edited by Robyn Wiegman, 66-81. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Marciniak, Katarzyna, Anikó Imre, and Áine O’Healy, eds. 2007. Transnational Feminism in Film and Media. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Ann Russo, and Lourdes Torres, eds. 1991. Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Morgan, Robin. 1984, 1996. Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. New York: Feminist Press at CUNY.

Naber, Nadine. 2016. “Arab and Black Feminisms: Joint Struggle and Transnational Anti-Imperialist Activism.” Departures in Critical Qualitative Research 5, no. 3, 116–25.

Nagar, Richa, and Amanda Lock Swarr, eds. Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Naylor, Celia E., and Premilla Nadasen. n.d. “Transnational Black Feminisms.” Columbia: Center for the Study of Social Difference.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2015. Servants of Globalization Migration and Domestic Work. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ponzanesi, Sandra. 2011. “Transnational Feminism in Film and Media.” Third Text 25, no. 3, 353-56.

Robinson, Cedric. 1983, 2000. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Roy, Srila. 2017. “The Positive Side of Co-optation? Intersectionality: A Conversation between Inderpal Grewal and Srila Roy.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 19, no. 2, 254-62.

Sassen, Saskia. 2003. “The Feminization of Survival: Alternative Global Circuits.” In Crossing Borders and Shifting Boundaries, edited by M. Morokvasic, U. Erel, and K. Shinozaki, 59-77. New York: Springer.

———. 2006. Cities in a World Economy. New York: Sage.

Sharoni, Simona, Dina Mahnaz Siddiqi, Rahab Abdulhadi, Nadje Al-Ali, Felicia Eaves, and Ronit Lentin. 2015. “Transnational Feminist Solidarity in Times of Crisis: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and Justice in/for Palestine.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 17, no. 4, 654–70.

Shohat, Ella. 1998. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

Further Reading

Ahmed, Sara. 2006a. “Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 12, no. 4, 543-74.

———. 2006b. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Alexander, M. Jacqui, and Chandra Talpade Mohanty. 2010. “Cartographies of Knowledge and Power.” In Critical Transnational Feminist Praxis, edited by Richa Nagar and Amanda Lock Swarr, 23-45. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Appadurai, Arjun, et al. 2003. Information Is Alive: Art and Theory on Archiving and Retrieving Data. Rotterdam: NAI Publishers.

Campt, Tina M. 2017. Listening to Images. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Craven, Christa, and Dána-Ain Davis, eds. 2014. Feminist Activist Ethnography: Counterpoints to Neoliberalism in North America. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Davis, Dána‐Ain, and Christa Craven. 2020. “Feminist Ethnography.” In Companion to Feminist Studies, edited by Nancy Naples, 281-99. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Gunaratnam, Yasmin, and Carrie Hamilton. 2017. “Introduction the Wherewithal of Feminist Methods.” Feminist Review 115, no. 1, 1-12.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy, ed. 2013. Feminist Research Practice: A Primer. Los Angeles: Sage.

Jayawardena, Kumari. 2016. Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. New York: Verso Books.

Kaplan, Caren, Norma Alarcón, and Minoo Moallem. 1999. Between Woman and Nation: Nationalisms, Transnational Feminisms, and the State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Lowe, Lisa. 1996. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mohanty, Chandra T. 2002. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Naples, Nancy A., and Manisha Desai, eds. 2002. Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics. New York: Routledge.

Puar, Jasbir K. 2007. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Roberts, Adrienne. 2015. “The Political Economy of ‘Transnational Business Feminism’ Problematizing the Corporate-Led Gender Equality Agenda.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 17, no. 2, 209-31.

Shohat, Ella, and Evelyn Alsultany. 2013. Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Spivak, Gayatri C. 1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, edited by Cary Nelson, 271-313. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.

———. 2008. Other Asias. Oxford: Blackwell.

Suchland, Jennifer. 2011. “Is Postsocialism Transnational?” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36, no. 4, 837-62.

Wilson, Kalpana. 2015. “Towards a Radical Re‐appropriation: Gender, Development and Neoliberal Feminism.” Development and Change 46, no. 4, 803-32.

Wilson, Kalpana, Jennifer Ung Loh, and Navtej Purewal. 2018. “Gender, Violence and the Neoliberal State in India.” Feminist Review 119, no. 1, 1-6.

World Bank. 2006 Gender Equality as Smart Economics: A World Bank Group Gender Action Plan. New York: World Bank.

Image Attributions

1.1 Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

1.2 Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

1.3 Photo by chloe s. on Unsplash

1.4 Photo by Liam Edwards on Unsplash

1.5 Photo by Rochelle Brown on Unsplash


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