4.4.4 Imperialist Feminism and Liberalism

“Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Cesaitis secures a grape drying house before members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul and the U.S. Department of Agriculture enter during a visit to a village near the city of Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, May 8.” Photo Credit: US Army, 2011.

For many communities around the world, feminism is a dirty word, associated with Western imperialism and the imposition of foreign values. This is in part because, while feminist movements have taken great strides in addressing some forms of oppression, they have also been implicated in, or perpetuated, others. In this 2014 article for the London-based Open Democracy media organization, Deepa Kumar, Professor of Media Studies at Rutgers University, takes scathing aim at “colonial feminism.”

Read: Imperialist feminism and liberalism // Open Democracy

Guiding Questions:

  1. What is “gendered Orientalism” and how has it been used to justify military interventions and colonialism?
  2. Apply an intersectional lens to feminist debates before the US war on Afghanistan. What are the key overlapping identities held by Afghan women in this case? Would things have been different if groups working for women’s well-being in Afghanistan, the UK, and the US prioritized the needs of the women most affected by overlapping systems of oppression?
  3. How have women’s rights been used in public relations campaigns to cover up other forms of oppression?


The following article, by Shenila Khoja-Moolji in 2016, explores the assumptions that underpin many humanitarian interventions that seek to improve girls’ well-being. She is now Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College.


Read: For many women and girls the white, Western liberal ideal of girlhood is neither possible nor desired // LSE

Guiding Questions:

  1. What are the overlapping structures affecting girls on which international development campaigns focus?
  2. How does the hegemonic international development community’s view of “empowered, modern girlhood” compare with ideals of positive and healthy girlhood in your community?
  3. How can intersectional feminism be used to recognize the systemic problems that have a profound effect on girls’ well-being?
  4. How does applying an individual-responsibility lens “render invisible” the political and economic systems that endanger girls?
  5. Are these development campaigns “feminist?” Review the definition of feminism used in learning material 4.4.1 and the elements of feminist pedagogy in learning material 4.4.2.