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5 ways to live your feminist life abroad

November 23, 2018 | Zara, Master of Arts Women's Studies, Rwanda, United Nations Development Programme, Junior Professional Consultant in Gender Reporting ,

Hi!

I’m a Canadian/Spanish graduate student, currently working as a Junior Professional Consultant in

Zara (author), Germaine, Egide

UNDP colleagues: Zara (author), Germaine, Egide

Gender Reporting for the United Nations Development Programme in Kigali, Rwanda. Nice to meet you!

In this post, I would like to share some things I’ve learned in my first couple of months living so far away from home. Specifically, I’ve been interested in ways that I can continue living my feminist life in a country that has significantly different values.

Before we begin, let’s clarify the rationale behind “my feminist life.” While some may perceive feminism as a dirty word, the roots of feminism lie in the pursuit of equality between women and men. By taking a deeper look, we realize that the labels of “woman” and “man” create false binaries that oversimplify our perspective on equality. To widen this perspective, many feminists take an intersectional approach(1), which examines equality at the intersection of many identities, including racialized status, class, ability, culture, sexuality, and more. My tips are all about the intersectional feminist approach to life.

Without further ado, here are my 5 ways to live your feminist life abroad:

First, let go of assumptions.

One of the most powerful tenets of feminism, in my opinion, is that what we initially believe to be true is usually coloured by subconscious ideas that are rooted in prejudice. By this logic, it’s not only healthy to question our initial assumptions, but it is actually imperative.

While living abroad, I’ve learned to let go of the idea that I know how others should live, what ‘real’ development looks like, or what marginalized groups need. I’ve learned that my Western ideas of democracy and freedom are not necessarily what everyone in the world is striving for, nor what everyone in the world should strive for.

Second, live your truth.

There are few more powerful tools at your disposal than being unapologetically YOU. For instance, I don’t want kids. I haven’t for many years, and I don’t see myself changing that decision anytime soon. When people ask me when my partner and I are going to start having kids, I unapologetically state that we don’t want any.

I believe strongly in people’s right to bodily autonomy, and as such, to a biological woman’s right to dictate what happens to her uterus. It’s important to remind people how infantilizing it is to tell a grown person that she will likely “change her mind”. Shockingly, my purpose in life is not tied to being a wife or mother.

Third, learn how to say “no”.

One thing I always encounter when travelling is the experience of random people demanding my time and entering my personal space. This is particularly true when I either look like a tourist (i.e., being white in a predominantly Black country) or act like a tourist (i.e., get lost and have to wander aimlessly, which happens more often than I care to admit).

This experience has forced me to develop a stronger backbone. When people approach me or yell at me from a distance, it is my choice whether or not to respond. If someone randomly approaches and begins talking to me, I can firmly tell them NO.

In a world where women are expected to be constantly available, willing to help, and polite, it is a feminist act to tell someone that you are, in fact, not at their disposal at a moment’s notice.

Fourth, don’t identify as an ‘expat’(2).

As a white person travelling to countries that were former colonies, it is quite easy to fall into the “expat trap”. The term expat (short for expatriate) is a classist and often racist term. Need further explanation? Check out this article.

Identifying as (and subsequently acting like) an expat can be tempting since white people tend to be perceived as, and treated as, superior. While living abroad, try to challenge the ways in which people interact with you, and avoid abusing the unearned power that may result from your privilege.

Fifth, seek help when needed.

Travelling and living abroad can be a challenging experience. I personally have experienced periods of time where I feel either disconnected from my life back home or from my life here. In addition, having to constantly navigate new situations and be denied the comforts of home can take its toll.

In a neoliberal, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps world, seeking help can be a radically feminist action. For good online counselling, try BetterHelp (3) .

Living abroad as a feminist can admittedly be a challenging experience. When it becomes difficult to stick to your ideals, that’s when it’s more important than ever to do so. The obstacles I’ve faced have forced me to reexamine my perspective and rethink my approach to some aspects of life. By experiencing this country on the other side of the world, I can now include a new perspective in my feminist life!

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1- Important to note that intersectionality belongs to Black women and has deep roots in anti-racism work. Black women, being marginalized by both their gender and race found that both white feminism and traditional anti-racism work ignored their unique perspective. Hence, an intersectional approach to feminism!
2- This is mainly for people who present as white.
3- BetterHelp also has an excellent policy on financial aid. If you end up enrolling, I encourage you to apply!