Journal of International Affairs (JIA): The title of the upcoming edition of the Journal is 'Global Feminism'. Considering that feminist movements are crucially influenced by their specific local context, what can global feminism and global feminist movements offer?
Naila Kabeer (NK): Local contexts are extremely important within feminist politics because they shape both the opportunities that men and women have access to and, simultaneously, the constraints that they face. As we know, there are major gender asymmetries the world over in the distribution of opportunities and constraints, with women as a group very much at a disadvantage relative to men as a group. But the form these asymmetries take vary considerably across the world. So the local context shapes the resistances that women are likely to encounter in their search for justice and the pathways through which they can negotiate change. The global feminist movement needs to appreciate this diversity of experiences and to ensure that feminist scholarship and activism reflects it.
On the other hand, it is both enriching and imperative for local feminist movements to be linked to other feminist movements both regionally and globally, whether it is through face-to-face encounters, through social media or reading about each other's struggles, setbacks and successes. Otherwise we become isolated in our local realities and trapped into thinking only in ways that they make possible. The closed nature of many societies in the past allowed their members to believe that gender injustices were natural, that there were no alternatives. Perhaps the naturalization of inequality is less of a problem than it used to be but confining oneself to what is possible at local level can end up stunting our imagination and repeating our mistakes. A globally interconnected feminism allows us to gain access to alternative ways of being and doing, and alternative visions of justice. It expands our minds and our horizons. We can think beyond what is immediately possible and learn from what is going on in the rest of the world.
JIA: Empowerment is a multidimensional and complex idea. How do you conceptualize women's empowerment and economic empowerment specifically? How does gender intersect with economic inequality?
NK: I conceptualize women's empowerment in terms of the capacity to make choices by those who have been denied this capacity. But the question of choice is only meaningful if we could have chosen...