Feminist researchers from the majority world are delivering 3 webinars this September to discuss feminist research as a transformative approach. To help us highlight the importance of feminist research we spoke to Chikumbutso Ngosi International Program Manager: Young Urban Women - Life Choices and Livelihoods and Cecilia Cordova, Senior Technical Specialist, Women’s Rights, Intersectionality and Decolonisation. This is what they told us.
The importance of intersectional, decolonial feminist research
Chikumbutso: Feminist research is transformative in a way that it makes people uncomfortable and challenges unjust existing norms and practices. Feminist research can therefore bring gender transformation, break norms, and challenge the status quo.
Cecilia: Feminist research also challenges notions of neutrality and common good. For example, we think of economic policies as neutral but feminist research shows they benefit some people above others. We also think of electric cars as universal solution to climate change, but where is the lithium for these cars coming from? Who can buy these cars? Are we going to continue extracting resources from the majority world so the minority world can benefit from them?
Feminist research and legitimizing different forms of knowledge
Cecilia: When doing feminist research, it is important we are not reproducing racist and colonial biases and beliefs. We need to understand knowledge is not only produced by northern-based academics and organisation. We need to ask ourselves whose knowledge do we value? Whose priorities do we consider? and how are roles defined? Feminist research needs to be led by women and girls from identifying the research focus to deciding how they want to put the research into action to address the issues they face.
Chikumbutso: We should not dismiss information, knowledge, and content from the majority world just because people in communities do not use academic frameworks to present content. Knowledge must be varied.
Cecilia: Feminist research needs to acknowledge other ways of generating and sharing knowledge, for example, oral ways. There is so much we can learn from oral knowledge, but these have not been considered scientific in research.
Decolonial feminist research dismantling power imbalances
Chikumbutso: Decolonial, intersectional feminist research is what we need to aspire to, making sure we are centring our work around those experiencing worst forms of marginalisation.
Decolonial, intersectional feminist research addresses power imbalances. It recognises that these dynamics exist in different forms, for example in policy spaces and in academic research institutions. Feminist research confronts historic inequalities in the global space and asks critical questions on: who do we believe? who has the power to develop research tools and objectives? Normally, the majority world is the provider of content. Women from the majority world have provided the resources and knowledge but the power to interpret information has always been with global elites from the minority world. Decolonial feminist intersectional research has power to dismantle power imbalances in the area of research.
Cecilia: It is also important to show how some of the situations women and girls are currently facing are a continuation of the colonial system. Coloniality in our countries, led us to believe the only way forward is to copy what the USA, Canada and European countries have done. A decolonial approach in feminist research also means doing a historical analysis of the issues we are trying research to be able to understand and address power imbalances.
Chikumbutso: Decolonial intersectional feminist research is also rooted in the belief that women are a not homogenous. For instance, in Malawi, ActionAid conducted feminist research to mobilise voices of young women and their allies in ensuring a just transition to a feminist wellbeing economy. We created visioning safe spaces for young women from different categories, including women sex workers, farmers and more to be part of the process and to provide their input. Thus, the final research report provided a collective vision statement of the most marginalised and excluded groups. Intersectionality approach in research is transformative, changes the whole set up and ensures everyone counts.
Feminist research is a powerful tool for advocacy
Cecilia: Feminist research goes beyond looking at the symptoms of things and tries to understand the causes. I worked with Indigenous communities in the Amazon, to develop a map of their territory. Women drew a living map based on their knowledge and experience. Men drew it based on the maps from the Government. Men were missing a lot of details of their territory but when talking to the Government that was the only way to be included. Seeing the territory in a different way made women invisible to authorities and unable to access those meetings as they did not speak the same language. Doing research in feminist way meant working with the people concerned and bringing both knowledge and perspectives together to have all the information to talk to decision makers. That is why feminist research is so important.
Feminist research should also lead to a strategy useful for the community. For example, a community in the Andes said: “You are the 8th organisation here, why should we say yes to working with you? you use it to get your PhD or to get funding.” Feminist research needs to be useful for women and girls and create a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Chikumbutso: Feminist research encourages participation of the most excluded groups, and this is a foundation for successful advocacy, building of collective people power as well as mobilisation of public attention on an issue that affects most disadvantaged groups.
The Feminist Wellbeing Economy research in Malawi made the issues affecting young women more visible. Throughout the research process, young people took an active role to gather evidence and show how austerity measures are not working for women, and this was a foundation for creating an anti-austerity strong movement for young people in Malawi. It was not just data collection; it was a process of building power for the movement to push the feminist wellbeing economy agenda in Malawi. Now the government can no longer ignore them. If research is done well, advocacy will follow. Having knowledge and information can help you hold authorities accountable.
Why should people join the feminist research webinars?
Cecilia: If people are interested in research that leads to change this is a space to learn from others of how it can be done in practice, challenge what we think about research, and contribute to this change.
Chikumbutso: Decolonial, intersectional feminist research is a game changer. It provides space for those normally excluded. Everyone counts and matters. The webinars are a strategic opportunity to bring and sustain change, to bring collective understanding of the feminist research approach and to reflect on how to move forward and sustain this agenda. It is a free space for joint learning and reflection and aims to galvanise people power through feminist research.