Blogbox | Women's Rights

Neither with “city” nor “village”

By - 18.12.2018

Documenting experiences of women in rural areas is necessary

From a rural feminist, to my feminist sisters who even though might not define themselves as such survive and challenge rural patriarchy every day, particularly by manifesting feminist values.

I know challenging patriarchy is the only way to survive the oppression that we feel every day in our guts, even though we often find it difficult to define oppression as such. Oppression is served to us as a norm that we must live by, but we don’t want, thus we fight it.

I know it is tiring to constantly fight to survive, when survival in itself was never enough. If living in oblivion and isolation is seen as a given because of the country in which we are born, our voice should be raised till we remove those barriers, until we are heard and understood even in places where our existence might be invisible.

Eyes toward women in rural areas

For the longest time, I had considered that marking special days for certain groups of people ought to strengthen the marginalized position of those groups. Well, I was wrong on that matter. That way of thinking would have been applicable in an ideal world. But until then, we will need these special days to celebrate or to remind us of our ideals, and often our very existence.

On December 18, 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations, through resolution 62/136, declared October 15 as the International Day of Rural Women and this came about for multiple reasons. On one hand, it was because of the need to recognize the contribution of women of rural areas, especially in rural and agricultural development. On the other, it was because of a need to work on improving their economic and social situation, by ensuring them easier access to public services and by adjusting infrastructure, especially that of education.

Through this day we’ve brought attention back to the importance of this group of women within gender studies and the feminist movement. This is vital because women in rural areas are influenced by systems of power in different ways, regarding issues such as economic independence, the right to property, domestic and gender-based violence, access to education and decision-making, as well as other issues which are key to the improvement of women’s lives.

While the feminist movement in Kosovo has existed in one form or another for many years, even if it hasn’t been labeled so, gender studies are still in their beginnings. Using the concept of intersectionality as a research method and not only as a descriptive term within gender studies would help us understand feminist activism in the rural context, as well as the potential different gender roles and norms that are built in this context.

Therefore, it is important for these issues to be studied from our perspective from the perspective of rural women.

In Kosovo, the role and position of women of rural areas are often excluded from public discussions about the position of women in general. This might come as a result of our perceptions about Kosovo as a small country having a very homogenous population when it comes to addressing women’s challenges and needs. In addition to their gender identity, women have many other categories of identity, such as race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, geographic origin, and economic class. These identity categories are determinants of our experiences, challenges and opportunities. It is very important for these categories to be acknowledged, and for us to always speak and act based on the different social identities that we have.

Documenting our experiences, the experiences of rural women, would serve this cause, but it seems that we’ve neglected to recognize the importance of documentation in this process. Or perhaps we have been missing the proper language to describe our feminist endeavors, the feminist language – the language which defines oppression in the patriarchal context and defines our daily revolt as a revolt against this system. “In fact, precisely somewhere along this feminist journey of ours, we have been split in two, as rural feminists that can’t connect with our roots and neither separate from them.

The intersectionality of social identities

Recognizing women’s different experiences and the oppression as a consequence of their different social identities have been central issues of African-American feminism. I consider that is the African-American literature that gives us the formula to understand various forms of oppression that happen in the name of our identity. Most notably, this literature paved the way for me to understand the intersectionality between my rural identity and my experience with different systems of power.

In order for us to better understand the different social identities and how they connect, we must apply the concept of intersectionality as an analytical tool in feminist studies. This term was used for the first time in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her pursuit to define the oppression of African-American women. The term, however, came as a result of the earlier work of many authors and activists, such as Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Anna Julia Cooper, Gloria Anzaldúa and others, all of whom documented how their identities had defined their experience and contributed differently to the type of oppression and discrimination they faced.

Understanding how our social identities define our experience is critical to understanding the forms of oppression that women in rural areas might experience differently from those of urban areas. However, we must be careful not to be limited in our understanding of the intersectionality as a descriptive term only. We ought to go beyond describing and acknowledging categories of identity and seek to understand how they shape women’s experiences.

When analyzing these identities in relation to systems of power, we can make use of Patricia Hill Collins’ Matrix of Domination, which illustrates how different identities such as gender, race, ethnicity and geographic origin interact and define the position of an individual in society. This matrix provides a way for us to understand how women experience power and oppression as a consequence of their rural identity.

To put it short, it is not sufficient to acknowledge and describe women’s lives in rural areas if we do not seek to understand how this identity is connected to the forms of oppression they face.

Still, given that for a long time we have been silent about these parts of our identity, describing them is the first step toward understanding the connection between our identities and our experiences as women of rural areas. As important as it is for others to acknowledge our identity, it is just as important to understand it ourselves.

It is time for us to claim our place in the feminist studies and the feminist movement, and for this, as writer and human rights activist Audre Lorde puts it, “there are many silences to be broken”. Lorde believes that personal experiences enable us to understand the roots of larger social issues. She highlights that these experiences are created particularly as a consequence of the social systems we operate in. Thus, it is crucial for us to understand how these systems shape our personal experiences and fight them even if this journey splits our being into two.

My personal side is what limits and liberates me simultaneously. Thus my silence hasn’t been and mustn’t be an option, even if this splits me in half.

We are indebted to document our personal experiences. If for nothing else, we owe it to ourselves for all of the times we felt that we were treated unfairly and thought “What if it didn’t have to be like this? What if there’s another way?” Because in every instance of suffering that we’ve experienced for the simple reason that we were born in a place, a time or a social circle which was not in our favor, we’ve felt that it wasn’t right and that it could have been different.  Deep inside, we acknowledged that we were not to blame for wanting to see, feel and dare beyond “what was allowed to us”.

We, rural feminists, have often remained unknown to places and social circles we grew up in; we remained mysterious, complicated, incomprehensible; we felt that we didn’t belong in places where we had to live under pressure, felt that we had to change and adapt in the places where we were born and raised and, perhaps, just as much when we left those places.

Even at a distance, we still have threads that keep us tied to the rural areas  that we wanted to leave for good. Maybe somewhere in the middle we remained “neither with the city, nor the village”; we remained foreigners even to those which we called sisters (“sister outsider”, as Lorde said). We found our group but didn’t feel as though we were fully a part of it.

We are a feminist prototype which is neither with the city nor the village, because were are used to not letting ourselves be limited by circumstances which are senseless to us. We know that we don’t have to absolutely belong to one side or the other; our identity gives us a unique perspectives, which Collins calls “outsider within”.

As an outsider within, I know that my identity is what limits and liberates me simultaneously. Thus, my silence hasn’t been and mustn’t be an option, even if speaking out splits me in half.

Feature Image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.