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Asian Feminisms

Updated: Feb 15, 2022

Did you know that Sri Lanka was the first Asian country to gain women voting rights in 1931?

Since then, West and Middle East Asian, East Asian, South East Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Island feminists have all claimed space within feminism.

Amrita Basu shares that as early as first wave feminism women in Japan, China, and India were already involved in activism around education and labour movements that far exceeded those in North America. For example, Mina Roces (2010:7) points to women’s organizing in Asia that date as far back as the 1920’s and 30’s. Yet these accounts of Asian feminist mobilization, theorization and resistance globally are marginalized, if not erased entirely. Some of these feminists engaged in Asian solidarity include Piya Chatterjee, Mina Roces, Mitsuye Yamada, and Merle Woo. (More on this to come when I find my papers from my comprehensive exams).


In North America, Asian feminists have been drawing our attention to violence enacted against Asian communities at the hands of white settlers. In Canada, white European settlers enacted the Chinese head tax in British Colombia, what some Chinese Canadians call, “Canadian Apartheid”. (Although this framing fails to address anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism tied to apartheid). As well as Japanese internment camps in British Columbia where Japanese people were sent to concentration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

But colonial occupations are not merely a thing of the past. There are still occupations that continue to take place globally. The Pacific Islands and Oceanic countries in particular.

According to Hawaiian nationalist, educator, political scientist Haunani-Kay Trask France continues to occupy French Polynesia, using the land as a nuclear weapon testing site. In Kanaky (New Caledonia) the French continue to eradicate the native population. The United States on the other hand still occupies Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Belau, the Marshall Islands, American Samoa, and Hawaii.

Trask declares, “We believe that the first-born people of these lands should govern their own land. The Tahitians should govern Tahiti, the Maori should govern over Aotearoa (New Zealand), the Samoans should govern Samoa, the Kanaks should govern Kanaky (New Caledonia), the Chamorros should govern Guam, the Hawaiians should govern Hawai’i” (138-9). Speaking of Hawaiian occupation, the U.S. government overthrew and occupied the then independent state of Hawai’i led by Queen Lili-uokalani in 1893. We must continue to resist.

As Arundhati Roy writes, “our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our sheer relentlessness- and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe” (n.p). (I tried to do this in the academy and it never ends well).

This is why I co-sign Mitsuye Yamada who challenges, “the cult of the perfect language”. That is, the racist idea that those who speak or write less than ‘perfect’ English are somehow inherently flawed or disordered. Today, be proud of your native languages. Disrupt English, “deprive it of oxygen. Shame it. Mock it.” Celebrate wherever it is you’re from.

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Until next time, in solidarity.

Photo Cred: Max iToonz Bonsu

Make-up: Lelo de Artiste

Image Description: A Muslim Tamil Canadian woman poses for the camera. She is wearing a vibrant African print dress made with yellows, orange, and blues. A pashmina with similar colours covers her shoulder. I commissioned this shoot in 2011 or 2010.

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