Empowerment is one of those subjects for feminists that sounds like a good idea in theory and of course since the entire focus is on feeling good/strong, it can be a compelling “focus” for feminists. Caribbean feminists, however, should be focused on anything but empowerment. Empowerment is a feeling, an idea, a notion. Empowerment is nothing concrete and tends not to have any real long-term measurable impact.
“Empowerment” is about a feeling but feminist political action should be focused entirely on the concrete. We live in a country where rape and incest have been normalized. We live in countries where street harassment is so normalized that some women even believe that they “like it”. (What they really like is the validation which is another tragedy to unpack on another day). We live in countries where there are anti-buggery laws and where teachers tell their classrooms that we “are not ready for a female prime minister*)
This focus on “empowerment” seems to be a part of the popular feminism espoused by the upper-middle and upper-class women in this region. Feminist praxis fails to extend beyond their scope which is truly rooted in a desire for the same economic power that men have. They do not desire liberation for working class women or poor women because their self-image still hinges upon their superiority.
Without examining class as it relates to empowerment and as it relates to feminism, any Caribbean feminist movement will seem half-baked. The praxis will be weak and when a movement is supported by weak praxis, it will easily be destroyed as the foundation is built on sand. A feminist movement that doesn’t center the most marginalized communities in the Caribbean will be doomed to fail.
Upper-middle and upper-class feminists that feel a drive towards feminism that focuses on “empowerment” need to ask themselves tough questions about their priorities and work on empathizing with women who come from less privileged circumstances. Who are you empowering? What is the long-term and tangible impact of empowerment? What motivates you to be a feminist?
All of these questions form a good starting off point for building a feminist movement in this country that will be built to last.
*This happened in my younger cousin’s classroom in primary school in Saint Lucia