Quoted: Houria Bouteldja on “White Women and the Privilege of Solidarity”

In 2007, women from the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic took part in the annual 8th of March demonstration in support of women’s struggles. At that time, the American campaign against Iran had begun. We decided to march behind a banner that’s message was “No feminism without anti-imperialism”. We were all wearing Palestinian kaffiyehs and handing out flyers in support of three resistant Iraqi women taken prisoner by the Americans. When we arrived, the organizers of the official procession started chanting slogans in support of Iranian women. We found these slogans extremely shocking given the ideological offensive against Iran at that time. Why the Iranians, the Algerians and not the Palestinians and the Iraqis? Why such selective choices? To thwart these slogans, we decided to express our solidarity not with Third World women but rather with Western women. And so we chanted:

Solidarity with Swedish women!

Solidarity with Italian women!

Solidarity with German women!

Solidarity with English women!

Solidarity with French women!

Solidarity with American women!

Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity? You are also battered, raped, you are also subject to men’s violence, you are also underpaid, despised, your bodies are also instrumentalized…

I can tell you that they looked at us as if we were from outer space. What we were saying seemed surreal, inconceivable. It was like the 4th dimension.  It wasn’t so much the fact that we reminded them of their situation as Western women that shocked them. It was more the fact that African and Arabo-Muslim women had dared symbolically subvert a relationship of domination and had established themselves as patrons. In other words, with this skillful rhetorical turn, we showed them that they de facto had a superior status to our own. We found their looks of disbelief quite entertaining.

Another example: After a solidarity trip to Palestine, a friend was telling me how the French women had asked the Palestinian women if they used birth control. According to my friend, the Palestinian women couldn’t understand such a question given how important the demographic issue is in Palestine. They were coming from a completely different perspective. For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

There you have two examples that illustrate our situation as racialized women, that help understand what is at stake and envisage a way to fight colonialist and Eurocentric feminism.

— Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman for the PIR (La Indigènes de la République) speaking at the 4th International Congress of Islamic Feminism, in Madrid, 22 October 2010

(Hat Tip to Huimin)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Aarons/1419915922 Aaron Aarons

    The best way women AND men can show solidarity with women of oppressed nations is to actively oppose and subvert imperialist interference in and attacks on those nations. Except in cases where the special oppression of women is being carried out by governments or other forces that are clients of imperialism, the fight against such special oppression is the task of women and their allies in those places.

    Imperialist-country solidarity with struggles against special oppression of all kinds in oppressed nations is, unless it is carried out with opposition to imperialism in the forefront, more likely than not to strengthen imperialist interference in those oppressed nations and thus harm women, men, children and the environment in those countries.P.S. I found this page (via google) because I recently met Houria at the University of California in Berkeley and have been meaning to find out more about her work.

  • Pingback: The Sorrows Of Europe Or How The Burqa Helps Hide Europe’s Fraying Social And Economic Realities « The Spinning Head()

  • Artcenterjo


  • Ruby

    I don’t disagree with the ideas here – I think they are incredibly important to keep at the forefront of conversations about organizing. I am left uncertain about what -is- appropriate. In the case of the French woman – I can imagine being curious and wanting to ask such a question, and I can also imagine that answer resonating completely. Is the suggestion that the woman should have already known because of the aspects of the conflict that she obviously would have been familiar with? I’m not sure where the line between “we’re here together as women; let’s compare notes on our experiences” and “you’re just not getting it” lies as described here.

    I agree that it can often be tedious and patronizing to witness repeated acts of “solidarity.” What is the appropriate alternative? Most of the people I know who do reach out towards “solidarity” are also doing work in their own “house.” Are we going to cross solidarity totally off the list of acceptable acts?

    Again I want to emphasize that I think forcing people to consider their privilege and moving towards decolonizing our movements it absolutely critical. Maybe that’s the difference the author is describing? That has to come first, before solidarity? I feel like this is so important to me.

  • Hijabihippie

    “Solidarity with Swedish women!

    Solidarity with Italian women!

    Solidarity with German women!

    Solidarity with English women!

    Solidarity with French women!

    Solidarity with American women!

    Which meant: why should you, white women, have the privilege of solidarity?”

    Ms. Bouteldja, why do you assume all Swedish, Italian, German, English, French & American women are white?

  • Support Women

    I have always debated on this topic, with classmates, friends, family members etc. It’s so wonderful to know that there are still people out there who see and realize this. And support the same things I do.

    It’s ridiculous what white-privilege does to western society. Even women they think that there living in an “equal” society. When certain things such as rape (0ff-topic I know) or even sexual assault is taken so lightly.

  • Ladyguerita

    I wanted to make this comment in another thread but I felt it was too off topic. But I always s hated how American feminists( always the European American feminists) use feminism as a an excuse to justify imperialism without understand the culture and the perspective of the women they are trying to “liberate” . It angers when when American feminists act as if American culture is superior when it comes to the issue of women’s rights. We are so quick to criticize others when American society also fails in this department. Feminism is very Ethnocentric and Euro-centric and we (women and men of all colors ) need to fix that.

  • Peppermint

    Excellent post! The type of attitude which assumes that White women need to have solidarity with women of colour, and not the other way around, is patronizing and racist. It assumes that White women have eliminated misogyny and now the rest of us have fallen behind and need to catch up. White women are just as much victims of misogyny as non-White women.

    Also, this point: “For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.”

    Yes! Exactly what I was thinking as I was reading the paragraph. Considering the lives of Palestinian children are already in so much danger from Israeli authorities, I can’t imagine birth control would be something many Palestinian women would want.

  • Ilana

    For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

    I can’t get behind this as a result of this sentence. Bouteldja makes some great points, but she totally lost me with this polemical and biased statement.

  • Ilana

    For many Palestinian women, having children is an act of resistance against the ethnic cleansing policies of the Israeli state.

    I can’t get behind this as a result of this sentence. Bouteldja makes some great points, but she totally lost me with this polemical and biased statement.

    • Sabreen

      In that case, under what circumstances do you deem it acceptable for Palestinian women to choose to have children? We are all waiting anxiously for your opinion so we can plan our families in accordance with the wishes of our American masters, oops, I mean sisters in solidarity.

      • WestEndGirl

        Sabreen, Ilana is clearly not saying it is for other people to deem it acceptable for Palestinian women to have children. Your comment too and the use of the phrase “American masters” is again biased polemic.

        She is questioning the implication that the Israeli state is ethnically cleansing children, and thus having children is an act of resistance. These are very specific words and phrases, and do not fit these circumstances.

        You may see it as a fair statement, but I, Ilana and others certainly don’t. I would react in the same way post the Ma’alot massacre or the Island of Peace massacre or indeed the recent Itamar murders, if an Israeli settler had said the same thing.

        The Israeli/Palestinian conflict will never be resolved by bowing to extremist positions – from either side.

        • http://mychemicaljourney.blogspot.com The Chemist

          I see. So Palestinians are just figmenting ethnic cleansing from their own biased imaginations.

        • Peppermint

          How is it an extremist position to call out ethnic cleansing? That’s like saying that calling what happened to the Indigenous populations of North America by European invaders a genocide is a biased opinion. Trying to get rid of a particular ethnic population by expulsion, imprisonment, bombing, starvation, unemployment, and right out massacre is ethnic cleansing.

          • zenib

            I totally agree. Why should what Israel is enacting (an ethnic cleansing) on the Palestinians be white washed. Once again, this is where women loose any ground they may have had when they refuse to respect humanity as a whole. Seemi says it perfectly down below.

        • Seemi

          Comparing the actions of successive governments and thought out policy with that individuals and groups outside of state control is wrong. The Island of Pace Massacre was not even committed by someone with a motive linked to Palestine!

          Israel has targeted women’s bodies to reduce the Palestinian population- through tear gas attacks in homes, through the Gaza siege, which has caused malnutrition and poor access to health care. They have stopped pregnant women at checkpoints, forcing them to give birth there, pregnant prisoners give birth shackled and with poor supervision…..Israeli ministers have openly discussed the issue of the Palestinian birthrate and how to control it and what a threat it is….

          Children have been killed in disproportionately high numbers, with them being shot whilst playing football and even whilst sitting in a classroom. It isn’t bowing to extremism to speak the truth.

          Houria didn’t say Israel is ethnically cleansing children, and as The Chemist has said, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is documented fact.

    • http://twitter.com/GREGORYABUTLER Gregory A. Butler

      Well, the cold hard reality of the situation is, the State of Israel has been engaging in ethnic cleansing against Palestinian Arabs since the spring of 1948. It’s a pretty well documented fact, actually.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Great post! I always wondered why white feminists pick and choose which “other” women’s issues they’ll take up. What’s so hard about supporting all women’s issues? So while they bring attention to Afghan women’s issues they ignore issues faced by women closer to home like Indian women on reservations here. Are certain “other” women’s issues taken up only when they’re the ones most talked about by mainstream media?

    And it’s one thing to bring attention to an issue, which would otherwise be rendered invisible and therefore unaddressed. But to then try to dictate solutions and believe that your issues can be conflated with theirs (like the issue of birth control mentioned above), is just an ugly reminder of the privileges one group has over others, whereby the privileged group sincerely believes they have the “authority” to guide others that are lesser than.

    • Seemi

      They pick the issues that serve their interests and promote their supremacy and cultural hegemony. They are the yardstick and we have to ‘catch up’.

      • Logoskaieros

        The criticism of being patronizing to people whose cause you’re trying to support when you don’t really understand it–that makes sense. That’s the fake solidarity of “Ya, power to you, exotic ethnic person, whoever you are.”
        But there’s a tension in the general criticism that white/American feminists should support “all women’s causes” instead of just some….esp. since White/American feminism is often criticized for not giving a shit about the developing world.

        I have to think about this more and make sure my whiteness isn’t doing the fingers-in-its-ears-la-la-la thing. Thanks for the article and all the thought-provoking comments.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    Amazing post. I haven’t even thought about how it was strictly a white woman’s issue to “stand in solidarity” with women of Iran, rather than standing in solidarity with ALL women of ALL colors, nationalities, ethnicities, races, etc… !!! I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for incidents like that next time.

    I definitely understand why birth control is not a major issue for Palestinian women. What some Western feminists fail to understand is that many women in different parts of the world have different concerns and issues to fight for. In some “Third World” (I really hate that one, can we say “developing” instead?) nations, the right to education, the right to work, the right to clean water, the right to reject or accept marriages, etc. are considered more important issues than the right to dress how they want or the right to have equal pay as men, etc..

    • Zenib

      Absolutely, I could not have said that any better myself. Being a woman is an important aspect of our identities, but being a woman AND belonging to a specific culture or religion is definitely just as important as well. When (mostly) white women choose to ignore the fact that sensitivity should be upheld when in the context of various ethnicities and religious idealogies, they are thoroughly contradicting everything they “stand for”.