Recap: Transnational Legal Feminism – Beyond Western Hegemonies of International Law and Feminist Theories

By Aishwarya Chaturvedi

Cornell Law School and London South Bank University organized global conference entitled “Transnational Legal Feminism — Beyond Western Hegemonies of International Law and Feminist Theory” on March 26, 2021.  Speakers and attendees hailed from almost every continent in the world. The theme of the conference was understanding the legacies and ramifications of the domination of western thought on feminist research and practice in the sphere of international law and feminist legal theory. 

The conference commenced with opening remarks (which can be found here) from the conference co-organizers, Ms. Farnush Ghadery, Law School, London South Bank University and Professor Sital Kalantry, Cornell Law School.  Professor Farnush explained that the theory of transnational law and feminism was a methodology for building cross border transnational feminism and not hegemony of western epistemologies. Professor Kalantry further elaborated on the concept of transnational legal feminism draws from two bodies of literature: gender studies and law scholarship. In the introductory remarks, the co-organizers pointed out that transnational legal feminism much like transnational law “de-emphasizes” the nation and recognizes that laws in one country also impact people in other countries. However, the laws need to be considered with reference to a specific context. Professor Sital expressed that for her, transnational legal feminism was different from postcolonial feminism because it focuses on “prescriptive solutions.”  

Professor Chandra Mohanty, Dean’s Professor of the Humanities, Women’s and Gender Studies, Syracuse University, presented a keynote for the conference entitled “Transnational Feminism as Insurgent Praxis.” Professor Mohanty started her presentation by explaining the term “cartographies of struggle” which was coined by her three decades ago in her book ‘Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism.’ She explained that the concept of cartographies of struggle helps us understand how power works through inter-connected histories of racial capitalism and labour flows; colonial legacies of heteronormative nation states; and transnational advocacy for social and economic justice. She emphasized that the term “transnational” does not mean global or international or opposite of national; it means here and now in a local, specific and particular context. 

Professor Mohanty elaborated on this by saying that transnational feminism involves thinking historically, comparatively and relationally and it fundamentally involves addressing the cartographies of power difference. Interestingly, she also discussed feminist geographer Cindi Katz’s notion of a counter topography to understand transnational connections which influence routine experiences of people. She pertinently pointed out that Katz explained that “not all places affected by capital global ambition are affected in the same way and not all issues matter equally everywhere.”

Professor Mohanty went on to say that a somewhat acceptance of misogynistic racial capitalism in the last decade along with the neoliberal colonisation of language and public life has led to a “neoliberal fascism” which can be explained as a culture and governance structure that brings together the “worst excesses” of capitalism with authoritarian ideals. She said governments and powerful people utilize security, mass incarceration and mass deportation to impose their control and authority and normalize violence against black, brown and indigenous bodies.  

Professor Mohanty discussed that transnational feminist frameworks challenge the national and international space by introducing the question of colonial legacies and gendered racial globalities as central to policy making. She explained that insurgent feminism requires understanding that racialised gender is essential for mapping borders, histories and movements and understanding why and how women, queer and gender nonconforming people matter.  She concluded her address by suggesting that developing transnational feminism frameworks is fundamental to envisioning solidarities and building bridges across borders.

From a call for papers, law scholars from Singapore, Canada, India, and Thailand (among other countries) were selected to present papers, which will be published in a special issue of Transnational Law Journal. The following papers were presented at the conference:

  • “Feminist Perspectives on Transnational Comfort Women Litigation” by  Cheah W.L.
  • “Nationalised subject: Rape law reform and reaction in Thailand” by Suprawee Asanasak.
  • “Exploring the Borderlands/ La Frontera of Unpaid Labour: Towards a Feminist Mestiza in Transnational Labour Law” by  Miriam Bak McKenna and Maj Grasten.
  • “Istanbul Convention: Critique of the Honor Crime Provision” by Sital Kalantry presented and Shireen Moti. 
  • “Western Hosts and Southern Ghosts” by  Siobhan Yorgun.
  •  “The #MeToo movement’s manifestation in Croatia” by Josipa Šaric.
  • “Beyond International Human Rights Law Discourse – The Power of Music and Song in Contextualised Struggles for Gender Equality” by Ms. Farnush Ghadery.

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