Decolonizing Feminist Discourse: Exploring Postcolonial Feminism

Session Report
Nivedita Sinha

IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, in collaboration with its Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) conducted its second successful cohort of Feminism: Theory and Praxis between 23rd and 25th of January 2024. The goal of this program was to equip the participants with the analytical tools and vocabulary to understand the feminist movement ranging from its epistemology, its trajectory in history to its contemporary concerns and contentions.

The first day concludes with Dr. Shewli Kumar’s session on Postcolonial Feminism, after an insightful discussion with Dr. Leena Pujari and Linda Lane on Feminist Epistemologies and Intersectional Feminism respectively. Dr Shewli Kumar is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She begins by presenting a definition of postcolonial feminism and how it contends with the central question of “Who produces knowledge?”

Deconstructing Western Feminism: Postcolonial Critique

Feminism emerging from the countries of the Global South is vastly different in its conclusions from the Global North. Colonialism has created a type of reality in academic spaces that ensures that western countries have primarily dominated the discourse on feminism in terms of their understandings of violence, health, poverty and other inequties. Postcolonial feminism believes in the notion that theory must be born from the point of view of people have been historically seen only as subjects to be civilized, taught and victimized rather than as people who have knowledge and experiences about their own lived realities.  

She refers to Chanda Talpade Monanty’s important book in postcolonial theory called “Under Western Eyes” and the emergence of the category of “Third World Woman” as a homogeneous subject, who is always seen as somebody who is a victim and in need of rescuing.

Western feminism construes women as a universal category, and does not consider the differences within these women — this ahistorizes and depoliticizes the discourse. We must consider the power difference between western feminists and feminists from the global south that paints an image of third world women as “oppressed, victims, traditional, passive, and unchanging” when compared to the “liberated, modern, dynamic” women from the West. 

She also refers to Gayatri Spivak’s essay Can the Subaltern Speak? that borrows from Edward Said’s work on Orientalism and Foucault’s writing on the subject and the “Other’. According to Spivak, the task of Postcolonialism is to construct a history that is written from below, from the perspective of the marginalized and colonized, in order to “restore the obliterated Other”. She also terms this as “epistemic violence” that is meted out to scholarship from the Global South. 

Dr Kumar concluded by reiterating what the goal of the postcolonial feminist project was, and the ways in which modern day scholarship must produce knowledge that situates itself in the history of the country it is coming from, separating itself from colonial stereotypes and caricatures but still taking into account the history and politics of the people being written about. Each of the three sessions were followed up with vibrant Q-and-As and discussions.

Acknowledgment: Reet Lath is a research Intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here:

Exploring Feminist Epistemology: Deconstructing Mainstream Paradigms and Cultivating Inclusive Knowledge

Understanding Intersectionality in Feminist Discourse on Gender-Based Violence