Constructing Solidarities for a Humane Urbanism

Challenges to Feminist Solidarities

From motherhood to biology, Manisha Desai invokes the images of feminist practices that circulate in our understandings of feminist activism. An attention to gender is not simply a step to be checked off a recipe book before moving to the next one. An attention to gender requires a constant engagement with practices on the ground. Desai uses the example of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189 Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to discuss how multi-scalar organizing led to ILO recognizing care work as actual labor. While this convention may seem like a big picture achievement, Desai argues that big picture achievements cannot be what feminism is about. Instead, she invites us to find feminist practices on the ground through the relationships that make such achievements possible. 
The labor movement, for example, worked together with domestic women workers in defining care work, addressing existing inequalities, and challenging the private/public separation when drafting the ILO convention. But even in such collaboration, a gender perspective reveals important challenges. While the collaboration between ‘experts’ and domestic workers ultimately led to the adoption and in many cases ratification of Convention 189, it also laid bare issues of representation and power between these actors. Activist voices with no English proficiency, for example, were coopted by professional organizers. Their care labor was made invisible or secondary to that of professional organizers, while no actual material gains for workers came from the adoption of the convention alone. In discussing these challenges, Desai wants to draw attention to the discrepancy between legal recognition and material prosperity that runs through most forms of care work around the world. One of Desai’s informants puts it best when claiming: “I don’t want a right to housing, I want a house.” 

Reading Suggestions

Naples, N. A., & Desai, M. (Eds.). (2004). Women's activism and globalization: Linking local struggles and global politics. Routledge.

Desai, M. (2002). Transnational solidarity: Women’s agency, structural adjustment, and globalization. In NA Naples & M.
Desai. Women’s activism and globalization: Linking local struggles and transnational politics, 15-33.

Desai, M. (2007). The messy relationship between feminisms and globalizations. Gender & Society21(6), 797-803.

Pape, K. (2016). ILO Convention C189—a good start for the protection of domestic workers: An insider’s view. Progress in Development Studies16(2), 189-202.

Desai, M. (2013). The possibilities and perils for scholar-activists and activist-scholars: Reflections on the feminist dialogues. Insurgent Encounters: Transnational Activism, Ethnography, and the Political, 106.

Desai, M. (2010). From this bridge called my back to this bridge we call home: Collective identities and social movements. The Sage handbook of identities, 421-436.

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