Workshop 1: Right wing populism: a threat to gender equality and women’s rights

Right wing populism is on the rise in western and eastern Europe. The workshop explores the interwovenness of racism and anti-feminism, of nationalistic and xenophobic discourses. What are counter-arguments and counter-strategies? How to overcome the growing polarization of societies?

Speakers:

Klaus Linsenmeier, director Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union (moderator)
Kinga Lohmann, executive Director Karat Coalition Poland (speaker)
Nuray Ozbay, EWL coordinator in Turkey and deputy secretary of KADIGER (speaker)
Henning von Bargen, director of the Feminist Gunda-Werner-Institut of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (speaker)

Presentation

Asking “How many years are we being ruled by one party?”, Nuray Özbay starts the discussion on where the world stands with right wing populism. Her example comes from Turkey – her native place, where she continues to hope that the strong women´s movements of Turkey are able to overcome the difficult situation at hand. “We have hope, we have experience and we can do it” still resonated with the audience, when the second speaker, Kinga Lohmann from Poland, began her input. Her focus was the anti-abortion law, which was recently discussed in the Polish parliament and which witnessed big protests – so called black protest – across 134 cities and towns in Poland. She noted that not the more experienced feminists led the recent movement but the younger ones organised the marches. The context was created by the debate which was the first feminist issue being debated in Poland since 20 years. Through Facebook support came from Kenyan women´s groups.

Henning von Bargen interlinked anti-feminism with nationalist, right-wing and fundamentalists. He analysed how representatives of nationalist, right-wing and fundamentalist groups talk of “gender obsession”, “gender studies as a gender terror” and argue that the “demasculinisation must stop”. Them wanting to save the “natural order” by controlling women´s bodies, gender roles and sexualities is a disturbing – to say the least – insight of van Bargen´s input. Furthermore, the fact that extreme right-wing rhetoric is no longer a side-event but mainstream sexism. Therefore, it is necessary to translate gender mainstreaming for people and not keep it a technocratic terminology. This might keep anti-feminisms in bay.

In the discussion that followed, important questions were posed: How can we bring communication to the same level? How can we understand each other as feminists? It is important to not always provide answers but to listen to people around us. Furthermore, how can we overcome polarisation? Where are those that count in those stories? Who are the feminists and who are populists? Are we using too narrow categories? Deconstruct those categories and start a new dialogue was one responds to this last question.

One discussant said that hijacked feminism, as we have witnessed after Cologne, is a bigger problem than anti-feminism. It is important to not only to react to events but to start a discussion before those events take place.

An outcome was to define and propose feminist alternatives as part of an intersecting analysis. Doing so, it is important to analyse where continuities from our struggles are and to create those feminist alternatives based on that.

Fish bowl discussion

  • Austria is also seeing the rise of right wing populism at the moment
  • Is the rise in backlash a measure of some of the successes of the feminist movement?
  • Where are the voices of migrants and refugees in these discussions?
  • We need to unpick arguments e.g. white men using rhetoric of danger to women as anti-refugee rhetoric. Linked in with this, we need to be critical of the ways the language of feminism has been hijacked and twisted by the right e.g. Gert Wilders in the Netherlands.
  • We need to deconstruct the links between social categories such as age, gender, race etc. Use intersectional analysis to understand how others are differently positioned (and therefore seemingly empowered or disempowered by right wing populist rhetoric).
  • Right wing populism is not new and it’s important to remember that gender equality is not a linear progress of development.
  • What are feminist alternatives to these politics? e.g. focus on women’s rights and citizens’ rights.

Workshop 1 conclusions

  • Need to be proactive not just reactive! Anti-feminist rhetoric is on the rise, as in the case of Germany, where there is talk of a ‘gender obsession’ and ‘omnipotent feminists’ and a call for gender equality legislation to be scrapped. We can’t wait for other issues to be solved until we counter such anti-feminism rhetoric – instead, we must urgently act to counter such rhetoric right now in a trans-local and trans-regional way. We have strong women’s movements, e.g. in Turkey and Poland as demonstrated by the speakers, and we must look for opportunities of solidarity to support one another and work together.
  • Call for dialogue – need to try to encourage between groups, and between polarized positions. For instance, on the surface, many of the arguments coming from the right wing can be very seductive, tapping into fears. However, when we engage in discussion with right wing populist movements, we are able to show that they are often very limited in terms of policies. We can offer workable alternatives.

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