International Women’s Day: Eye on the Devpt Space -Change a life in pj’s, while you sleep?

International Women’s Day: Eye on the Devpt Space -Change a life in pj’s, while you sleep?

It’s ReigningWomen…and other “empowerment” slogans

March 8, International Women’s Day, is a special day in the calendar for women worldwide as the status of women across the globe is highlighted and celebrated, analysed and debated. Much progress has been made in some areas, but millions of women worldwide are still far from enjoying the freedoms others take for granted. Campaigns to end inequality,  close the gender gap or to assist disadvantaged women are important tools for the global development agenda.

So this headline and article  – Slogan t-shirts to empower you on International Women’s Day,  published in Marie Claire UK (online)by Penny Goldstone a day before Women’s Day, set me reflecting anew about the development space, representation  and the commodification of poverty /underdevelopment:

The article begins: “These days, the best place to express your feelings isn’t on social media – it’s on your body (no, not a tattoo, although why not?), it’s on a slogan Tee.”

And continues:  “…we’ve rounded up our pick of the most empowering slogan t-shirts from the high street, and even better, for some of those you purchase, donations will be made to charities that support women’s causes, such as the Amplifier Foundationmothers2mothers, and International Women’s Day 2019 partners Catalyst and WAGGGS.

PERFECT MOMENT International Women’s Day printed cotton-jersey T-shirt, £145 on Net-A-Porter
Gap t-shirt, £14.95 available in store – These tees were made in a factory that runs the Gap Inc. PA.C.E (Personal Advancement + Career enhancement) program, an education initiative that raises women’s voices. For International Women’s Day, Gap is contributing $10,000 to our program partner, CARE.
Lindex cotton top with print, £24.99 In conjunction with International Women’s Day and the Extended collection, Lindex will also be donating 10% of their sales on March 8th to WaterAid’s work to empower women all over the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And yes, there was cute merchandise from some of my favorite brands – Net a Porter Power Tee, (GBP145 -ouch! Not cheap) Gap, DKNY, to name a few. The slogans, such as Power, Woman, and I am enough were thought-provoking. I would definitely wear one.

But it was spoilt for me when I clicked on the link to Pour Les Femmes   – a new pajama line by actresses Robin Wight and designer Karen Fowler  and watched the video below.

“SLEEPWEAR FOR PEOPLE WHO DREAM OF A BETTER WORLD”

Designed to “Change someone’s life while you are in your sleep,” a portion of proceeds of the $150-$200+ women’s nightwear line will go to the NGO “Action Kivu” which supports women, children, and communities of the Congo through vocational training and education, and a few other named charities.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to charitable drives, but tell me that the video ad below for this high-end sleepwear  doesn’t perpetuate

a stereotype of “western superiority” which in the words of Olivia U. Rutazibwa  is “complicit in reproducing, invisibilizing and legitimizing the ills of poverty, conflict, deprivation, diseases, environmental degradation and exploitation.”

Wight and Fowler, who have been close friends for over 20 years invite women ( presumably well-heeled, white, upper-class women)  to purchase their nightwear to generate seed money for Congolese women who are victims of violence.

The two friends, who “love pajamas and lying in bed” – in soft cottons and delicate embroidery” invite us to support “the “endless need” of Congolese women with the  endless resources of “what “we” can do for “them.

“With every purchase you make from Pour Les Femmes, you are directly affecting the life of a woman by giving her work, stability, and hope. Thank you for being a part of their future and allowing them to dream bigger,” the label says, ignoring the irony of this scenario which this conjures up: buyers (presumably white, wealthy, – the “we”), only need to sleep in their upscale, urban western homes to solve  the endless problems of Congolese women.

Pour Les Femmes – SOLEIL DE MER COTTON AND LACE KAFTAN
$245

I felt indignant and uncomfortable as  I watched the video in which the Congolese women who are on the receiving end did not really feature except as a backdrop. Throughout the entire video they have no voice, except to chorus their support for the “help” in the last frame.

To be fair, Wight has been to Congo several times and is emphatic that women’s empowerment is her ultimate end. “We wanted to give them a skill and get them back on their feet so they can take care of their families and feel like a real person again,” she states in an interview in Elle last December about the pajama line. Indeed profits from the sale of this special line go to Action Kivu and other needy African women.

But it’s such a shame that on International Women’s Day stereotypes are being reinforced with the familiar superiority complex from even well-meaning actresses. (and Wight is one of my favourite). When “power to enact change  is placed in the hands of the donor and not in the hands of the community itself,” I can’t but ask myself whether stereotyping and “White Saviour” representation will ever change in the North-South space.

4 Comments

  1. R

    Amba, this is such a powerful piece.

    Yes, I agree—slumber parties in silky pjs look condescending. The path to hell is paved with good intentions, etc.

    How would you like to see the space navigated? No with slogan tees, but donating to realtime charities that make a difference in the way the women who live in the communities want? Or something else?

    1. Amba Mpoke-Bigg

      Thanks Rosabella,
      It’s not so much where the money is going, Action Kivu appears to be a legit NGO and no doubt, the funds raised are going to a real-time charity.
      But in that North-South relationship, it’s always a challenge for even the big humanitarian organizations to campaign or organize charity drive, (think Comic Relief?) without coming across as condescending, stereotyping or worse even racist. I think the issue is agency and representation. Let the voices, stories, tone and style of the recipients of the “aid” be heard – the bottom up, participatory approach. Let them say it their way And yes, even the choice of charities should be determined by the receiving end…

  2. Amba Mpoke-Bigg

    Thanks for your comment. I think representation is so important. Women who are being “helped” need to tell their own story and have agency over their struggle and not have it told for them. This is the “issue” with charitable drives and why they only serve to reinforce stereotypes.

  3. Elle

    Ugh, that video made me cringe! Totally agree it’s uncomfortable viewing. It annoys me when the ‘donor’ scenes are professionally shot and slick, then the ‘receiver’ scenes are shot using a basic camera. For added ‘realness’? And/or to suggest they don’t have professional equipment in the Congo?
    I agree with your overall conclusion as well. Someone can only be EMpowered by having more power, not by having something done to them by someone else.

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