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Divisive populists are a “main obstacle” to women’s rights

“What populists are really afraid of is pluralism” says FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko, who argues that democracy and feminism are interlinked.

Moana Genevey speaks to Inna Shevchenko at the 2017 World Forum for Democracy. Moana Genevey speaks to Inna Shevchenko at the 2017 World Forum for Democracy. Photo: Lara Whyte.“When you fight for women’s rights, and when you advocate for women’s rights, you necessarily, immediately, advocate for democracy,” says FEMEN activist Inna Shevchenko.

Democracy, she argues, “is not only about counting silent hands” – it is about pluralism, and allowing the confrontation of different opinions. “It’s about hearing many, many voices and, of course, necessarily, hearing women’s voices.”

Shevchenko spoke to us on the sidelines of last year’s World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg. The theme for the November 2017 event was: ‘‘Is Populism a Problem?” The prominent feminist from Ukraine had a clear answer: populists are “one of the main obstacles for progress of women’s rights.”

Populists aim to divide society and “create clashes between groups” by reducing people “to only one identity,” she said. They also manipulate societies, Shevchenko argued, by playing on individuals’ fear and insecurity. But, she insisted: “we don’t need more fear and more insecurity, we had it enough as women, we don’t need it anymore.”

“What we need is actually answers to our fears,” she added. “Now is the time, this time of disruption, is actually a time to come together. Populists aim to divide us but it’s a time when we have to aim for unity.”

So how can women fight back? “I think that it’s women’s turn to speak out, it’s women’s turn to occupy public space, to make women’s voices heard,” Shevchenko said. “It’s been for too long that we were silenced, we were pushed in the corner, we were not visible. It’s our turn and we have to take this space.”

“It’s been for too long that we were silenced, we were pushed in the corner, we were not visible. It’s our turn and we have to take this space.”

And this is already happening: women around the world are shining light and breaking silence on taboos and issues that have been “ignored for too long,” she said. “For me, as a fellow woman, this is something that makes me feel even stronger and more powerful.”

“We see solidarity, with all the differences we have...the diversity of women all over the world. But today we hear these voices of women in which we can actually recognise each other. We can relate to the stories that we hear, we can relate to the complaints that we hear.”

“We have to show solidarity to one another and we have to continue making our own proper voices also heard. Because what populists are really afraid of is pluralism. And women’s voices, when they join public debate, they necessarily push for more pluralism.”

About the authors

Moana Genevey co-created the website "Allons Contre" which aims to counter populist hate speech in France, online and offline, with counter-discourses. She holds a bachelor's degree in political sciences, and master's degrees in European studies and human rights. She's worked for international institutions including the European Commission, and NGOs including the European Network Against Racism. 

Lara Whyte is a reporter and award-winning documentary and news producer focusing on issues of youth, extremism and women’s rights. Originally from Belfast in northern Ireland, Lara is based in London. She is 50.50's special projects editor working with our feminist investigative journalism fellows and tracking the backlash against sexual and reproductive rights. Find her on Twitter: @larawhyte.

Claire Provost is editor of openDemocracy 50.50 covering gender, sexuality and social justice. Previously she worked at The Guardian and was a fellow at the Centre for Investigative Journalism at the University of London, Goldsmiths. Find her on Twitter: @claireprovost.


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