Rey Ty and Maimouna Konaté. (2007). Critical Post-Colonial Feminist Theory: Past Contributions, Gaps, and Future Possibilities.
Critical Post-Colonial Feminist Theory:
Past Contributions, Gaps, and Future Possibilities
Rey Ty and Maimouna Konaté
Literatures on feminist theory abound: they challenge the dominant traditional modernist
worldview that uses the male perspective as the standard by which all social phenomena are
measured. Thanks to feminists, theories now span the whole range of the ideological spectrum.
However, post-colonial feminism is still on the fringes. Rejecting sweeping generalizations, this
paper highlights specific cases from Asia and Africa in order to analyze the different actions and
discourses of women from the Third World. By so doing, this research contributes to
mainstreaming women’s voices from the Global South as well as promoting post-structural
analysis which treats women, not as an indistinct unified blob, but as a heterogeneous group of
individuals and groups with discrete identities and dissimilar agenda.
The so-called objective science does not reveal inequalities, differences in gender, class,
countries, color, ethnicity, abilities or religion. In particular, there is a lack of women’s voices in
the dominant literature. When they do exist, in the form of critical theory and feminist theory,
they are usually from the West. Aside from Freire (1970), we do not hear much about post-
colonial thinkers. For this reason, subaltern voices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in general
are muted, including women’s. The rationale of this paper is to question the current state of
feminist theory and to contribute to the literature in adult and community education about
feminism in Third World countries.
Purpose of the Study
This paper aims to examine the praxiological contributions of women’s movements in Asia
and Africa to the development of a more inclusive feminist theory building.
This collaborative research deals with women’s movements in the Third World, which
work for the construction of a just society by struggling against the constraining economic, social
and cultural structures. In the poor countries, traditional culture, male domination and poverty
cause the oppression and marginalization of women. This study examines the contributions of
women’s movements in the Global South to gender equality in the context of social, gender, and
national liberation. It addresses the following questions:
Based on the emerging data,
1. What are the contributions of critical theory and feminist theory to understanding the
women’s question in general?
2. What are the gaps that the existing critical feminist literatures lack in terms of theory,
methodology, and content?
3. How can the development of a grounded model fill the gap in critical feminist theory
thereby enriching the field of adult education?
The research paradigm is critical research, where the researchers are changes agents who
accept multiple truths, with the view to women’s emancipation everywhere. This is a
collaborative study which is composed of two parts: first, a review of literature of feminist
theory; and, second, a qualitative research using the case study design that investigates an Asian
case study and an African case study—specifically, the Philippines and Mali. To identify the
trends and past contributions in the literature as well as the abstracts in ESBSCO Host, ERIC,
ERIC Digest, InfoTrac, OCLC Search, and ProQuest were used as research databases to gather
refereed journals and academic books related to the topic. The case studies from Asia and Africa
were used to provide data from which a grounded model emerged. This research builds on the
triangulation or the cross-checking of multiple sources of information based on field research,
non-participant observation, community dialogue, interviews, document analysis, electronic-mail
communications, and literature review. The analysis of data involved grouping and developing
codes or categories out of the emerging themes. The data that emerged from the systematic
research findings provides the raw materials in the generation of a grounded model. Our
positionality as feminist Asian male and African female researchers, respectively, is an important
factor that affected data collection, analysis, and interpretation.
A Review of the Contributions of Past Theories
This section documents the rich contributions on feminist theorizing in the past. Using
ideology as a classificatory scheme, the most generally recognized feminist theories include (1)
libertarian, (2) social democratic, and (3) Marxist feminism. One, libertarian feminists (Mingst,
2004) believe in both de jure and de facto gender equality, such as suffrage and non-
discrimination in law and in practice. Two, social democratic feminists ((Duncan, Jancar-
Webster & Switky, 2004)—who oppose injustice—believe that the women’s question must be
situated in the socio-economic context. Hence, social democratic feminists focus their social
analysis and social work efforts towards social change through social reform. Critical feminists
link gender analysis with class, ethnicity, color, culture, religion, and abilities. Three, Marxist
feminists (Baylis & Smith, 2005) believe that class and gender intersect. Peasant women and
proletarian women are oppressed who can only be free, if society will be free through
Not usually discussed, as feminist theories as such, are reactionary and conservative
feminist theories. They have definite views of women’s role in society, therefore they are worthy
to be discussed and labeled as feminist theories. Both of which, though, are not true feminist
theories, as they do not advance but suppress the status and condition of women in society.
Reactionaries want to bring back the defunct practices, say, of banning women from studying or
leaving their residence under penalty of physical punishment or stoning to death. Conservatives
(Fukuyama, 1998; Lukas, 2006) are romantic feminists who believe that men and women are
biologically different and that women are weak and need “gentlemen,” say, to open the door for
them and pay the bill as unquestionable standard practice. For these reasons, reactionary and
conservative feminism are not true feminism. In summary, the major feminist theories include
reactionary, conservative, libertarian, social democratic and Marxist feminism. See the
The foregoing section indicates that feminists of all types engage in dialogues and debate
about the role and status of women in society. The literature on feminist theorizing cited in the
preceding section is impressive. It spans the whole ideological spectrum, indicating that not all
women are alike and that gender analysis is complex and must take into account class, ideology,
and other such positionalities. Thanks to feminist theorizing, gender sensitivity is growing.
However, based on the data that emerged, gaps still exist. For instance, conservative, and
libertarian feminist theories are essentialist, as they assume that all women are alike, which they
over-generalize and universalize. Furthermore, they only use Western women as the exemplar
by which women of all colors around the world are measured. Critical feminism is an
advancement over the previous types of feminism, given that women are not generalized as all
belonging to one homogenous group, as each woman is unique and carries unique set of multiple
economic, philosophical, ideological, political, social, cultural, and sexual identities. However,
critical feminism only looks at the conditions of women in Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Brazil.
The voices of women in all the Third World countries are not heard. They are all lumped under
the umbrella of post-colonial feminists, again wrongly generalized as belonging to one
To fill the gap, this research examined two case studies, one in Asia and another in
Africa, in order to dig deeper into the uniqueness and peculiarities of each case. Below is a
discussion on the role of women’s organizations in social change in the Philippines and Mali.
See figure below which situates Third-World feminism in the ideological spectrum.
Revolutionary Third World Left-Wing Centrist Right-Wing Extreme Right
Critical & Social
Figure 1: Ideology and Feminist Theory, including Post-Colonial Feminism (Ty, 2007b)
The Philippines. A national organization of women—called General Assembly Binding
Women for Reform, Integrity, Equality, Leadership, and Action (GABRIELA or GAB for short)
—mobilizes women at the grassroots level who are involved in political advocacy work. It is the
largest women’s organization in the Philippines. GAB has branches mostly in the local rural
villages, but also in the cities, regions, provinces, and at the national level. As a movement,
members are united in their struggle against imperialism, feudalism, and corruption. They do not
simply struggle for women’s right in the abstract (Maza & Tujan, 1993). GABRIELA (2007a)
deals with the concerns of women as women, striving to liberate Filipinas from economic and
political oppression, discrimination, sexual violence and abuse, neglect and denial of their health
and reproductive rights. In addition, they struggle for the rights of peasants and workers, both
female and male, as they compose the majority of society. GABRIELA (2007b) is an integral
component of the national liberation movement for genuine national liberation, a democratic and
representative government as well as gender equality in all aspects of life. Clearly, GAB does not
view the women’s question as separate from the national question. They challenge, oppose, and
struggle against political, economic, and cultural hegemony in an effort to create counter-
hegemonic structures and liberating cultures.
Mali. In Mali, traditional customs and practices, illiteracy, poverty, the misinterpretation
of Islam and patriarchy oppress and marginalize women. However, most women take pride in
their cultural values, which they believe should be conserved, as culture made them who they
are. With their participation in the Association des Femmes Fabricantes de Savon de Koulikoro
Plateau I (AFFSKP), they became change catalysts. They develop job skills and rebuild their
lives by mutual assistance. Before they became members of the organization, most of them were
disengaged and lonesome. After joining AFFSKP, their lives have changed significantly. By
working together and sharing experiences, they supported, taught and learned from one another.
They developed a cottage industry--soap making—which provided them with economic
empowerment. Clearly, the AFFSKP as a social movement provided the primary learning site
for rural women in Mali where they learned about equitable distribution of resources first-hand.
Economic independence was a form of transformation that had occurred in the women. In the
past, Malian women were the proprieties of their husbands who provided for the needs of the
family. This situation is changing, as a growing number of men are now unable to perform these
roles, owing to unemployment and other related other matters. These changes elevate women’s
status in the family. The interviewees become breadwinners in their families, became
autonomous, and assumed some power within the family, and the husbands now cannot simply
control their wives’ lives anymore. Their economic independence empowers them to make
decisions in their families and in their community as well as to make informed decisions about
their lives. Money is the key to their freedom, without which, their choices are very limited.
There are role reversals in their families. Some husbands are willing to take care of the children
and do the household chores, whilst their wives are out making soap: a situation the women
express had never happened before they joined their organization and started bringing money
home. Their husbands are now supportive of their wives, when the latter have needs associated
to their income-generating projects. With respect to their involvement in politics, the
participants felt that politicians exploit them for campaigning purposes during elections, for
women have always been good at organizing and mentoring, but they never took advantage of
the decision-making level, and the elites did not care about women’s issues once they got
Contributions Gaps How to Fill the Gap
Gender Sensitivity Euro-centric
Recognition of the
Contributions of Third-
World Women Critical
Partisanship or Non-Neutral
Focus on the West
and Brazil mostly
Bringing the Third
World to Theory Building
Political and Economic
Struggle against Feudal
Culture & Foreign Domination
Invisibility for the
Inclusion of the Post-
Structural Voices of
Women in the Third Word
Figure 2: Taxonomy of Contributions, Gaps, and Possibilities of Feminist Theory Building (Ty,
Restatement of the Research Problem
Literatures on feminist theory from the West do not adequately explain the conditions
and struggles of Third World women. Throughout history, women have experienced male
domination, colonial oppression, and unequal cultural treatment, which have negatively impacted
their role, status, and position in society, despite their playing a crucial role in social
development. Africa, Asia, and Latin America are no exceptions to the rule. What binds
together women in the Global South is economic, patriarchal, and cultural oppression. Third-
World women are focused on economic survival. However, women in the Global South are also
responsible for maintaining not only their family, but also their village and their community at
Feminist theory and critical theory in the Global North positively contribute to highlighting
the importance of gender issues in the mainstream discourse. However, there remains a gap in
the literatures as they do not explain the women’s condition in the poor countries. In the case
studies, women in the Philippines engage in political advocacy to promote women
empowerment, while women in Mali engage in economism, demonstrating that there are
different paths to promoting women’s rights. This research contributes to the theory building by
centering the previously marginalized women’s voices from the Global South. Furthermore, it
also contributes to the literature by developing a grounded model—Post-Colonial Feminist
Theory—based on the research findings and opens the feminist discourses for more possibilities
to empower all women, both in the Global North and South.
Asia No Yes
Africa Yes No
Figure 3: Actions of Two Post-Colonial Grassroots Women’s Organizations in Asia and Africa
Implications to the Practice and Theory of Adult and Community Education
This research deals with building women’s communities, not only in the Global North or
in the Global South as separate communities; thus, building the social capital of women around
the world. It is important for the following reasons. One, women’s voices are often muffled, for
which reason it is essential to push forward the feminist discourse. For this purpose, critical
theory is useful in mainstreaming the hitherto marginalized voices of women. Two, however,
oftentimes when women’s voices are heard in the literature, most emanate from the West and
therefore critical feminist theory is still insufficient in bringing to surface the voices of women in
the global peripheries, such as in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Women are still invisible and
their voices are still muffled in these parts of the world. This paper contributes to feminist
ideology and theory relevant to adult, popular, and community education. This paper shows that
women’s struggle in the Global South is not a separate struggle but linked to a larger social
struggle. Women’s movements in Third-World countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America
challenge the economic, political, and cultural hegemonic structures and propose women’s
rights, a just economy, and equal rights, which immerse women in activities that facilitate social
change. Thus, the raison d’être of Critical Post-Colonial Feminist Theory, which here is a
grounded model based on the findings of our collaborative research, is strengthened.
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Rey Ty & Maimouna Konate, Department of Counseling, Adult, and Higher Education, Northern
Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Thanks to Drs. Jorge
Jeria, Laurel Jeris, Richard Orem, Wei Zheng, Lisa Baumgartner, & Margaret Mbilizi.
Presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and
Community Education, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, September 25-27, 2007.