White Savior Feminism and the One Billion Rising Movement

I write this article with caution and ask for open-mindedness on the topic. Although I am not a Indigenous woman, I am confident in aligning myself as an ally with Indigenous women and feminists. When thinking of the worldwide movement of One Billion Rising and its unfortunate overshadowing of the Global Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, it pains me to see the erasure of Indigenous women’s issues.

Participants gathered at a March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
Participants at a March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. (Source: rabble.ca)

First and foremost, being that I am a radical transnationalist feminist, I understand the complexity of how place and diaspora are connected with one’s social location and politics. Though I am not an Indigenous woman, and therefore cannot fully understand the oppression that Indigenous women experience, as an ally I strive to make the connections in order to support their movement.

It is easy to be captivated by the enormity and grandiose works of activism employed by the One Billion Rising movement. Heck, I even attended an event last year in Portland as a sea of people, predominantly white women, came together to perform the universal dance of the movement. I am one that believes and strives for solidarity in working to dismantle all women’s oppressions. Whether one is a WOC, Indigenous woman, transwoman, and so forth — I see creating solidarity as a way of moving towards combating all oppressions. But with this consciousness, I am careful to not make assumptions of the unique experiences that different women live through. Organizer Lauren Chief Elk, co-founder of Save Wįyąbi Project, writes a well-articulated article on the recognition of difference of women’s oppression.

There is no “we.”

There is no “all rape victims.”

Women of color continue to discuss the ways in which state violence is significant and is used to break up our communities to further harm us. That structure is violence; it is historically predicated on rounding up and locking away Indigenous and Black people. The existing system is not a place we are able to turn to for help. When mainstream white feminism is continually calling for more laws, punishments, for strengthened ties with law enforcement, and expanded police jurisdiction, they are enabling the violence against us. There is no “we,” because this approach is at the expense of us. Women of color become collateral damage in the continued quest to uphold and protect white womanhood.

Chief Elk speaks of the harm against of women of color within the current system in criminal justice system in place, however the One Billion Rising movement is a global one. Hence why I am troubled to see that even women’s activist groups in the Philippines (and Filipina American groups) is a strong supporter of OBR.

The marketing, the video production and the monetary funds put into this campaign is what drives the movement on such a grand scale. Of course the issues that women face — sex trafficking, rape, abuse, slavery on a global scale — are real issues, I’m not denying that. But what One Billion Rising does, that I agree with Chief Elk with, is the usage of the white savior industrial complex, and the appeal of saving indigenous women and women of color from marginalization. It’s the acknowledgement of colonialism and the methods of working within an already broken system that harms women of color and indigenous women. What most people fail to recognize is that Indigenous women are real, living people with real experiences that have already been working towards combating these issues. Chief Elk reminds us what white savior industrial complex is by stating:

V-Day is a corporation and a pillar of the White Savior Industrial Complex, with interests that involve exploiting and colonizing Indigenous people through their global domination. Indigenous women become mascots to the “cause” where our dance, pain, and stories are put in books, TED Talks, and turned into campaigns that aren’t about us, to inspire white women and make them feel better about themselves. The continued usurping of Indigenous women’s lives and work to spread a worldwide message of justice and equality defined by white western feminism and backed by the United States system of incarceration is colonialism. Enacting the legal structure of the U.S. is not ending violence against women globally, it’s inciting it.

Within women of color feminisms, working within the perspective of women of color and enabling women of color to tell their own stories is a mandatory component to the ideology. The Global Day of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women has been occurring in Canada for 23 years now, and the fact that this movement has been silenced and overlooked due to the One Billion Rising movement, reiterates the notion that Indigenous women’s issues are of little importance in the mainstream feminist radar. Indian Country Today Media Network states:

U.S. statistics show Native Americans experience violent crimes – including stalking, rape, and sexual assault – at rates more than double those of women of other races. One in three Native women report having been raped during her lifetime. The murder rate for Native women is 10 times the national average. Many experts agree these numbers are woefully underreported for several reasons, including distrust of a justice system that so often fails Native American people.

And not only are the numbers of sexual assault extremely underreported amongst Indigenous women, but their identities are also stripped of them as well. Indian Country Today Media Network continues in the same article:

The situation isn’t any better for Canada’s Aboriginal women, who are three-to-five times more likely to experience violence than non-Aboriginal women ages 15 or older. According to Statistics Canada, in about half of all homicides the Aboriginal identity of the victim is reported by police as unknown. For instance, between 2005 and 2009, police reported 726 homicides where the victim was a woman aged 15 or older. Of these, the victim was identified as Aboriginal in 54 homicides, as non-Aboriginal in 292 homicides, and as Aboriginal identity unknown in 380 homicides.

Hence, the reasoning for the March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women on February, 14, Valentine’s Day. The march is to identify and recognize the lost lives of Indigenous women and to also, raise awareness of the work that still needs to be done in ending the obliteration of Indigenous women and the issues they continue to face.

I stand with Indigenous women in their fight to raise awareness on Indigenous women’s issues. As an ally, I support their efforts in combating against settler colonialism and their methods to work towards decolonization within the oppressive structure. Although my experience as a Filipina American is, of course, a different journey, I acknowledge the similarities we might face in terms of our histories with colonization and displacement. Again, solidarity is still encouraged in these movements towards justice, but an awareness of the unique stories, experiences and a deeper analysis of gender-based violence and inequality, will expand the conversation and ultimately, the activism, in a progressive direction.

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Luann

Feminist, Pinay, coffee lover, boba aficionado and pop culture enthusiast. Current graduate student in Peace and Conflict Studies. Dwelling in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon but always California dreaming. You can also read more of her articles at browngirldecolonized.com

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