Gender, Rights and Cosmopolitanisms
The recent political developments in Malaysia have added the impetus and urgency
to strengthen women's participation in the cultural, economic and political life of the
nation. We deplore the manipulation of ethnicity and religion, as well as the use of
fear and oppressive forces to divide us. We want to contribute towards the building
of a just, democratic and peaceful society for ourselves and future generations.
Women's Agenda for Change, Malaysia (1999)1
The virtually insignificant presence of gender issues in the now voluminous literature on cosmopolitanism is remarkable. Yet over the same period, feminisms have engaged both theoretically and practically with many of the besetting difficulties within the cosmopolitanism debates: important gender-based movements around the globe have worked painfully through accusations of universalism, ethnocentricity, neo-imperialism and worse, towards ideas of transversal politics and versions of what can be seen as grounded cosmopolitanism. This chapter argues that a gendered reading of the recent cosmopolitan debates points us to significant sites for exploring questions of cosmopolitanism in its many meanings. In the chapter I discuss one particular case, that of the Malaysia women's movement.
Efforts to theorise the relationship of gender to cosmopolitanism confront ongoing androcentrisms within social theory and the inevitable awkwardnesses exposed by attempts to engender readings of emerging debates. This was also the case, for example, with the theorising of the key concepts, 'modernity', 'post modernity' and 'globalisation', which feminist theorists have seen as inherently excluding gender concerns and neglecting feminist debates (Felski 1995; Marshall 1994; see Stivens 1998a). Analysing 'gender' as an increasingly fractured and contested term, with multiple claims made on it, is a task for another paper (see Stivens 2007b), except to say that it is still often conflated with 'woman' (Cornwall 2001). The familiar problems of gender blindness within recent cosmopolitan debates,