An intersectional feminism is one that stands for women of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, and economic backgrounds, not just the middle class white American woman. Feminism involves critiquing existing power structures and empowering ourselves and others to rise above the restraints placed on us by those power structures. If we are serious about gender equality, we must apply our feminist outlook to every position we hold. Nationalism is a power structure as toxic as racism and sexism: it is based in the idea that certain groups of people are different from and better than others because of something as arbitrary as where they were born.
I spend a lot of time critiquing gender norms in the United States. One reason is that I know more about gender in the U.S. than I do about gender in other countries, mostly due to personal experience. For me (and most, if not all, Americans), fighting the gender norms in my own country is easier than running from them. By being outspoken, I can push for change and try to make my world a better place. But for many of my sisters abroad, gender resistance is not a viable option. The fight bears so many risks—violence, death, ostracism, etc.—that speaking out just is not worth it.
Another option, besides vocal resistance and doing nothing, exists: immigration. Rather than be subject to human degradation, women may try to escape. But where can they go? Most first world countries have high barriers to entry, insurmountable for those with little access to important resources, such as money, connections, and education. By breaking down those barriers and opening borders, immigration can become a viable option.
We must open our borders to refugees. Syria was ranked 139th in the world for gender equality in 2014, higher than only Pakistan, Chad, and Yemen. ISIS rapes, kidnaps, and murders women, subjecting many women to sexual slavery. Some Syrian women have taken on the fight for their gender: 10,000 volunteer troops make up the Women’s Protection Units, fighting against ISIS’s reign in the region. The life of a warrior is not for everyone. The UNHCR estimates that 50.7% of the 4,812,204 registered Syrian refugees are women. Rape and sexual assault run rampant in refugee camps, even in those run by charities. As of October 2015, there were more than 27,000 female refugee sexual assault victims in Syria alone. Most women in these camps will not admit to having been raped due to the associated cultural stigma, but will say they have seen other women being raped. By keeping our borders closed, we subject Syrian women to horrific violations of their bodily autonomy.
We must open our borders to Latin American immigrants. Women in Latin America earn 68 percent of what men earn. These women face wage discrimination in all sectors of the workforce, but most women are relegated to low-paying, menial jobs. Mexico was ranked 80th in the world for gender equality in 2014. El Salvador, the second most common source of undocumented immigrants to the United States, was ranked 84th. Women in Latin America were the least likely in the world in 2012 and 2013 to say that women were treated with respect and dignity in their culture. Coming to the United States presents opportunities that women do not have in their native countries. Women who try to get to the United States face a broken immigration system where they have no chance of being legally approved to immigrate. They are left with no choice but to break the law. Barriers to immigration leave women particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Women and children who try to cross the border illegally are often kidnapped, raped, or killed because they have to rely on gangs and cartels to assist in their crossing. By not opening our borders, we leave Latin American women subjected to far more unequal conditions than those in the United States, and put their freedom, dignity, and lives at risk.
We must open our borders to all of the developing world. In the developing world, 6 million women go missing every year due to infanticide, unequal treatment during childhood, sex-selective abortion, and the risks of childbirth. Gender gaps in education, healthcare, and autonomy affect women disproportionately in developing countries compared to their first world counterparts. The proportion of women to men in higher education increases as GDP increases. Tolerance for gender-based violence increases in poorer countries. In poorer countries, women have less influence over household spending than men and their first world counterparts. Women in developing countries report having less control over their lived than women in the developed world. Female genital mutilation, leading to lifelong pain, premature death, and other complications, is concentrated in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. By refusing to open our borders, we leave women in these countries are left vulnerable to violence and domination.
Cultural change takes time. American feminists know this because at times our work feels futile. We put in countless hours and it feels like all we take are baby steps. How can we expect women around the world to wait for their culture to change while their lives are under imminent and constant threat? Open borders would be a concrete, meaningful step toward giving women around the world a better option. When you cannot fight, you must be able to flee.