Gloria Steinem: Women's Liberation Is Not a 'Silo' Issue — It Is 'Part of Everything'

On Monday, Asia Society hosted an insightful conversation on the legacy of Indian freedom fighter and feminist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. During the conversation, writer and political activist Gloria Steinem explored how Chattopadhyay still influences the way Steinem looks at the feminist movement.

Part of Chattopadhyay's legacy is that she worked to empower women through all sectors of life — the personal, the social, the political, and the economic. Steinem echoed this sentiment, saying that one of the greatest frustrations of racial and female liberation movements is that they are often thought of as separate from politics — and considered to be “silo” issues.

In reality, Steinem says, women’s liberation is deeply involved in politics and conflict. “The single biggest influence on whether a nation is violent within itself, or whether it will use military violence against another country is not poverty, not access to natural resources, not religion, or even degree of democracy, it’s violence against females — or control and dominance of females.”

Steinem says that if the oppression of women in a society is commonplace, it becomes a gateway to normalizing dominant behavior over other groups. She cited gender roles within terror groups as an example, describing them as unwavering when it comes to masculine and feminine roles “and are profoundly hostile to women’s equality.”

“That’s what we see first — patriarchy is the first step and that sort of convinces us because we see it at home and on the streets that it’s okay for one group to dominate another, that we’re born to dominate another.” 

Even though the effects of the oppression of women and other marginalized groups proliferate into all sectors of life, Steinem says that it is rarely recognized as a political or economic issue. “It’s especially important to understand how through-composed it is … It just has to be — as Kamaladevi knew — part of everything. Not separate. Part of everything.”

Watch the complete conversation between Steinem, Ellen Carol DuBois, co-editor of A Passionate Life: Writings by and on Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Ruchira Gupta, founder of Indian anti-sex trafficking organization Apne Aap Women Worldwide, and moderator Vishakha N. Desai, president emerita of Asia Society in the video below.