My beautiful late grandmother was the first feminist I ever met. I remember her going to the UN World Conferences on Women when I was a little girl, and bringing back T-shirts from faraway places for me and my sister. As I grew older and appreciated how incredibly intelligent, tenacious and passionate she was, I remember thinking that if she had been born in a different time she would have been a CEO, a political leader or on the Board of Directors at a major company.
As I finished high school, went to university and entered the workforce, I was so grateful for the work that she and so many women before me had done so that I could pursue my dreams. I naïvely thought their work was largely finished, and focused on what I considered to be the next set of challenges - poverty, environmental degradation and inequality. Of course the more I studied and worked in these areas I quickly discovered that the work was far from over, and that it had only just begun, as each of these issues disproportionately affect women by an alarming amount. I took comfort in the gains that had already been made, thinking they were in no real danger of being eroded, and instead were a platform we could build upon.
But after the results of the US election last week, I sat on the floor and cried. I cried that so many hard-won battles would need to be fought again, when there are so many others we continue to fight. I cried that 21 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, in which 189 governments agreed to promote and protect all human rights of women and girls, it was still nothing but an empty promise on a piece of paper. I cried that in 2016, in the ‘land of the free’, women had begun stockpiling abortion pills because they knew what lay ahead. I cried that our own political leaders on all sides were falling over themselves to congratulate the new president-elect, and capitalise on his victory for their own political gain. When I saw some politicians popping champagne in celebration on the steps of our own Parliament House I stopped crying and just started swearing. A lot.
Don’t get me wrong - I believe in democracy. I accept that he won (although I still have no idea what the electoral college system is, but that’s not for here). I understand that we live in a world where national leaders need to work together constructively and respect each other’s sovereignty. But we also live in a world where those leaders have the responsibility to uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and instead of hearing those rights reaffirmed all I heard was an empty, pathetic silence.
I understand people are angry, disaffected and want to change a system that has left so many behind, including those it was apparently designed to benefit. I’m angry too - we have a right to be. In my own life, I’m angry that, like most of my generation, I’ll never be able to afford a permanent home in the city I grew up in, despite playing by the rules, studying and working hard. I’m angry that I constantly have to readjust my business plans depending on the size of the apartment we can afford to rent, and have to move at a moment’s notice every time our landlords decide to sell up and cash in*. But this is nothing compared to how angry I am that people believe their own anger and frustration is a justifiable excuse to trample on the rights of others - women, minority groups and anyone else who they perceive to be a threat because of their difference.
Over the last few weeks, particularly the last week, I’ve become almost paralysed by my sadness and my anger. I’ve tried working through it, meditating, practising gratitude and all that bullshit, but I’ve realised that this time, I don’t want to let it go. It’s too deep, almost visceral. So I’m not letting go. I’m holding on to it, and using it as a fuel to fight the battles that need to be won again, and those that still appear to be out of reach.
I don’t know why I’ve never explicitly used the word feminist to describe Renegades of Chic, because that is exactly what we are. As I’ve built the business over the last six months, I’m so humbled and grateful to have connected with so many women dedicated to improving the lives of others. Every single brand that we’ve partnered with is either run by women and/or directly employs women to make their beautiful products. We also reinvest 10% of our own profits into microloans for female entrepreneurs in developing countries, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access credit to build a business and lift themselves and their families out of poverty. I’d like to think I’m building something my grandma would be proud of.
As I said, it wasn’t a conscious decision to avoid using the word feminist to describe what we do - I guess I just thought it went without saying. But events over the last few weeks have shown us that nothing can be taken for granted, and that the fight is going to get harder, not easier.
So here we are - loudly, proudly and unapologetically a feminist business. We are dedicated to working towards equality for all women, wherever they may be in the world. We need your anger, we need your frustration and we need your voice - let’s get to work.
Image: Baobab Batik
* Just for the record, I’m painfully aware that these are ‘first world problems’ and emblematic of my own white privilege. I know that others in my own country and around the world are facing much more serious challenges, and many don’t even have a roof over their head - that makes me incredibly angry, and its why I started Renegades of Chic, to contribute to the solution in a small but important way. I’m grateful for all that I have, but I'm angry that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few which doesn’t allow the majority of us to achieve our full potential.