In 1971, French white male doctors were found not-guilty of having practiced thousands of abortions and sterilizations without consent upon poor women of color in Reunion Island, a French overseas territory. I analyze why, though it was still a crime severely punished in France, abortion was encouraged by the State in a French ‘postcolony’ and why the French Women’s Liberation Movement, despite being aware of the scandal, never confronted the dual politics of the State nor sought to understand what it meant for their struggle for rights. I see in this blindness the legacy of an indifference connected to what Aimé Césaire called the ‘shock in return’ of slavery and colonialism onto Europe, which has shaped even progressive movements such as feminism. I conclude that ‘the situation of poor and non-white women in overseas territories was ignored because it did not fit the narrative of a universal patriarchy that treated women in a similar way despite their race, ethnicity, age, ability, sexuality and class. The struggles of overseas feminist movements were also ignored because they did not fit the narrative of European women’s struggle for emancipation: they insisted too much on colonialism and anti-racism’.
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