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March 29, 2018

What's in a name?

In 2017, our four Regional Programme Associates reflected on how Mama Cash names the different regions where our grantee-partners work. After all, if history is told by the winners, these ‘winners’ (often, colonial powers) have also had the power to name. 

Instead of continuing to reproduce that version of history, we want to use regional names that are liberating and accurate to our grantee-partners. Names that reflect how communities in those regions identify and refer to themselves – not how others have identified them.    

Resulting from this process, we propose the following regional names: Africa and West Asia; East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania; Europe, Central and North Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Hear from each of our regional PA’s about how and why they came to these new names below.


Africa and West Asia

Written by Sanne Rezk, former programme associate for Africa and West Asia. If you have questions, please contact Refilwe Moahi, current programme associate for the region via

To recognise a shared history which has led to similarities in culture, tradition, political realities, and resistance to oppression, while also renouncing colonial terms, we propose naming this region Africa and West Asia – with two main reasons.

First, we refer to Africa as a single, unified entity to break from the colonial and racist practice of separating and naming North Africa as separate and ‘racially superior’ to ‘sub-Saharan’ Africa. This division is a legacy of orientalism and a Europe-centred view, where the lighter skinned people living in northern Africa are considered to be more developed and civilised than the darker skinned people on the rest of the continent. 

Moreover, while it is true that people in Africa’s northern region have a lot in common with people in West Asia, they are also bound to the rest of the African continent by geography, culture, and history. Other factors that unify the continent are religion – both Islam and Christianity are widespread throughout and a shared colonial history has led to the arbitrary division and creation of nations and their subsequent liberation struggles. 

Second, we propose to refer to Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen as West Asia. The term ‘Middle East, first used in the 19th century by the British for what was until then called the Near East, reflects a Europe-centred view of the world in which European countries were considered politically, economically, militarily, and intellectually superior. 

Naturally, many ethnic groups live in regions that go beyond contemporary national borders; something West Asia has in common with the entire African continent. Many of these ethnic groups share the experience of the struggle for an independent state, so, by referring to Africa as a single unified entity and by no longer using the term Middle East, Mama Cash breaks away from the Europe-centred view. 

1. See more about the colonialist and racist ideology behind the separation of in the separation at these links:; 

 2.Orientalism is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Asian and Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Asian and Arabic cultures as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous. Edward W. Said author of the book, Orientalism, defined it as the acceptance in the West of “the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and so on.” Taken from 

Read more about orientalism: 

East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania

Written by Sarah Baes, former programme associate for East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania. You can contact Shradha Shreejaya, current programme associate for the region via

More than half of the world’s population lives in East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania. Recognising the diversity of the huge area conventionally designated as ‘Asia and the Pacific’ or ‘Asia and Oceania’, we propose to explicitly name the different Asian sub-regions and use Oceania instead of Pacific for reasons of clarity. 

Firstly, by referring to the specific sub-regions, we acknowledge that linguistic, cultural and political diversity is a distinctive characteristic of the Asian region.  By explicitly naming the  sub-regions East, South & Southeast Asia, we acknowledge that there are some commonalities within each sub-region, such as a shared colonial history, with the liberation and decolonisation movements influencing each other, and calls to put an end to the influence and colonisation by western Europe. We opt to cluster the sub-regions East, South & Southeast Asia together as recent historical events link them culturally, and differentiate them from Central, North or West Asia in significant ways. 

Secondly, we propose the name Oceania rather than Pacific to refer to the geographical region comprising the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia and Zealandia and the Australian continent. Often the terms Oceania and Pacific are used interchangeably, also by feminists in the region.  We propose Oceania as it carries less ambiguity than the umbrella term Pacific. Pacific can be confusing as it takes on several meanings. Sometimes Pacific refers to the same region as Oceania as described above. In other uses, Pacific includes many other islands located within the boundaries of the Pacific Ocean that are not considered part of Oceania, e.g. islands in the east of the Pacific Ocean that are part of Latin America.  There is also a political connotation to the term Pacific: it has been argued that from a political perspective the term “Asia Pacific” legitimises the involvement of the United States in the region. 

Lastly, we consider this region of East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania as one regional bloc. Activists in the region organise themselves often in this regional group. The geographical proximity of the nations and sub-regions  is another  reason.  There has also been significant migration and dispersion of people between East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania establishing commonalities in culture and language. Finally, from a human rights regime perspective, East, South & Southeast Asia and Oceania is the only region worldwide that does not have a regional human rights legal instrument, court, or other body. This lack of a regional human rights regime might be a reason for activists to join forces.

3 The Charter of the 1st Pacific Feminist Forum says: “[we are] Feminists from Oceania. We have common bonds of wansolwara (ocean), vanua (land) and tua’a (ancestors).

The USA’s involvement in the region (some of the islands claimed as US territories are located in the Pacific Ocean) is used to justify describing it as part of Asia Pacific. For more info see Asia Pacific in World Politics, Derek McDougall, 2016, p.6,

Europe, Central and North Asia

Written by Sophia Sakhanberidze, programme associate for Europe, Central and North Asia. You can contact her via

The Europe, Central and North Asia region stretches from Ireland to the far east of Russia and is part of what is known as the Eurasia continent. Europe’s eastern frontier is delineated by the Ural Mountains in Russia and comprises of countries of the European Union, non-EU member states of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, and countries in the Balkan Peninsula as well as Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the Eastern part of Russia up to the Ural mountains. 

After World War II, Europe was divided into two major spheres: the Western bloc, influenced by the United States, and the Eastern Bloc, influenced by the Soviet Union. While there was never a clear cut historical or cultural divide between eastern Europe and western Europe before, the recent past has left gaps in the political and socio-economic sphere, such are high social inequalities, low social security and strong social and political disintegration (particularly in eastern countries in Europe), thus bringing their political and socio-economic experience closer to former Soviet states. 

The proposed name of Europe, Central and North Asia has been introduced to replace the former name ‘Europe/CIS’ used for the region by Mama Cash. It was a combination of both political and geographical identifications, where ‘Europe’ referred to a geographical term, while the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) referred to the political union of several former Soviet States. The new regional identification is more inclusive, representative and responsive to local movements of the diverse area that the portfolio intends to cover. Europe represents geographical Europe and a section of the Russian Federation; Central Asia refers to the countries Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan; and North Asia refers to the part of Russia that is above Mongolia and stretches from the Ural Mountains to the most eastern border of Russia. 

In addition to the countries mentioned above, the portfolio will review and administer groups applying from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Even though geographically these countries are part of West Asia, they share a similar history of liberation struggles and feminist movement-building with the nations in the Europe, Central and North Asia.



 7. Hankiss, Elemer (2011), The East-West Divide in Europe: Does it Exist?

 8. Worldometers, “West Asia”

Latin America and The Caribbean

Written by Tamara Pels-Idrobo Tapia, former programme associate Latin America and the Caribbean, you can contact the current programme associate for the Americas and the Caribbean, Jimena Soria, via

‘Latin America’ has been used since the 19th century to name the region that extends from México to the Straits of Magellan. In his book “The Idea of Latin America,” Walter Mignolo notes how the naming of the region emerges from the colonial history of the continent, the consequences of which include the devastation of the territories and native Indigenous people’s culture and societies. The word ‘Latin’ is drawn from the languages spoken by the colonialists, and America is the name of the landmass named after Italian cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

Despite the colonial heritage of the name Latin America, the peoples of the land have worked to reclaim this name.  Mignolo explains how people in the region have forged an identity around the name “‘Latin’ America turned into a critical reflection for intellectual decolonization that departed from its imperial foundation.” The name Latin America reflects the connections between all of the American nations situated south of the United States and Canada. The use of Latin America emphasizes a similar socioeconomic history of a region that shares not only a historic background of former colonialism but also of neo-colonialism as well as similar scales of economic development. 

The Caribbean is the region that consists of islands that are surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and are situated largely on the Caribbean Plate. This includes Suriname and Guyana who despite being based partially on the South American plate, identify as Caribbean nations because they are bound by the Caribbean Sea . The region is named after the Indigenous people, the Caribs, who inhabited the islands of the Caribbean. The nations share experiences of history, geography and political realities, particularly because of the fact that most of the Europeans countries who colonised them later made them part of their respective empires. 

We propose that this region be viewed as one bloc for three reasons. First, the geographical proximity of nations has resulted in some shared cultures, political systems and histories. Second, the deliberate intention by people throughout this region to build relationships with each other and re-negotiate identities, discourses, and practices distinctive, such as the feminist movements. Finally, the long shared history among the nations, a legacy of exploitation, colonialism, racism, displacement, and dispersion, a strong resistance to these oppressions, and a celebration of their specific cultures and identities. By proposing this region as one bloc, Mama Cash responds to how the peoples of this region articulate their ideas of justice, dignity and self-determination, and strives to understand how best to support their work in making these ideas a reality.  

9. See Walter Mignolo’s book “The Idea of Latin America” pages 44-45.

10. Definition of neo-colonialism as “the use of economic, political, cultural, or other pressures to control or influence other countries, especially former dependencies.”  

11. The Caribbean Plate is a mostly oceanic tectonic plate beneath the continental land mass Central America and the Caribbean Sea off the north coast of South America.

12.  For more information about the Latin American and Caribbean feminist movements, and for more historical background, visit: