Pinkwashing and Geopolitical Philanthropy

Ongoing Pink Ribbons, Inc Research

About Project

Imperial Charity: Pinkwashing and the Politics of Breast Cancer in the Middle East

Having successfully captured North American public interest in breast cancer, key actors in the pink ribbon industry have begun to pursue philanthropic activities overseas. In 2007, the Bush administration joined this effort with the launch of the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness (UMEPBCA). This program was created by the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and brought to international attention with Laura Bush's visit to the region in October of that year. A public-private partnership between the federal government, the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation, Avon, the MD Anderson Center, and a shifting array of medical facilities and NGOs in the Middle East, the UMEPBCA is explicitly designed to complement U.S. foreign policy in the region.

This project builds on earlier work to explore how breast cancer awareness came to be appropriated by a free market feminism working on behalf of an imperialist state and its autocratic allies in the Middle East. Exploiting rather than securing women’s health, this particular manifestation of pinkwashing works in concert with military and market interventions at the same time that it helps conceal them. Like Israeli pinkwashing, it trades in images of modernity—in this case, of a (hierarchical) global sisterhood in which freedom is modeled by American women able to speak publicly of breasts and breast health. At the same time, the UMEPBCA contributes to the ongoing appropriation of Arab feminist activism by nongovernmental organizations and their state-corporate partners.