What is a Woman of Colour?

Written By: Shayla Joshi

What is a Woman of Colour (WOC)? Who qualifies as a WOC? Questions paralleling these are observed as the focus of discussion within a variety of fields, ranging from academia to politics. A basic definition of a woman of colour would be: a female person of colour. Simple, right? Not necessarily— this question leads to another: what is a person of colour? By the same logic used to define a woman of colour, a person of colour would be described as any individual who is not considered “white.” This simplistic definition of a woman of colour seems to stem from a sequential analysis, however, this does not seem sufficient to answer our leading questions. To truly develop a well rounded definition of a woman of colour we must consider its origins.

The term “women of colour” originated from a late-seventies campaign to end violence against all women (wocninc.org). This term was coined to unify all women experiencing a multiplicity of marginalization with an emphasis on race and ethnicity. The political roots of this term are crucial, as they emphasize the significance of analyzing women through an intersectional lens. The oppression that women of colour have endured in the past is an element that should be considered when defining a WOC. Norms molded in the past stand to this day. Recognition of normalization is the first step to deconstructing barriers between sexes and races. 

Race is often seen as a binary of “white” and “black.” This limited view excludes a variety of ethnicities from representation. Some ethnicities that are often overlooked include Latinx, Asian, and Indigenous women among other groups. Hence, we should define a woman of colour as any woman who faces life through the secondary pressure of race as a marginalized denomination. 

A key aspect when defining a WOC is self-identification— whether or not a woman herself believes that she qualifies as both a woman and a person of colour. Considering how the term came about through  political power struggles is essential when curating a definition in order to highlight the preexisting conditions of inequality. Given this analysis, it seems appropriate to define a woman of color as “a self-identifying woman who experiences marginalization at the intersection of race and gender.” 

Understanding the definition of a WOC is important for individuals in an ongoing process of self-identification and self-discovery. Defining a WOC leads to the question: what does WOC mean to you? 

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