Progressive social justice movements are forms of collective action that emerge in response to situations of inequality, oppression and/or unmet social, political, economic or cultural demands.

Here you can explore recent thinking on social movements and activism, as well as analysis of key spaces for social mobilisation, such as the World Social Forum.

17 resources - Page 1 of 2
  • Agency and citizenship in a context of gender-based violence

    Shahrokh T., Wheeler J.
    Institute of Development Studies UK, 2014

    This pilot evaluation explores how citizenship and agency among social activists can be fostered in contexts of urban violence at the local level.

    Many initiatives and approaches to addressing violence, particularly urban violence, tend to focus on security sector reform and policing, infrastructure and livelihoods. The role of citizens living in slums, informal settlements and housing estates in acting to stop violence and promoting peaceful relations is less understood and supported. In the urban context, violence is often a means of getting access to scarce resources (such as employment), political power, as well as enforcing discriminatory social norms such as those surrounding gender, age, race, religion and ethnicity.

    The focus of this pilot is to understand how a sense of democratic citizenship and the ability to act on that citizenship at the local level can contribute to reducing different types of urban violence and promote security, and how becoming an activist against violence can contribute to constructing a sense of citizenship. The case study for this analysis is based in the informal settlement of Khayelitsha, Cape Town, and focuses on community activism against gender-based violence.

  • Organising women workers in the informal economy

    N. Kabeer, K. Milward, R. Sudarshan
    Gender and Development, 2013
    There are numerous challenges facing organisation amongst the hardest-to-reach women in the informal economy. This paper, published in Gender and Development, examines the various factors determining the success and failure of attempts to organise, and seek economic justice and recognition. The paper analyses organisational strategies in different contexts and for different workers, to identify a battery of weapons among these organised women which offer significant advantages over the strategies they had previously relied upon when unorganised. This article discusses these issues with particular reference to two case studies: the MAP Foundation in Thailand, and KKPKP in Pune, India. The paper focuses on a number of themes: the need for shared identity in building cohesive and lasting organisations; the importance of culture, discourse and information, or ‘soft power’, when navigating confrontational issues; the practicalities of everyday life for organisational members, and the expectations they have for organisational support; making the law work for workers, allowing them recourse to their rights and, according to MAP, reducing reliance on strikes to settle grievances; engaging in politics and policies, e.g. the KKPKP gaining government endorsement of union cards and access to medical insurance schemes for bin collectors; and finally, dealing with inequalities, in particular caste, race, gender, and legality. The paper concludes by outlining four key lessons from the research. Firstly, it is important to start with local issues, allowing freedom for locally-minded strategies and processes to emerge, facilitated by external catalysts where needed. For women in the informal economy, the politics of redistribution, which converges with traditional trade union roles, must be joined by the politics of recognition; for many, dignity is as much a concern as daily bread. Secondly, being responsive to local contexts will necessarily entail more time; the variety, difficulty, and sensitivity involved in building trust and participation amongst hard-to-reach women must be properly understood. While outside agencies may be needed, it is important that local groups evolve at their own behest and rate. The third lesson is that strategies evolve over time. It is often necessary to first focus on building relationships and shared culture; initial efforts to address central issues may fail to bring women together. Beginning with gentle, less confrontational strategies can build self- and group-confidence to a point where they become empowered enough to assert their rights for themselves. Finally, the authors noted some of the payoffs and tensions to collaboration between the local-global divide. Organisations working with vulnerable sections of society must be well-attuned to the realities of life experienced at the local level, yet, if genuine representation of local voices can be amplified by international organisations, there is great potential for informing the trajectories and deepening the perspectives of global movements in ways that validate vulnerable groups claims for representation.
  • A tale of two movements: how women's rights became human rights

    M Bhattacharjya
    BRIDGE, 2013
    Where and when have human rights movements and women’s movements converged, and how have they informed and changed one another? Since Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), the concept of ‘natural rights’ (granted to humans as ‘God’ intended) as put forward by philosophers was found to be lacking an understanding of the realities of women’s lives ordered around patriarchal structures (as man, rather than ‘god’ made). The ideas of natural rights evolved into ‘human rights’, first defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), drawn up in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II as the world looked at human life anew. The decades that followed saw the rise of movements around the world powerfully using concepts of human rights to address the arbitrary detention or torture of people imprisoned for challenging the State or their beliefs, and in documenting abuse by dictatorial regimes. This period saw a parallel rise in feminist movements around the world. This case study, based on a review of key documents and interviews with global and regional women’s rights advocates, looks at the points of convergence of these two movements, and the impacts they have had on each other. It was written especially for the BRIDGE Cutting Edge Pack on gender and social movements. [adapted from source]
  • AWID e-learning session - changing their world: concepts and practices of women's movements

    Association for Women's Rights in Development , 2013

    This e-learning session is the first in a series of AWID webinars to celebrate the launchof their publication ‘Changing their world: concepts and practices of women'smovements, second edition’. This webinar was hosted by Srilatha Batliwala (long-time grassroots activist, renowned gender equality advocate, and women’s studies scholar) who edited the publication. During the session, participants were able to engage through real-time polling, speaking, and and using the chat boxes while others spoke to indicate if they were in agreement or not.
    Srilatha’s presentation, ‘Movements and why they matter’ covered the following points:

    - What is a movement?
    - What is movement building?
    - Key characteristics of movements
    - Why movements matter for social transformation
    - How do movements begin?
    - Key steps in movement building
    - Different stages of growth and levels of maturity of movements
    - The relationship between movements and organisations
    - What are organisations?
    - Types of organisations in the social movement sphere
    - Movements contain two types of organisations: formal and informal
    - Roles organisations play in movements.

    Movements are said to matter because they can create change from individual to systemic levels, in both formal and informal domains.

    The presentation was followed by discussion between some of the ‘Changing their world’ case study authors and Srilatha. This was followed by questions and discussion from participants on a range of issues including: the bottom-up and sustainable nature of movements; different kinds of activists (volunteers and paid); women’s issues in minority movements, and minority issues in the women’s movement; intergenerational issues and the inclusion of young people in gender and social justice movements; as well as the different tactics and strategies of social justice and women’s movements versus fundamentalist movements.

    Srilatha finished the webinar with a summary of the main points covered, including enabling and disabling environments for women’s movements (financial pressures, government suppression of movement activism). Really interesting topics from the discussion that she highlights are: leadership, power and conflict within movement structures; sustainability and the long-term survival of movements; and the differences between ours and other kinds of movements.

    This webinar is also available as a podcast.

  • State of civil society 2013

    CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, 2013

    This second edition of the State of Civil Society (2013) has been produced by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and draws from nearly 50 contributions by people active in civil society all over the world. These new pieces of analysis, together with 16 responses to a questionnaire from national civil society platforms, form a body of critical, cutting-edge thinking about the changing state of present-day civil society. Despite a growing recognition from governments, international agencies and businesses on the importance of a free and vibrant civil society, the report notes a litany of threats to civil societies in many parts of the world, including violence, legal restrictions, and loss of funding.

    The report begins by summarising the global context of uncertainty, and changes since the last report was published. It then goes into detail concerning the key aspects of the enabling environment: legitimacy, transparency and accountability; connections, coalitions and solidarity; the policy and legal sphere; government and relations with civil society; public attitudes and participation; corruption; communication and technology; and, finally, resources.

    Some key trends and figures highlighted in the report include that: 57% of the world's population is currently living under conditions of curtailed civil liberties and political freedom; vocal individuals and CSOs are increasingly being targeted in areas of conflict; corporations, particularly extractive and construction industries and agribusiness are displacing communities reliant on natural resources; and the blurring of government and business agendas are marginalising civil society voices on the post-2015 agenda and other global matters.

    Whilst it could be argued that in many places civil society is in crisis, or at a cross-roads, the report suggests that perhaps it has ever been thus, and we should view such dynamic situations as healthy. The report concludes with some suggestions for collaborative strategies:

    - Identify and share innovative practices pioneered by all actors that improve conditions for civil society.
    - Civil society should play a key role in furthering enabling conditions, such as increasing transparency and accountability, and strengthening networks. 
    -  Strategic action should be aimed at specific moments and opportunities to leverage change, e.g. times of reputational risk. 
    -  Multi-stakeholder networks of like-minded actors should be mobilised to lobby for legislative and funding reform. 
    - Forge civil society coalitions at a range of levels, utilising the different strengths of participants and constituencies.
    - Arguments still need to be won and, in attempting to do so, civil society should be ambitious and constantly strive to increase minimum standards.

    The synthesis report is available at:

  • The LGBTIQ and sex worker movements in East Africa

    S Nakaweesi-Kimbugwe, H Chigudu
    BRIDGE, 2013
    How have the emerging LGBTIQ and sex worker movements in East Africa developed and connected with each other? What lessons can be learnt about inclusive movement building for social justice and human rights? This case study, written especially for the BRIDGE Cutting Edge programme on gender and social movements, describes how these movements are struggling with many issues: identity, marginalisation, denial of citizenship, invisibility, discrimination, human dignity and oppression. Despite the fact that they are dealing with contentious issues within and between movements that can make it difficult to forge common interests, goals and strategies, common ground and alliances have been built.
  • Defining our space: Gender mainstreaming strategies in the work of GPPAC – the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict

    S Bhagwan Rolls
    BRIDGE, 2013
    What strategies have been used by the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) to encourage the integration of gender perspectives into its work? What have been the roles of women’s organisations and activists in this process? This case study, written especially for the BRIDGE Cutting Edge programme on gender and social movements, sets out the ways that women’s organisations and activists within the GPPAC network, including in the Pacific Island region, have been instrumental in bringing about a gender mainstreaming strategy within GPPAC; demonstrating not only models for inclusion but also leadership in peacebuilding.
  • The Amnesty International journey: women and human rights

    D Kelleher, M Bhattacharjya
    BRIDGE, 2013
    This case study, written especially for the BRIDGE Cutting Edge programme on gender and social movements,  looks at Amnesty’s efforts over 25 years to integrate women’s rights into its work. It is based on a review of relevant literature and first hand interviews with human rights activists including those who have worked with Amnesty in the past, as well as some current staff. The authors' intent is to map the trajectory of Amnesty’s engagement with women’s rights and see which strategies worked and which didn’t, looking for the possible insights these can offer to other organisations and movements strategically incorporating women’s rights in their work.
  • Who is the 99%? Feminist perspectives on Occupy

    V Sahasranaman
    BRIDGE, 2013
    After the revolution in Tahrir Square, the Occupy movement is, perhaps, the most significant mass social movement of this decade. How did the movement emerge, and where was gender justice and women’s rights on its agenda? This case study, written especially for the BRIDGE gender and social movements programme, documents the fault lines that begin to emerge within the Occupy movement along the lines of gender and inclusion.
  • World Social Forum: Integrating feminism and women activists into visions and practices of “another world”

    J Birchall, J Horn
    BRIDGE, 2013
    How has the World Social Forum included women’s rights and gender justice during its history? How are feminists working to change the forum? This short case study, written especially for the BRIDGE Cutting Edge programme on gender and social movements, pulls together commentaries of gender at the WSF in recent years.