There is tremendous diversity in social movement practice across contexts and regions. In this section you can find out more about activism on women's rights and gender justice in different global regions, and how gender is thought about within social mobilisation in different areas and contexts.
Reflections on Women in the Arab Spring: In Celebration of International Women's Day 2012Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars , 2012
The Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has produced this document in celebration of International Women’s Day 2012. It is a collection of women’s voices from around the world on the role of women in the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings, and the ongoing struggles they face in their wake.
There are many common themes that recur throughout these reflections and testimonies. All of the contributors recognise the central and necessary role that women played in the ‘Arab Spring’ (a term whose legitimacy has yet to be earned for many of these contributors) throughout the MENA region. They highlight the ways in which women stood side-by-side with men, gender barriers temporarily dismantled, in a collective effort to ouster dictatorial regimes. Some, like Souad Eddouada (professor of English at Ibn Tofail University, Morocco) and Hanan Saab (managing director of PHARMAMED), link awareness of this narrative with the growing use of social media and citizen journalism in documenting the efforts of women, as well as men.
Another dominant theme is the sense of betrayal many women feel when, having fully participated in the revolutions, they find women’s rights to be under increased threat from empowered conservative factions of society. Following the Egyptian revolution, women actually lost more than 50 seats in the new parliament. Two contributors note the decision by Hizb al Nour to omit showing pictures of its female candidates, to be replaced by a flower or even the women’s husband. Furthermore, not a single woman was included in the committee to draft amendments to the constitution. More than one writer makes a distinction between religion and cultural patriarchy, with Rend Al-Rahim (Executive Director, Iraq Foundation) suggesting that Shari’a is a convenient peg for a deeper male instinct for patriarchy embedded within ancient tribal customs.
Across the region, women have found themselves either once more ignored, or worse, victims of abuse, discriminatory legislative actions (one of the first acts of the Libyan transitional council was to reintroduce polygamy laws, leading to questions of priority) and physical assaults. The large-scale attack on women marching in Cairo to mark the 2011 International Women’s Day is mentioned often in reference to the challenges women still face.
Disquiet and despair: the gender sub-texts of the “Arab spring”Open Democracy, 2012This paper focuses on the gender sub-texts of the 'Arab spring', examining the post-revolution struggle faced by women's movements in the MENA region. It seeks to argue that the seeming fragility of women's rights cannot be fully accounted for with reference to empowered Islamist parties, nor a wider notion of misogyny. Rather, it is the result of a complex combination of internal and external influences.
The paper describes some of the challenges women experienced across the MENA region in the immediate aftermath of revolution, as various political and religious actors sought to gain popular support and/or impose conservative values. Women continued to suffer abuse, often physical and sexual; in Egypt, women were harassed by security forces and taken into custody, where they were subjected to “virginity tests“. Even a demonstration to protest harassment against women was itself subjected to assault.
A more optimistic note is sounded with regard to Tunisia, where 22.6% of the new assembly are women (comparable to the average level in Europe). However, salafists have been pushing for an Islamic state leading to confrontations in the streets. The overall situation has led many women, particularly those who identify as secular, to feel unprotected and under threat. This feeling is illustrated with reference to Mona Elthahawy's article laying blame squarely on patriarchy and a hatred of women in the Arab world; a paralysing stance, the author argues, that misses the lessons a more nuanced understanding of the complexity involved can bring.
The paper goes on to suggest some explanations for the fragility of gains made by women's movements. One conjecture is the discrediting of women's advocacy through state mediated implementation and monitoring of international frameworks such as CEDAW, via donor-funded agencies that served as a “democratic” ‘fig leaf’ for authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, this 'taint' has led to further fall-out now that these regimes have gone. Political pressures also conspire to keep gender off the table, with politicians keen to maximise their vote. The paper notes that it is in Iran that there are the first signs that the opposition is becoming receptive to the notion of gender equality.http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/deniz-kandiyoti/disquiet-and-despair-gender-sub-texts-of-arab-spring
M23: in the name of the Senegalese peopleOpen Democracy, 2012In 2011, the Constitutional Court in Senegal ruled that the President Abdoulaye Wade could run for a third term in office. The Senegalese people took to the streets to voice their disapproval of Wade’s efforts to retain power, as well as their discontent over the economic and social crises facing the nation. The full diversity of Senegalese people participated in these protests, with women active and vocal alongside men, which became known as the M23 movement. Police responded with extreme violence – killing many women, men and young people.
In this article, Senegalese feminist writer and disability rights activist Aissatou Cissé shares her views of the M23 movement, and makes suggestions for further mobilising the Senegalese people to fight for democracy. At the time this article was written, she felt that the Senegalese people were, “still not crying out with one big, categorical, and totally non-negotiable NO to a lack of democracy.” She suggests that their movement could have started with requesting that the 2012 presidential election be postponed for one or two months to enable the candidates to prepare and campaign, as well as demanding that the current ruling party choose a leader other than Wade.
In Cissé’s view, organising group meetings that become political rallies is not appropriate because M23 is not a candidate. She recommends that political leaders vying for election stand back from the M23 protests and other social protest movements because the claim that protesters are solely motivated by their individual political affiliations has served to bolster the influence of the current powers. She writes, “It is the people that must defeat Abdoulaye Wade, not the political leaders who he sees as his primary opposition...The battle for democracy belongs to the people themselves. The battle does not belong to any individual candidate for public office.”
Manual on women human rights defendersNazra for Feminist Studies, 2012In 2012, the Women Human Rights Defenders programme at Nazra for Feminist Studies produced this manual, especially tailored to the Egyptian context (it is written in Arabic), on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). Sections include legislative and military verdicts used to constrain public action; the unique violations committed against WHRDs and why this needs attention; regional and international mechanisms available to WHRDs to report violations; and security tips of use in dangerous circumstances.
The manual takes note of the history of both state and military violations against WHRDs, extending beyond the recent rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) back through the Mubarak regimes rule. The state of emergency imposed by the SCAF at the time of this manuals production militarised Egypt’s transitional period and was used to legitimise violations against WHRDs. Rather than representing a complete list of violations, the manual instead emphasises a tendancy of targeting WHRDs by Egyptian authorities.As well as patriarchal cultural norms, the manual highlights legislative constraints on the presence of WHRDs in the public sphere, such as the criminalisation of some sit-ins under threat of imprisonment and fines which effectively bans protest.
Also discussed are tools of protection, such as the availability of a hotline enabling receipt of swift legal, psychological or relocation support, as well as documentation of violations. Also explained are the regional and international mechanisms that can be used to expose violations, namely the UN system and African Union. Finally, the manual presents a list of state actions that may be used against WHRDs, such as arrest and detention, and tactics that can be used by individuals in response. These tactics include inquiring about the legal basis for detention, insisting on the presence of a lawyer during investigations, keeping the telephone number of a lawyer with you in perilous circumstances, and ensuring mobile phone batteries are fully charged.
Women’s rights and organising in ChinaAssociation for Women's Rights in Development , 2012As part of AWID's series Friday File, the organisation interviewed Cai Yiping, an Executive Committee member of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) about the status of women’s rights and major issues affecting women in China. The following summary is structured according to the themes that were discussed.
On the current status of women’s rights and the major issues faced, the disparity between systematic legislation to protect women’s rights (e.g. ratifying CEDAW) and the drastic rise of economic growth on the one hand, with widening gender gaps and rural-urban disparities on the other. Although rights are already enshrined by law, women face multiple discriminations and inequalities on a daily basis, through intersection with age, class, geography, marital status, sexuality, and ethnicity. In rural areas, women make up just 1-2% of local decision making positions, despite being the majority. Other barriers include gender-selective abortion, gender-based violence, and economic justice.
On how women are organising to advocate for their rights, Yiping notes that the Chinese Communist Party and State continue to play the dominant role in improving gender equality and women’s rights. The All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) is the biggest NGO in China however, and plays an important role employing its large national network and UN Economic and Social Council consultative status to mobilise women to influence policies. Catalysed by the 1995 Fourth Women’s Conference in Beijing, some autonomous women’s NGOs are also emerging, including studies centres in research institutes, self-organised service providers, and advocacy organisations. They help conduct gender training for government officials, and strive to apply a rights-based approach and comply with international human rights frameworks in their community outreach and mobilisation.
With regard to hurdles faced by feminists from the Chinese government and culture, Yiping suggests that because the main discourse in China assumes equality for men and women, it can often be misinterpreted as meaning there is no gender inequality at all. Secondly, women’s NGOs lack effective, transparent, inclusive mechanisms for participation in decision-making. While ACWF have played a key role in policy advocacy, the extent to which NGOs can participate and is uncertain. Legal and financial constraints also make for prohibitive barriers with regard to registration, meaning only 10% of CSOs are registered as non-profits. On culture, Yiping notes that institutional policies can influence cultural norms, highlighting the need to reassess family planning policy that contributes to gender-selective abortion.
Strategies employed by activists to navigate these hurdles include a booming of bottom-up grassroots groups, diverse and non-hierarchical, strengthening the women’s movement. Networking and alliance building on a number of themes, and despite challenges in coordinating, operation, and resource sharing, can amplify the voices of women’s NGOs. Both bottom-up and top-down approaches are needed, with synergies found across academia, ACWF, NGOs and Social movements according to strengths and advantages. With globalisation has also come a rethinking of women’s organisations from a global perspective, along themes such as gender and trade, migrant workers, corporate responsibility, and trafficking.
The pulse of Egypt's revoltInstitute of Development Studies UK, 2012
How do we explain the way in which change unfolded in the wake of the recent Egyptian uprisings? What can this tell us about the success or failure of related development policies? This IDS Bulletin contributes to our understanding of why and how the uprisings began, and their implications for development paradigms, concepts and practices.In view of the politically volatile and dynamic situation on the ground, this issue neither provides an historical account of ongoing political struggles, nor does it assess impact or seek to predict outcomes. Rather, it analyses that moment when people revolted – when the tipping point was reached.
The aim of this IDS Bulletin is to bring new empirical and conceptual insights on pathways of political and social change to an audience of development, area studies and democratisation academics, policy actors and practitioners who wish to interrogate the methodological and paradigmatic nuances of that rupture with the status quo.The focus of the bulletin is, on the whole, Egypt, although many of the articles have strong resonances with Tunisia, Yemen and other countries in the region and beyond. The issue is distinctive in its engagement with the Egyptian revolt in its examination of the development theory, policy and practice nexus and in the selection of contributors on the basis of their positionality. Contributors are Egyptians who have one leg in activism and one leg in the policy-influencing arena, and whose perspectives are not commonly conveyed in mainstream academia. This is in effect one modest step to reverse the trend of bias in favour of the 'experts' from the West, to give the floor to local voices, not only academics but also activists and practitioners.
- Introduction: ‘The pulse of the Arab revolt’ by Mariz Tadros
- ‘Precursors of the Egyptian revolution’ by Khalid Ali
- ‘The role of the youth’s new protest movements in the January 25th Revolution’ by Yusery Ahmed Ezbawy
- ‘The Mubarak regime’s failed youth policies and the January uprising’ by Youssef Wardany
- ‘The political economy of the Egyptian and Arab revolt’ by Omar S. Dahi
- ‘Accumulative bad governance’ by Sameh Fawzy
- ‘Backstage governance’ by Mariz Tadros
- ‘The January 25th uprisings: through or in spite of civil society?’ by Ayman Abd el Wahab
- ‘Human rights organisations and the Egyptian revolution’ by Mohamed Hussein El Naggar
- ‘The Islamist vs the Islamic in welfare outreach’ by Emad Siam
- ‘The jaded gender and development paradigm of Egypt’ by Hania Sholkamy
- ‘Donors’ responses to Arab uprisings: old medicine in new bottles?’ by Yousry Mustapha
The abstracts of these articles are available online; and each article can be downloaded, in full, as a separate PDF file.
The jaded gender and development paradigm of EgyptInstitute of Development Studies UK, 2011
This article appears in an IDS Bulletin issue entitled, “The Pulse of Egypt’s Revolt”, December 2011, which features the writing of Egyptians involved in both the policy-influencing arena and activism. Focusing specifically on questions of women’s empowerment and gender equity, author Hania Sholkamy considers the implications of the Egyptian revolution to the human development paradigm, as well as its modes of operation and funding. She expresses certainty that the revolution will change the world of development in Egypt in general, and will also have a profound impact on gender justice.
Egyptian women played critical roles in the revolution by taking to the streets, blogging, etc. The significant participation of women stood in stark contrast to the formal politics and development programmes that exclusively focused their interventions on empowering women politically (via parliamentary quotas, etc.).
Following the ouster of the President Mubarak in February 2011, a demonstration to commemorate International Women’s Day (8th March) that had culminated in Tahrir Square was attacked and forced out. Other features of post-Mubarak Egypt include: the scrapping of parliamentary quotas for women, the exclusion of women from the committee that was formed to suggest a roadmap for a transition to a new democratic state and constitution, and the National Council for Women was effectively disbanded – leaving no national mechanism for women.
The author concludes by discussing three adjustments that will necessitate a response and transformation or revision of gender and development work in Egypt:
1. The impact of the revolution on the nature and identity of the future state and the challenge to civil society – The development world relies on civil society, donor funding and international agendas, all of which have been the subject of speculation regarding their role in the revolution and current allegiances. There is still state involvement with bilateral and multilateral donors; however the current situation will make it difficult to create new partners, more progressive or innovative programmes, etc.
2. The overhaul of women’s representation and the situation of national machineries – Among the changes required, women’s groups need to address the distinction between rights and needs.
3. The position of women in a free society – There is already evidence of a paradigm shift: perceptions of the strategic and practical needs and rights of women are becoming either less ‘developmental’ and more political, or increasingly philanthropic and charitable.
To read more about this issue of the IDS Bulletin, visit: http://www.ids.ac.uk/publication/the-pulse-of-egypt-s-revolt1
The relevance of the feminist encuentro for Latin American feminist movementsAssociation for Women's Rights in Development , 2011In the build up to the 2011 12th Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Gathering (EFLAC or Encuentro), AWID’s Friday File interviewed Virgina Vargas about the history of the Encuentros and the importance of reaching beyond a regional focus. The interviews covers a number of themes: the historical relevance of the gathering and its significance for the international feminist movement; Vargas’s personal thoughts on the key achievements of the regions feminist movements (including discussion on the election of a number of female presidents); questions regarding the issue of autonomy versus institutionalisation, and the resulting conflicts that have arisen; the intensification of discussion regarding inclusion and diversity; and finally how Vargas sees the future of the Encuentros.
Vargas believes that Latin American feminisms have been built through the Encuentros, providing a perspective that transcends the national and stimulating the growth of several networks. They have also established key mobilisation dates, such as the November 25th International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women, and September 28th, the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean. In other ways, the gatherings have contributed radically to the broadening of democracy, with many having been born themselves under dictatorships. All LAC countries now have equality laws, as well as the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Punish and Eradicate Violence Against Women.
The learning process regarding the complexity and diversity of the movement was a painful process. Vargas believes that the debate regarding whether the institutionalisation of feminisms necessitated a loss of autonomy has been largely diluted, with a more recent focus on other forms of inclusion and intersections with race, class, sexualities, etc. It had previously been a hot button issue however, beginning in the run up to towards the Beijing conference in 1995, and reaching a peak in the Chile Encuentro of 1996. Disagreement over participation in Beijing, despite real achievements while there including the replacement of a Catholic representative for the region with Vargas herself, led to a polarisation of views in a complex process that many learned from. Issues of intersectionality came to the fore in Brazil in 1985, when trans-feminists wanted to come to the gathering. With no agreement, a vote was held, and they were allowed to attend. Race has also been criticised for its disproportionate absence, with some voicing concern over feminisms that felt too ‘white’.
Vargas voices concern for the mounting difficulties faced by the Encuentros, including increasing costs and complications of travel. One suggestion is for the creation of country-specific and sub-regional Encuentros, creating a dynamic of diverse interactions that could allow for more time between each EFLAC.http://www.awid.org/News-Analysis/Friday-Files/The-Relevance-of-the-Feminist-Encuentro-for-Latin-American-Feminist-Movements
Women in the Arab Spring: new and distinct forms of political participationHeinrich Böll Foundation North America, 2011
This article by Lebanese researcher and writer Dalal al-Bizri reviews the specific details of each country in which Arab Spring revolutions occurred, looking particularly at the female contributions to them. She examines three issues of central concern to this subject: democracy, political Islam and the media.
Before the revolutions, women had little involvement with politics. When the revolutions began, women took to the stage in unprecedented numbers. As one of the guiding principles of these revolutions is the championing of human rights, the author views it as it is only logical that women’s rights should be elevated with them. After the revolutions, however, women were once against excluded from politics, and were also subjected to extreme violence.
al-Bizri sent a questionnaire through Facebook to activists, observers and analysts from Arab countries that were undergoing revolutions. The questions centred around the participation of women in these revolutions and the form this participation took. She devised separate sets of questions for countries whose revolutions had attained their goals: Egypt and Tunisia; and three countries where the revolutions had yet to achieve their aims: Yemen, Libya and Syria.
Among her findings are the the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were very similar in the way they developed: both involved a series of peaceful demonstrations in which the demonstrators were met with live fire. They also unfolded in similar time frames, with each taking roughly a month to achieve their main demand, i.e.: the departure of the president.
Among her concluding remarks, she writes that the battle over the participation of women in politics is a two-sided affair: on one side stands the traditional-religious bloc, on the other the urban-modern-non-religious. As the two sides come into conflict, the impact on women has caused the lines to blur. She suggests that new forms of political participation, distinct from Western models, are needed.
This article first appeared in Kalamon (issue 4, 2011) an Arabic quarterly magazine (published in Lebanon) that provides a free space for articles, essays, studies and literary texts pertaining to the Arab world. Kalamon is produced by the “letter S” organisation, supported by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Middle East Office.http://www.boell.de/democracy/gender/feminism-gender-democracy-women-in-the-arab-spring-new-and-distinct-forms-of-political-participation-13677.html
She-murenga: challenges, opportunities and setbacks of the women’s movement in ZimbabweAfrican Gender Institute, South Africa, 2010
This article discusses the women’s movement in Zimbabwe in the 1980s-90s, describing its context, growth, decline, and exploring lessons learnt. Operating in an increasingly hostile political environment, the Zimbabwean Women’s Movement has worked to change the relationship between women and civil society, as well as women’s relations with the state. This article also demonstrates the ways in which reflection on activism can pose useful questions for the development of new theories.
Amidst the government backlash against recent women’s rights advances in the country, Zimbabwean activists realised how little room state patronage allowed for the advancement of women’s rights, and began mobilising outside the state (although engaging with it); bringing together women from all sectors of Zimbabwe’s divided society around gender interests for the first time. The Women’s Action Group (WAG) was set up in 1983 with a core group of 40-50 Harare-based women. Growing consciousness and a recognition of the continuing injustices faced by women caused WAG to be joined by a plethora of organisations over the next decade; with women of all races working together to challenge patriarchal precepts, including the increasing invocation of tradition to validate discriminatory behaviour. By 1995, there were over 25 registered women’s organisations, which came to constitute a loose network.
As Zimbabwe plunged into socioeconomic upheaval in the latter part of the 1990s, women activists became the targets of state-sponsored violence. They turned to the Constitutional reform process as the ultimate forum for enshrining gender equality in Zimbabwe. During this process, the power of collective organising was recognised and strategically refined, as well as challenged. With two parallel constitutional reform processes underway, there first initiated by civil society and the second by the state, both of which were male-dominated, the Women’s Coalition on the Constitution was created; and after a nation-wide consultation, resulted in a Women’s Charter (1999).
In 2000, the ruling party’s draft constitution was put to a referendum. With the help of the Women’s Coalition, it was defeated. Recognising their potential to bring women together across political divides, the coalition supported the election of women candidates into parliament. This resulted in increased threats and violence, especially state-sponsored, against female activists and candidates; and the fracturing of the Coalition due to the inadequate capacity of its constituent organisations. Among the many reflections contained in this article, the author questions the wisdom of fixating solely on rights and legal reform.