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.
Multiple targets, mixing strategies: complicating feminist analysis of contemporary South African women’s movementsAfrican Gender Institute, South Africa, 2010According to this article, multiple shifts have occurred in women’s struggles in South Africa, causing them to invent multiple and innovative strategies and spaces of engagement, as well as enter into new alliances with other gendered movements to effect gender justice. Most of the issues raised by the author form a dialogue with Shireen Hassim’s analysis of the post-apartheid women’s movement, distinguishes between inclusionary and transformational feminist strategies. Salo argues that Hassim’s conceptualisation wrongly relies upon the assumption that women’s or feminist activism can only be categorised in terms of a binary opposition; and fails to take into account the complex and multiple terrains of gendered struggles, as well as the diversity of gendered movements in present-day post-apartheid South Africa. In Salo’s estimation, this diversity and the complex levels at which these activists operate necessitate both inclusionary and transformational strategies.
This article refers to three women’s movements – the Reproductive Rights Alliance (RRA), the New Women’s Movement, and the rise of gender consciousness within the anti-eviction campaign – to illustrate how both inclusionary and transformative strategies can effect change. South Africa’s deepening divide between rich and poor is reflected in the fragmentary, diverse nature of the South African women’s movement today. The state’s ability to realise citizen’s economic rights is still being questioned, primarily because the new neoliberal economic framework has reconfigured a number of citizen’s rights (to water, healthcare, education, housing, etc.) primarily as consumer services. This economic exclusion has had especially corrosive effects on poor women.
Salo predicts that women’s shared gendered experiences of socioeconomic exclusion will impel them to engage more with social movements that seek socioeconomic justice, such as the anti-privatisation campaign. As poor black South African women share more common ground with poor women in other countries than better-off South African sisters (black or white), she suggests that feminist conceptualisations and analysis of women’s movements extend beyond national boundaries, encompass the emerging social movements and organisations which use multiple strategies, and act in alliance with other multinational bodies.
Against all odds: the women’s movement in the Islamic Republic of IranPalgrave Macmillan, 2009
This paper charts the history of the women’s movement in Iran, outlining its evolving organisational structure, the challenges women face from the state and wider society, and the successes that have been achieved. It begins with an introduction describing how immediately after the popular overthrow of the Reza Shah Pahlavi, the incoming Islamic regime enacted a number of highly discriminatory reforms, setting back women’s meagre gains by 75 years. Women’s lives became officially worth half that of a men’s in the eyes of the law; a particularly
misogynistic family law was introduced, and women were banned from becoming judges.
In this context, the women’s movement formed in a highly decentralised manner, adopting a varied and multi-pronged strategy with no clear hierarchy. The horizontal nature of the movement allowed for great flexibility - it was largely insulated against the arrest of women leaders by the state.
From 1997 - 2005, the women's movement began to make gains, having played a significant part in the election of liberal candidate, Khatami. Public space became more open for women, allowing for dialogue between women from different religious and socio-economic backgrounds to expand, and the forging of contacts with the global women's movement (who would prove useful allies in providing international awareness of later crackdowns on the movement). The lack of progress on legal reform frustrated many activists, with most liberal parties regarding the fight for democracy as the top priority.
The movement was given a significant boost in 2003 when Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and long-time rights advocate, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Re-energised, a rally was arranged in 2005 in which a diverse group of some five-thousand women managed to gather and show unity. The momentum failed to achieve reform however, leading many women to boycott the coming election, which was won by a highly conservative candidate. The re-imposition of restrictive laws, such as an Islamic dress code, had the effect of politicising many young women.
The paper concludes by examining the debate between issue-based advocacy and those arguing that only full reform, or regime change, can hope to achieve success. It also highlights further acts of protest and repression, such as break-ins to sporting events to challenge the ban on female attendance.
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The piquetera/o movement of ArgentinaAssociation for Women's Rights in Development , 2008Argentina’s Piquetero/a Movement originates from the unemployed worker protests, usually blocking highways and roads, during the 1990s financial crisis. The women of the movement, played a variety of crucial roles. The Piquetero/a Movement reached its height during the crisis of 2001 and 2002. Although it is no longer a key actor in current social struggles, its methods have served as a milestone in the tradition of struggle of the working class and other social movements in the country.
This article describes Piquetero/a Movement’s phases of development, beginning with the revolts of unpaid government employees against corrupt politicians and neo-liberal policies. Privatisation of national industry and rising unemployment further fueled the movement. Increasingly, family members and other supporters joined the pickets. Although women were the majority of those who put their bodies on the line in the blockades and mobilisations, they had extremely low visibility; the recognised leaders were mainly male.
The second phase of the movement was characterised by the shift from the spontaneity of the first, becoming a collection of organisations associated with leftist formations and political parties. During this time, the women began organising on their own and demanding more representation in the wider movement. They also started participating in National Women’s Encounters, and organising mechanisms to combat domestic violence in their communities.
Through repression, then cooptation, the government was able to fracture and demobilise the Piquetero/a Movement. Yet, for thousands of Argentine women, the movement marked their entry into public, political life, and the transformation of their everyday domestic lives.
The demobilization of women’s movements: the case of PalestineAssociation for Women's Rights in Development , 2008Like women’s movements worldwide, Palestinian women’s movements have been faced with both old agendas of mobilisation and liberation, and new ones concerning women’s equality and empowerment. The Palestinian context is extraordinary because the state and society are threatened in their very physical existence by a military occupation. Palestinian state structures have been ill-equipped and unable to assist in the organisation of people’s resistance and women’s movements.
This article explores the inter-relationships and terms of engagement between two different types of Palestinian women’s organisations: a mass-based women’s movement and a newly emergent NGO sector. The author argues for the role of mobilisation in bringing about collective action through which women have been able to gain power and articulate their different gender needs and interests.
The old feminist discourse did not rest on the application of universal agendas for promoting women’s rights and empowerment. Rather, the Palestinian Federation of Women’s Action Committees (PFWAC) expanded its membership as a result of hard work and daily contacts with women whose concerns informed the agenda for women’s empowerment.
The role of NGOs in the West Bank and Gaza shifted under the influence of the state-building process initiated in 1991. The author argues that the dual dynamics of state building and ‘NGOisation’ led to the demobilisation of all social movements – as the limited life cycle of projects induced fragmentation rather than sustainable networking. This study shows how the NGOisation process have shifted power relations from “power to” women in the grassroots, to “power over” them by the new elite. Furthermore, the author finds that women’s NGOs might have inadvertently acted to disempower and de-legitimise civil society and secular actors and their movements through the new discourses they brought to the public sphere (in relative isolation from the overall social, economic and political context).
Representation and reality: portraits of women's lives in the Western Cape 1948-1976Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa, 2007Apartheid’s most fierce attack on the lives of African women was conducted in the Western Cape. This book presents an unusual and regional perspective on the political history of South African women during the period 1948 to 1976.
By drawing on personal narratives, the author examines how social and political processes shaped the lives of women from all political inclinations, and in turn, how these women shaped the organisations and movements that they belonged to. This book provides a nuanced insight into how issues of identity, race, class and culture intersected with politics in their lives.http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/downloadpdf.php?pdffile=files%2FPDF%2F2194%2F000%20-%20Representation_and_Reality%7E313200795806AM.pdf&downloadfilename=Representation%20%26%20Reality%20-%20Representation%20%26%20Reality%20-%20Entire%20eBook
Positioning in global feminist critical collaboration: self-reflexive talk among Manila-based feministsIsis International, Phillipines, 2006This Isis International-Manila paper contributes to the global feminist self-reflexive process to revitalise feminist politics, strategies for inter-movement collaboration, institutional engagements, and organisational ethics. In a series of discussions among Manila-based regional and international feminists, positioning theory was used to analyse discursively-constructed feminist practice. The idea for this paper, and the decision to use positioning theory, emerged during the first round-table feminist discussion held in Manila (2006) in preparation for the Third Feminist Dialogues.
Positioning theory addresses how individuals or groups position each-other within social interactions, and how these positions, fluid across and within interactions though they may be, consequently limit what they say or do in certain social situations. Following textual analysis and a process of determining consensus, the authors determined that there were five dominant “storylines” that emerged from the discussions: A broader analysis of power - issues raised at the second meeting critiquing that limiting one's view regarding critical collaboration to established institutions was reductionist, and ignored the power of non-institutional entities. This storyline positions feminists as having a right to engage in poststructuralist analysis of power, and a duty to avoid reductionism.
Non-unified global feminist movements - examining the nature of the global feminist movement itself, this storyline focused the multiplicity and diversity within the movement. Commitment to contradictions and contextualised moments - participants noted that on many issues, such as prostitution, feminists will have to learn to accept each-other's right to a diversity of opinions, and the fact that agreement will not always be met. To do otherwise is regarded as masculine politics. Commitment to temporal agreements and short-term agenda - again coming from a position of asserting the right to diversity, the strategy of short-term collaboration on specific agendas was suggested, as part of a perceived duty to bridge differences in a way that can progress the wider movement. Commitment to bottom lines - balancing the prior emphasis on difference, the final storyline is most comfortable with stability, centered on ideas of long-term commitment and shared values. This storyline positions feminists as having a duty to agree a bottom line stand-point that all must adhere to, particularly in critical collaboration with the State. The overall tone of the discussion involved a move away from stability and towards a more fluid notion of feminist strategies. The researchers found positioning theory to be a useful methodological tool for analysis, particularly because the content of the discussion centres around moves towards multiplicity and flexibility within critical collaborations.
Freedom for women: mainstreaming gender in the South African liberation struggle and beyondOxfam, 2005
This article traces the recent history of the women's movement in South Africa and how it struggled to include non-sexism alongside non-racism and democracy as key liberation principles and how post-apartheid politics continued to act as a barrier. Men in both the unions and the African National Congress (ANC), who, despite ostensibly acknowledging the cause, were not ready to change their own behaviours, nor give up their power. The article introduces the context of the struggle against what it calls 'capitalist apartheid', before narrating the history of the movement up-to the post-apartheid era.
Required by the male leaders of the liberation movement to increase numbers (particularly important for securing union vote majorities), women mobilised in numbers, with many pursuing an additional agenda: the pursuit of freedom from oppressive gender relations. This sudden representation brought forth issues such as childcare, the sexist attitudes of fellow workers, and sexual harassment and rape. In 1983 women addressed these issues at the Federation of South African Trade Unions for the first time, winning support from some men but meeting with resistance from many others. One man explained it is unacceptable for men to look after children because, “it is tradition among our people”.
In communities and political organisation, women were also able to change the nature of the debate, campaigning on issues around rent, water, childcare and rape and violence against women. In 1987, regional women's groups came together as the United Democratic Front Women's Congress and, alongside the Women's Section of the ANC, met in Amsterdam in 1990, calling for men to share household work and childcare so that women may have equal access to political participation.
Resistance came in the form attempts to sideline women's organisation from within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). In 1998, the male leadership subverted an attempt to form a national women's structure within COSATU under the premise that it would undermine regional women's groups. Also, despite constant campaigning, it wasn't until 1996 that COSATU adopted a policy against sexual harassment. Women were significantly under-represented in the ANC, making up just 18% of the National Executive Committee in 1990, when the issue was raised at the ANC Consultative Conference by the ANC Women's League (ANCWL). This led to an agreement in principle to consider affirmative actions. However, the ANCWL proposal of the following years conference, that 30% of positions be filled by women, was rejected; lack of leadership potential and a need to prove themselves being among the excuses proffered.
Following the lifting of the ban on the ANC, and the beginning of the transition to democracy, women's organisations were demobilised. Realising the importance of influencing the writing of the constitution, the ANCWL leaders initiated the Women's National Coalition, bringing together some 60 organisations. Together they managed to play a significant role, winning national machinery to advance gender equality, such as an Office on the Status of Women, and supporting a large proportion of women parliamentarians following the 1994 elections. Unfortunately, the technical language and rules of state institutions have curtailed and limited advances, particularly in the area of economic policy and land reform, which suffer from a lack of mobilisation such as that seen for violence against women.http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/freedom-for-women-mainstreaming-gender-in-the-south-african-liberation-struggle-131580
Women, political parties and social movements in South AsiaUnited Nations [UN] Research Institute for Social Development , 2005
This UNRISD occasional paper - addressing issues regarding women, parties and movements in South Asia - was written for the preparation of the report, ‘Gender equality: striving for justice in an unequal world’. In this paper, the author explores two sets of relationships: those between women and political parties, and those between political parties and social movements that organise women. Case studies of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and particularly India are included.
The introduction looks at possible explanations for the lack of scholarly work on the relationship between women and parties and between parties and movements. One reason could be that the parties have not been very successful in organising women; most political parties are male dominated and neglect women and women’s interests. The main issues presented in this paper are then discussed:
1. the major determinants of the success of political parties in recruiting, retaining and promoting women;
2. the strategies that parties adopt to gain women’s support during elections; 3. the relationship between women’s leadership and women’s representation in political parties; and
4. the relationships between political parties and social movements.
After the introduction, there a section entitled ‘South Asian diversities’, which highlights certain aspects that are important to consider when comparing women’s political participation in South Asian countries. For example, while there are some common prejudices within the region about women’s relationship to politics, there are very important differences in their experiences of nationalism.
Following the case studies, the author reaches a number of conclusions, including:
- Even when parties have neglected women’s interests, they have profited from employing gendered imagery, drawing on women’s votes and using women in electioneering.
- There are important ideological differences among political parties. For example, leftist parties are more apt to address questions of gender inequality, but not necessarily to have better representation of women in leadership positions.
- Nationalist parties have been especially effective in mobilising support through gendered appeals. Although the actual number of women involved is often low, their symbolic presence has enormous significance.
- The primary obstacle that confronts any serious attempt to challenge gender inequality through the party system is that parties draw on women’s participation as individuals, not as members of a group that has suffered discrimination.
This document includes French and Spanish translations of the summary.http://www.unrisd.org/unrisd/website/document.nsf/(httpPublications)/DDF5A87BDDD4A620C125706C0048EFB3?OpenDocument