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Volume Two -> F. Feminist Movements and Protests -> F.3. The Global Women's Movement: 1970s-2000s

Western feminism had some impact on women in other parts of the world, even though the western feminist agendas (and the style of protest and rhetoric) often had little relevance to the most pressing problems of women in very different social circumstances.

Western feminist scholars could also be criticized for misunderstanding feminist struggle in other continents and cultures: see for example: Oyewumi, Oyeronke , African Women and Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood Trenton NJ , Africa World Press, , 2004, pp. 282 .

The strength of feminist groups around the world has varied considerably, depending on the political context, the social, cultural and religious obstacles they had to overcome, and how far there was an earlier history of women’s political activism, although feminism could emerge in very repressive contexts, as in Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1970s. In Latin America there were lively women’s movements in the 1970s and Latin American and Caribbean feminists began to meet regularly at a regional level in 1981. In China feminist protest is constrained by lack of political freedom; in India women do have democratic freedoms and have been campaigning on women’s issues for decades, but as the brutal gang rape and murder of a woman student in Delhi in December 2012, and also the ‘dowry deaths’ of young brides, have illustrated, women in India are threatened by alarming levels of public and sometimes family violence. The position of women in the Middle East has been mixed; women were often prominent in the 2011 Arab uprisings, but also vulnerable to public violence, as in Egypt. In conservative monarchical Saudi Arabia women taking part in a campaign of driving cars on 22 May 2012 were committing an act of civil disobedience; but (after several women challenged their lack of a vote) the King decided in September 2011 to allow women to vote and to stand in municipal elections.

Local and national campaigns have often gained publicity and support from transnational feminist organizations and networks created since the 1980s. These bodies often lobby at the level of the UN and issue policy documents, but many also offer solidarity through transnational conferences, training institutes, research resources, spreading news, issuing action alerts, supporting demonstrations or offering practical help. They also often cooperate with other transnational feminist organizations. For more information and details of current action by a few of these organizations with varied agendas, see:

  • DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) founded in 1984 to assess crises faced by women and impact of neoliberalism: http://www.dawnnet.org
  • SIGI (Sisterhood Is Global Institute) created in 1984 as ‘the first international feminist think tank’: https://sigi.org
  • WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development Organization) campaigning for ‘a just world, human rights, gender equality and the integrity of the environment’, which supported People’s Climate Change March September 2014 in New York: http://www.wedo.org
  • WLUML (Women Living Under Muslims Laws) is ‘an international solidarity network with groups in about 40 countries and reaching over 110 countries that provides information, support and a collective space’ for women seeking their rights and challenging repressive interpretations of Islam. Their website, available in Arabic, French and English, is: http://www.wluml.org/

A recent feminist declaration which has reached a global audience is by the admired Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, author of Half of a Yellow Sun, who debunks stereotypes about feminists and argues feminism is relevant to all women:

  • Adiche, Chimamanda Ngozi, We Should All Be Feminists Fourth Estate, , 2014, pp. 64 . Adapted from her 2013 Tedx talk available on You Tube, and also used in a recording by Beyonce.
Blain, Keisha, Set the World On Fire. Black Nationalist Women And The Global Struggle For Freedom, Philadelphia, Philadelphia University Press, 2019, pp. 264

Blain traces the vital role women played in shaping Black nationalist politics between the 1920s and 1960s. It is addressed to anyone wanting to better understand the history of race, empire, and imperialism in the twentieth century.

See also https://www.aaihs.org/feminism-gender-politics-and-black-nationalist-women/; https://africanarguments.org/2017/03/08/how-african-feminism-changed-the-world/;

https://iycoalition.org/what-is-african-feminism-an-introduction/; https://thedailyaztec.com/90741/opinion/african-feminism-is-on-the-rise/ and https://www.msafropolitan.com/2017/12/what-is-african-feminism-actually.html

Gadis, Arivia ; Subono, Nur Iman, A Hundred Years of Feminism in Indonesia, Jakarta, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2017, pp. 27

Examines the long history of feminism in Indonesia, and how it has contributed to the discourse of equality. This study shows that Third World feminism stems from its own ideals and cultures, while being frequently accused of acting as a proponent of western ideology or adopted from Western cultures. 

See also https://www.rappler.com/world/regions/asia-pacific/indonesia/bahasa/englishedition/171774-indonesian-muslim-women-feminism

Ahmed, Leila, Feminism and Feminist Movements in the Middle East: a Preliminary Exploration, Women' Studies International Forum, Vol. 5, 1982, pp. 153-168

Ahmed, Leila, A Quiet Revolution, Newhaven CT, Yale University Press, 2012, pp. 360

Discusses reasons for the resurgence of veil-wearing among Muslim women, and the social and political implications. Argues (contrary to author’s own earlier position) that Islamists rather than secularists often prominent in struggle for social justice and women’s rights.

Al-Sharmani, Mulki, Feminist Activism, Women’s Rights and Legal Reform, London, Zed Books, 2013, pp. 200

Explores both attempts at legal reform and those reforms achieved in Islamic countries (Palestine, Yemen, Iran and Egypt) and problems of implementing reform, for example the domestic violence law in Ghana.

Alpizar, Lydia ; Duran, Anahi ; Garrido, Anali Russo, Building Feminist Movements: Global Perspectives, London, Zed Books, 2006, pp. 288

The chapters cover a wide range of countries and issues, including: The Korean Women’s Trade Union, the feminist movement in Indonesia, the Algerian ‘Twenty Years is Enough’ campaign, widening the base of the feminist movement in Pakistan, advocacy of women’s rights in Nigeria, re-politicizing feminist activity in Argentina, new modes of organizing in Mexico, and two chapters on Israel, one on an Arab women’s organization.

Alvarez, Sonia E., Advocating Feminism: The Latin American Feminist NGO “Boom”, International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 2, issue 1, 1999, pp. 181-209

Basu, Amrita, The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective, Boulder CO, Westview Press, 1995, pp. 510

Worldwide overview, but with especial focus on postcolonial states in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Chang, Doris, Women’s Movements in Twentieth Century Taiwan, Champaign IL, University of Illinois Press, 2009, pp. 248

Discusses mixed fortunes of women’s movement in changing political contexts, and how Taiwanese women made selective use of western feminist theory.

Chaudhuri, Maitrayee, Feminism in India, London, Zed Books, 2005, pp. 416

Collection of essays by academics and activists on condition of women in colonial and independent India, and the challenges to Indian feminism from globalization and the Hindu Right. Indicates a vigorous if uneven women’s movement over several decades.

Fiedler, Rachel Nyagondwe ; Hofmeyr, Johannes Wynand, The Conception of Concerned African Women Theologians: Is it African or Western?, Acta Theologica, Vol. 31, issue 1, 2011, pp. 39-57

Discusses origins in 1988 of an Africa-wide group that promotes theological debates between Christians, Muslims, Jews and adherents of African religions, gives African women a voice through numerous publications and has focused on social issues such as the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. For background and current information: http://thecirclecawt.com/index.html.

Loonba, Ania ; Lukose, Ritty A., South Asian Feminisms, Durham NC, Duke University Press, 2012, pp. 432

Building on 40 years of activism and scholarship, contributors assess recent feminist issues and campaigns in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Lynn, Stephen, Women and Social Movements in Latin America: Power from Below, Austin TX, University of Texas Press, 1997, pp. 352

Covers six cases of grassroots activism in Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil and Chile, which use interviews with activists and provide histories of organizations and movements involved. The activists are concerned with economic and health issues, but also stress problems relating to contraception and abortion, rape and domestic violence.

Moghadam, Valentine, Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Networks, Baltimore MD, John Hopkins University Press, 2005, pp. 272

Explores pressures of globalization on women and reactions against it and rise of transnational networks, such as DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), WEDO (Women’s Economic and Development Organization), SIGI (Sisterhood is Global Institute) and WLUML (Women Living Under Muslim Laws).

Molyneux, Maxine, Mobilization without Emancipation? Women’s Interests, the State and Revolution in Nicaragua, Feminist Studies, Vol. 11, issue 2, 1985, pp. 227-252

Morgan, Robin, Sisterhood is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, [1984], New York, City University of New York Feminist Press, 1996, pp. 821

Anthology of essays and documents from women in 70 countries round the world, especially the Global South. Authors are a mix of well known and less well known grass roots activists, politicians and scholars. A global strategy meeting organized to mark publication in 1984 led to the creation of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute (SIGI).

Naples, Nancy A. ; Desai, Manisha, Women’s Activism and Globalization: Linking Local Struggles and Transnational Politics, London and New York, Routledge, 2002, pp. 352

Focuses on women’s inequalities in rural and urban areas, and considers forms of organization and solidarity across borders. Includes a study of women activists in Mali.

Pietila, Hikka ; Vickers, Jeanne, Making Women Matter: The Role of the United Nations, (3rd edition), London, Zed Books, 1996, pp. 224

Assesses critically UN attempts to improve the position of women over half a century.

Salime, Zakia, Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco, Minneapolis MN, University of Minnesota Press, 2011, pp. 248

Study of both feminist and Islamist organizations in Morocco showing how two have influenced each other’s agendas through decades of activism.

Sternbach, Nancy Saporta ; Navarro-Aranguren, Marysa ; Chuchryk, Patricia ; Alvarez, Sonia E., Feminisms in Latin America: From Bogota to San Bernado, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Vol. 17, issue 2, 1992, pp. 393-434

Stienstra, Deborah, Making Global Connections Among Women, In Cohen; Rai, Global Social Movements (A. 6. Nonviolent Action and Social Movements), London, Athlone Press, pp. 62-82

Discusses the significance of UN Conferences on Women and the role of both established and newly created women’s organizations in relation to them and the wider movement.

Tripp, Aili Mari, African Women’s Movements: Transforming Political Landscapes, Changing Political Landscapes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2009, pp. 280

Focuses on Cameroon, Uganda and Mozambique within wider African context.

Woodward, Alison E. ; Bonvin, Jean-Michel ; Renom, Merce, Transforming Gendered Well-Being in Europe, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2011, pp. 308

Primarily examines role of women activists. Part I includes some historical studies from 18th and 19th centuries. But Part II covers period from 1970s -2000s in Netherlands and Poland and examines claims and projects of European movement. Part III examines how women’s movements have embraced global issues and role of minority groups within Europe.

Websites recommended

(New) Feminism Inshallah: A History of Arab Feminism, Film - https://www.wmm.com/catalog/film/feminism-inshallah-a-history-of-arab-feminism/ 2014,

Muslim women’s struggle for emancipation is often portrayed as a showdown between Western and Islamic values, but Arab feminism has existed for more than a century. This documentary recounts Arab feminism’s largely unknown story, from its taboo-shattering birth in Egypt by feminist pioneers to viral Internet campaigns by today’s tech-savvy young activists during the Arab Spring. From Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, filmmaker and author Ben Mahmoud charts the progress of Arab women in their long march to assert their full rights and achieve empowerment. Features previously unreleased archival footage and multigenerational interviews.

Some brave individuals and movements challenging profound inequalities have caught the attention of mainstream or leftist media and feminists, and therefore have been written about in English. Some accounts are very brief. New Internationalist has published several short accounts of women activists: for example: Mathews, Dylan , Interview with The Rescue Foundation: Liberating Sex Slaves in India New Internationalist, 2006, pp. 33-33 ; New Internationalist, Durga Sob: Nepal’s trailblazing Dalit feminist New Internationalist, 2010, pp. 33-32 ; ‘Making Waves: Interview with Rosi Orozco.on the Fight against Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Mexico’ by President of the Special Commission in the Combat of Sexual Trafficking (November 2011, p. 56 - not online); ‘Interview with Khanim Latif’, Iraqi feminist campaigner and director of Kurdistan-based women’s rights organization Asuda (December 2012, p. 42 - not online) A few book length studies are listed below.

Brodsky, Anne E., With All Our Strength: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, London, Routledge, 2004, pp. 336

Account of feminist organization founded in 1977, which uses literacy classes, underground papers and pamphlets and demonstrations, based on more than 100 interviews with key activists by author, a US feminist scholar. The founder of the Association, who left university in Kabul to struggle for women’s rights, was assassinated in 1987.

Fontanella-Khan, Amana, Pink Sari Revolution: A Tale of Women and Power in India, Oxford, W.W. Norton and One World Publications, 2013, pp. 304

Describes Sampat Pal and the now 20,000 strong Pink Gang she founded, which uses ‘social power’ to defend individual women treated unjustly and to challenge misogyny in general, The women carry sticks and sometimes attack corrupt politicians and policemen. See also: Pal, Sampan ; Berthod, Anne , Warrior in a Pink Sari New Delhi, Zubaan Books, , 2012, pp. 220

Joya, Malalai, Raising My Voice: Story of the Afghan Woman Who Spoke Out, London, Rider, 2010, pp. 288

Explores life of young woman who secretly ran schools for girls in Herat during Taliban rule, was elected to the Afghan parliament in 2005 at the age of 23, but was thrown out of it for raising women’s issues, and who had by 2009 already survived five assassination attempts. When she visited Britain in 2009, where she opposed NATO involvement in Afghanistan, the Independent ran a long interview with her:  Hari, Johann , Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced The Independent, 28/07/2009, pp. 1-5 .

Mam, Somaly, The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, New York, Random House Circle, 2009, pp. 224

Memoir by a Cambodian activist against sexual slavery, whose organizations have tried to rescue, shelter and teach girls and women escaping from sexual exploitation in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and more generally. She received high level international support, but the credibility of her claims to have been sent to a brothel as a child, and of her most lurid examples of abuse in the sex industry, was challenged in a Newsweek report, 21 May 2014. An interview and report in Marie Claire 16 September 2014 in turn queried some of the allegations and interpretations of the Newsweek story. Mam is still involved in campaigning and fund raising, but controversy continues about her role, management of her campaigns, and the extent of exploitation in the sex industry.

Yousafzai, Malala ; Lamb, Christine, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, London, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2013, pp. 288

The schoolgirl Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 tells her story.