Introduction: Rethinking Knowledge, Power, and Social Change
Abstract and Keywords
The introduction is divided into six sections and provides an overview of the Handbook’s central themes. The first section describes the genesis of and background to the making of the Handbook. The second section situates transnational feminist movements, discussing definitions and genealogies, feminist theory and praxis, and the current context in which the Handbook is positioned. The third section examines transnational feminist movements at the global, institutional and “glocal” levels, highlighting the many strategies of transnational feminist engagement through knowledge creation, advocacy, networking and alliancebuilding. The fourth section reveals some of the diverse standpoints, tensions and fragmentations within transnational feminist movements that are explored in the Handbook. The fifth section considers whether and how transnational feminist movements have transformed patriarchy, looking at the role of men and moving beyond gender binaries. The concluding section synthesizes the strategies proposed by the contributors and editors for the future.
Keywords: advocacy, alliancebuilding, feminist norm entrepreneur, feminist theory and praxis, femocrat, genealogy, global, glocal, institution, knowledge creation, patriarchy, social transformation, transnational feminist movements, United Nations
While attending a Latin American feminist conference in Buenos Aires in 2010, we were struck by the speakers’ and participants’ depth of knowledge of feminist history and the contributions to development policy and praxis being expressed. The thematic panels comprised feminist philosophers and researchers, “femocrats” (feminist bureaucrats) based in governmental and intergovernmental agencies, and activists from feminist organizations and networks, speaking from diverse standpoints. We observed that the profound contribution transnational feminist movements have made to the international development discourse is often not recognized.
We began to discuss the idea of putting together a publication that would record the wealth of histories and narratives of transnational feminist movements and reflect critically on their global contribution to development knowledge, policy and social change. As we put our plan into action, we recognized that our individual networks were both overlapping and different, reflecting our Southern and Northern origins and moorings and our personal histories of involvement in feminist movements, knowledge production, policy and praxis since the mid-1980s. We have worked in national feminist organizations, regional and global feminist networks, academia and the secretariats of international development policy institutions.
We decided to publish this collection in 2015, the forty-year anniversary of the United Nations International Women’s Year, the thirtieth anniversary of the Third World Conference in Nairobi, the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the fifteenth anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on “women, peace and security.” The United Nations has provided important spaces for the diverse positioning of transnational feminist movements. Looking back, it (p. 2) may now seem that feminists’ expectations of what could be achieved through these events were somewhat naive, as becomes evident in the reflections of various contributors. But the UN world conferences on women (1975–1995) and the global conferences of the 1990s allowed feminists from far-flung corners of the South and North to meet and debate face-to-face, and to articulate an expanding global vision of women’s rights and gender equality that takes diversity into account. These global conferences enabled transnational feminist movements to emerge as a force, both within and outside the UN global governance institutions, in ways that continue to inform feminist organizing forty years later. We hoped that the Handbook could provide a vehicle for critical reflection on both how much has been achieved and what more needs to be done.
The collection is an exercise in feminist epistemology and ontology—analysis by doing—tracing and mapping the contributions of transnational feminist movements in specific contexts. The analysis comes from the ground up, reflecting the feminist commitment to self-awareness and reflexivity, generating new knowledge, building organizations and movements, and transforming society and the world, with all the individual and collective emotion and passion this implies. The richness of the collection comes from the feminist methodology of grappling with how the “private” is connected to the “public” (as reflected in feminist slogans such as “the personal is political,” “women’s rights as human rights,” and “democracy in the country and in the home”), and how individual and collective experience, knowledge and action lead to changes in policy, institutions and peoples’ lives (“sisterhood is global” and “think globally, act locally”).
The thirty-five chapters in this volume reflect the contributors’ critical analysis of their engagement in transnational feminist movements in ten thematic areas: knowledge, theory and praxis; organizing for change; body politics, health and wellbeing; human rights and human security; economic and social justice; citizenship and statebuilding; militarism and religious fundamentalisms; peace movements, UNSCR 1325 and postconflict rebuilding; feminist political ecology; and digital-age transformations and future trajectories. The contributors speak from a broad platform of individual and institutional locations in the global South and North: feminist organizations and networks at all levels (local, national, regional, global and “glocal”1); wider civil society organizations and networks; governmental and multilateral agencies; and academic and research institutions, among others.
The contributors elaborate a complex array of feminist theories and practices, critically analyzing both the successes achieved and challenges faced by transnational feminist movements in different contexts. It is important to underline that the Handbook aims not to close but to open up questions about different experiences and types of knowledge.
We pose a number of questions and reflect candidly on what we have learned about transnational feminist movements. What do we understand about their contribution to knowledge, power and social change globally over the past half century? What are (p. 3) the different spaces from which transnational feminisms have operated and in what ways? To what extent have they destabilized or transformed the global hegemonic systems that constitute patriarchy? We also explore the tensions with which these movements grapple, politically and organizationally, and synthesize some ideas for the way forward.
Like the contributors, we are acutely conscious that while transnational feminist movements have contributed to transforming inequalities between men and women, there are continuing and increasing gender differentials within and across countries in both the global South and North. Women still have unequal access to fundamental human rights, such as food and shelter. Their bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive rights are deeply contested. Women in both the South and North perform the lion’s share of care and social reproduction, are segregated into low-paying occupations, and earn less than men for work of equal value. They have unequal access to and control over economic resources, such as land, property and credit. Gender gaps are evident in such areas as health, education, employment, poverty, entrepreneurship, decision-making, and the impact of environmental degradation. Violence against women in its many manifestations continues in epidemic proportions in the global South and North.
As these examples of gender differentials indicate, women’s rights and gender equality are the core concerns of transnational feminist movements and are linked in complex ways to wider global, regional, national, local and glocal struggles for social transformation. The chapters examine transnational feminist movements’ challenge to hegemonic discourses and systems that have oppressed huge numbers of women and men because of their gender, geographic location, race, ethnicity, indigeneity, class, caste, religion, age, ability and sexuality, among other reasons. Specific chapters explore the contributions of transnational feminist movements to the unraveling of old political orders, during conflicts and crises, and to new forms of organizing in the continuing search for just, equitable, inclusive, democratic and peaceful societies. The strength of the Handbook is that while it chronicles what has been achieved, it also provides a framework for analyzing what has happened and what still needs to be changed.
This introduction can only offer a partial sense of the richness of the collection. It has frankly been difficult for us to summarize all that these remarkable narratives say about the contribution of transnational feminist movements to knowledge, power, and social change. In what follows, we synthesize several major aspects of the Handbook. These include definitions and genealogies, theory and praxis, and the current context in which transnational feminist movements are situated; their different levels of engagement at the global, institutional and glocal levels, including in knowledge creation, advocacy, networking and alliancebuilding; the tensions, fragmentations and diverse standpoints within transnational feminist movements; and whether and how they have transformed patriarchy, looking at the role of men and moving beyond gender binaries. We conclude by looking forward, synthesizing the strategies for the future proposed by contributors. (p. 4)
Situating Transnational Feminist Movements
The contributors to this volume explore their own understandings of transnational feminist movements, presenting the complexities and nuances of the historical, political, economic and social contexts in which transnational feminist movements have emerged and evolved. Given the diverse locations, interests and perspectives of the contributors, several understandings of transnational feminist movements are discussed.
Transnational feminist movements are understood as the fluid coalescence of organizations, networks, coalitions, campaigns, analysis, advocacy and actions that politicize women’s rights and gender equality issues beyond the nation-state, particularly from the 1990s, when deepening globalization and new communications and information technologies (ICTs) enabled feminists to connect readily with and interrogate their localities and cross-border relations. The Handbook critically explores the historical, political, economic and social contexts in which transnational feminist movements have emerged and evolved. Several definitions of transnational feminist movements are considered and debated.
Transnational feminist movements operate on many levels: the intergovernmental policy level that is linked to the UN world conferences on women (1975–1995) and the global conferences of the 1990s and their follow-up processes; networking within and across national, regional and international borders in support of specific grassroots struggles to achieve feminist goals; and intersectional networking and movement building with other global movements that are organizing for human rights and political and economic transformation. These movements are made up of actors working across local and global contexts who are generally committed to shared values and solidarity across differences, developing a common discourse through dialogue and action, and changing the structural inequalities and the deepening impact of globalization on gender, class, race and ethnic relations. The Handbook highlights the contributions transnational feminist movements are making in a multiplicity of spaces: intergovernmental and governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, communities, and academe, and in change processes in such areas as human rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, citizenship struggles, social justice, religious fundamentalisms, gender-based violence, land and environmental struggles, peace and antimilitarism, and feminist economics.
Moghadam (see chapter 2) points to the long history of women’s rights activism and the different definitions and types of women’s movements, noting that in some countries or historical periods, women’s rights groups may “eschew the label feminist…. because it is associated with Western culture, suggests an antimale stance or is politically unwise.” Moghadam contends that while there are different frames, priorities and strategies, there are many “similarities…. in the ways women’s rights activists frame their grievances and demands, form networks and organizations and engage with state and governmental institutions.” (p. 5)
In an earlier work, Moghadam (2005) defined “transnational feminist networks” as “mobilizations that advocate for women’s participation and rights while also engaging critically with policy and legal issues and with states, international organizations, and institutions of global governance.” In her chapter in the Handbook, she states that “a transnational feminist network brings together women from three or more countries around a specific set of grievances and goals, such as women’s human rights, health or economic justice. Fluid and nonhierarchical structures that span local and global spaces, such networks are connected to globalization processes and engage extensively in cyberactivism.” She categorizes four types of contemporary transnational feminist networks: “those that target the neoliberal economic policy agenda; those that focus on the danger of fundamentalisms and insist on women’s human rights, especially in the Muslim world; women’s peace groups that target conflict, war, and empire; and networks engaged in feminist humanitarianism and international solidarity.” The Handbook explores examples of all four types, and adds others, such as body politics, citizenship and state-building, political ecology, and digital-age transformation2.
The chapters draw on a long tradition of theorizing on transnational feminist movements. Moghadam refers to several sets of writing that define different types and forms of women’s mobilizations. Beckwith (2000); Ferree and Hess (1995); Ferree and Mueller (2003); and Sperling, Ferree, and Risman (2001) define feminist movements as a subset of broader women’s movements. They view movements as being “feminist” when the participants explicitly challenge patriarchy and gender inequality, and seek to reverse the gender hierarchy and improve women’s social, economic and political status.
Moghadam points to another set of literature that defines feminist mobilizing as a global social movement because “despite different cultural framings, country specificities, and organizational priorities, there are observed similarities in the ways women’s rights activists frame their grievances and demands, form networks and organizations, and engage with state and intergovernmental institutions (Antrobus 2004; Ferree and Tripp 2006; Moghadam 2005, 2013; Naples and Desai 2002; Stienstra 1994, 2000; Wichterich 1999).” For example, in the post-9/11 era (following the September 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States), transnational feminists came together to organize for women’s human rights against fundamentalist discourses and agendas that define women’s roles and aim to control women’s bodies and mobility (Afkhami 1995; Di Marco and Tabbush 2011; Moghadam 2005, 2013).
Moghadam refers to other key writers who contribute to the genealogy of transnational feminist movements. Sylvia Walby (2009) theorizes transnational feminist movements as part of the “modernization of gender relations.” Mary Hawkesworth (2006) offers a definition of “global feminist activism” as international feminist mobilizations involving women in more than one country or region, “who seek to forge a collective identity among women and to improve the condition of women.” And another set of (p. 6) writers examine how transnational feminist networks have contributed to “global civil society” (Alvarez 2000; Anheier, Glasius and Kaldor 2001).
Other chapters in the Handbook offer short histories of transnational feminist movements with a specific focus on advocacy. Linda Etchart‘s overview of women’s peace movements (see chapter 27) shows that women have worked together across borders for equal political, economic and social rights and for peace and antimilitarism since the first wave of the feminist movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first half of the twentieth century saw feminist movements in Europe and North America focusing on postwar, antimilitarist, and postimperialist issues. At the same time, feminists in the global South were engaged in liberation wars and struggles and positioning women’s interests in the emerging postcolonial states and societies. During the second wave of feminist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, feminists aligned themselves with liberal, radical, Marxist and socialist ideologies that proposed different analyses of women’s oppression and strategies for their liberation. Etchart explores the theoretical and political complexities of the antiwar, antimilitarist, and anti-imperialist positions taken by first wave feminists and states that “divisions among women along lines of race and class, as well as political ideology and nationalism, were at times fractious in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century; the two world wars both divided and united women across borders. Yet women’s transnational and local peace movements arose with each new conflict on all continents in struggles for a just peace and for disarmament. Their actions…. resulted in changes to state policy and practice at national and global levels.” She further asserts that their ideas have endured, and they suffuse second and third wave feminisms.
Manisha Desai (see chapter 4) offers a postcolonial perspective on transnational feminist theorizing. She reviews three sets of writing: the first, from the US academy; the second, a reworking of the Cold War metageography of the First World–Third World; and the third, the literature questioning the self-determination of the liberal nation-state. She points out that the “canonical” study by Alexander and Mohanty (1997) that articulates the tensions between native and immigrant women of color in the United States and helps to map out the “complex racial territory” of the US academy,…. continues to inform transnational feminist movements’ exclusions and erasure even as we weave solidarities across racial borders. Desai contends that the reconceptualization of First World–Third World by Grewal and Kaplan (1995, 2001) redefines the “postcolonial” and “transnational,” and provides an important framework for moving beyond center-periphery models. Feminists from the former Soviet bloc have added to these First World–Third World debates with perspectives on the Second World (Suchland 2011). Finally, Desai discusses how transnational feminism has called into question the boundaries of the nation-state under the conditions of late capitalism (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Fernandes 2013; Masson 2010); highlighted the intersectional nature of gender (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Chan-Tiberghien 2004; Grewal and Kaplan 1995); and affirmed differences among women based on their racial and other locations (Chowdhury 2009; Desai 2008; Fernandes 2013; Lawrence 2005; Salime 2011).
Irene Tinker (see chapter 5) adds to our understanding of the history of transnational feminist organizing in relation to the UN’s framing of the international development discourse. She posits that the emergence of the “women in development” (WID) (p. 7) approach was a response to the 1950s post-World War II promotion of economic development “based on modernization theory, with its base in capitalism.” The second wave feminist movement in the United States in the 1960s was “ignited” by “the US government’s manipulation of women’s expected roles after World War II.” The movement, with its focus on women’s equal right to education, employment, and equal pay for equal work, and on sexual and reproductive rights, contributed to the emergence of the WID critique of international development in the early 1970s. Drawing on Ester Boserup’s book, Woman’s Role in Economic Development (1970), US feminist advocates in international development recognized that the same gender biases that American feminists were struggling against were being recreated in the global South.
Tinker also points to a little-known dimension of transnational feminist movement building: the link between the Cold War and the capitalist and communist models promoted by the United States and Soviet bloc countries. She mentions the world congress for International Women’s Year convened by the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in East Berlin in October 1975 following the first world conference on women held in Mexico. “Participants included many Asian and African women and men who had attended workshops in the socialist countries that had promoted integrating women into revolutionary causes, as opposed to the WID model designed to incorporate women into the capitalist economy.” The conference “celebrated the success of communist countries in facilitating women’s organizing in developing countries as one of several mass organizations. For example, the Women’s Union in Vietnam and Laos, and the Women’s Federation in China are mass organizations that function as vehicles for the communist party to educate village women.”
According to Antrobus (see chapter 6), DAWN, the Third World feminist network, emerged in the mid-1980s from a multifaceted context that included women’s activism in the anticolonial and liberation struggles of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from which women emerged “with a heightened awareness of their gender-based marginalization within these larger struggles” (e.g., peasants, workers, ethnic minorities, among others); the expansion of UN membership to the newlyindependent states of the South which created “an arena for challenging domination by the industrialized countries of the North and raising the concerns of the millions emerging from colonialism in the South to claim better living conditions,” a space women entered, occupied and used to “advance their own claims for agency”; and the UN’s designation of International Women’s Year (1975) and the Decade for Women (1976–1985), framed by three UN world conferences on women—in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985)— “which provided the critical space for the emergence of women’s voices internationally.”
Antrobus contends that “before the emergence of DAWN as a Third World network, the international feminist discourse was dominated by liberal feminists from the North.” Although Marxist-socialist feminists and feminist anthropologists contributed “an important critique of mainstream development,” Antrobus argues that their analysis lacked a number of elements that were crucial to understanding the structural factors that marginalized the majority of women globally: the context of imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism, which have had a profound impact on the international political economy, development agendas and women’s lives; the interconnections (p. 8) between women’s lived realities and the larger political, economic, and social relations of race, ethnicity, class and gender embedded in the power structures and policy frameworks that have determined women’s access to resources and to the opportunities necessary for their wellbeing and advancement; and the “structural roots of poverty across nations and regions,” which were located, “not in insufficient economic growth, but in unequal control over production and access to resources, finance and trade.” Antrobus concludes that DAWN’s “identification and analysis of the ‘reproductive crisis’ which arose from economic policies that separated economic production/growth from social reproduction/human development, broke new ground in the WID discourse” in “defining and reinforcing the gender division of labor, roles, and power.” Thus, “DAWN’s ‘manifesto’ was a combination of political analysis and practical advice for women’s organizations seeking change at the local, national and international levels.”
In addition to concerns about economic and social justice, violence against women and gender-based violence has an important genealogy within transnational feminist movements. Rebecca J. Hall’s discussion of North American theory and praxis on violence against women (see chapter 15) argues that “in the global North, feminist movements’ advocacy on battered women of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by white middle- and upper-class women and tended to focus on patriarchy as the root—and often the sole—cause of violence against women.” She offers an understanding of the bridge-building role played by African American feminists, indigenous feminists, and women of color based in the North, as feminists from the global South critiqued North American and European radical and liberal feminist analyses and strategies for change. She argues that African American women, indigenous women, and women of color challenged the singular focus on patriarchy, and re-examined the public-private dichotomy that informs radical and liberal feminist theory on violence against women. For example, bell hooks, in 1984 (about the same time DAWN was being conceived, prior to the 1985 Nairobi conference), wrote that “violence acted upon poor black women and men in the so-called public realm—through discrimination, harassment, exploitation, threats of violence and actual violence experienced in places of work, schools and the streets—is inextricably linked to violence in the home.” She formulated “key epistemological and political challenges for feminists organizing to end violence against women,” demanding that “feminist efforts to end male violence against women must be expanded into a movement to end all forms of violence” (hooks 1984, 130–131). This critique is borne out by the testimonies of women of color in the chapter by Linda E. Carty and Chandra T. Mohanty (see chapter 3) and in the experiences of state intervention into Aboriginal communities and communities of color discussed by Hall, and Carty and Mohanty.
The Current Context
Given the complexity of these histories, it is important to locate the Handbook in the current context. Moghadam describes the global environment in which transnational feminist movements are now operating as being “characterized by neoliberal capitalism, (p. 9) militarism, and patriarchy,” and notes that the “sheer scale of the problems in those countries which reflect the profound contradictions of international relations as well as the persistence of patriarchy, would seem to surpass the capacity of transnational feminism activism.” So, as the chapters show, even though contemporary globalization has created “unprecedented opportunities for organizing and mobilizing across borders,” there is much more to do if feminists are to transform power relations in unjust and inequitable global, regional, and national systems.
Several chapters highlight that ongoing hegemonic power threatens to hinder the more progressive work being undertaken by global governance institutions where transnational feminist movements have had some influence. Viviene Taylor (see chapter 13) makes the point that “governance is increasingly about managing a global market economy to secure the interests of global capital, and in such processes, women’s rights and security tend to fall off the agenda.” She notes that “this is especially so when we examine decisions made in the United Nations system, the multilateral institutions of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.” In the post-9/11 era, the response of the United States and other dominant powers, such as the United Kingdom, “served to eclipse the significance of the emerging and fragile movements on human rights and ethical globalization. Coalitions and partnerships among governments to conduct the global “wars on terror” led to opportunistic diplomacy that overlooked domestic oppression and human rights violations, in exchange for cooperation in pursuing ‘terrorists.’”
Carty and Mohanty state that “more and more of the gains in women’s rights are being seriously threatened as neoliberal states appropriate gender discourses in their attempts to explain away or justify the erasure of women’s rights.” As a counter to neoliberalism, they sketch a map of transnational feminist engagements and possibilities of “an ethical and just solidarity across borders based on attentiveness to power and historical specificities and differences.”
The Handbook is therefore written at a time when transnational feminist movements recognize and question unequal power relations based on gender, race and class (among others), and challenge essentialism, Eurocentrism, and the cultural dimensions of power. It illustrates that, despite differences, transnational feminisms organize through a sense of shared struggle against all forms of patriarchal power and control, violence, and exploitation as they are manifested in neoliberalism, militarism, and religious fundamentalisms across North–South divides and state borders.
Feminist Theory and Praxis
Lastly, we discuss feminist theory and praxis. It is vital to underline that transnational feminist movements have produced a wealth of knowledge and an understanding of how power operates in complex ways on many levels and through social change processes. As all the chapters in this volume show—and indeed, the Handbook is itself part of this process—feminist theory on knowledge, power, and social change has evolved out of (p. 10) the praxis of feminist engagement. Feminist perspectives and reflections on fundamental issues such as peace, development, politics, economics, health, the environment, and communications, are at the core of feminist praxis. Desai views feminist praxis as “based on reflexive, transversal solidarities as both means to and goals of women’s emancipation,” and argues that “reflexivity…. is central to transnational feminism in theory and praxis.” This dynamic process of self-reflection and active engagement on the strategies and methods used and the knowledge accumulated in feminist practice is elaborated throughout the Handbook. It also highlights the dialectical processes through which transnational feminist movements engage with, draw from, and build on each other’s theorizing, methodologies, experiments, and lessons learned.
We offer a few examples here, but there are many more to be found throughout the Handbook. The chapter by Carty and Mohanty is based on fascinating in-depth interviews with feminists located in the South and North.3 They view feminist knowledge production as closely connected to the “place-based realities of feminist praxis,” as feminists have been “confronting a series of neoliberal policies by states in both the global North and South that have been wreaking havoc on women’s lives across race, class, sexuality, and ethnic divides.” Carty and Mohanty argue that transnational feminist theorizing is “directly linked to and often emerges from community engagement” and they focus on “knowledges produced by transnational feminists that engage globalization and neoliberalism as factors that have impacted women’s lives in tangible ways and have pushed them into deeper organizing for change.” They map out the similarities and differences in transnational feminist collective thinking and praxis, looking at feminist engagement in more loosely connected alliances that challenge colonial, imperial, racial, and heteronormative gender power inequalities and asymmetries. They raise questions about the “transnationalizing” of feminism that deflects from local class, race, ethnic, environmental, and sexual formations. They argue that it is not possible to separate global and local struggles, and use Nawal El Saadawi’s term “glocal” to describe where global and local struggles converge.
Carty and Mohanty play close attention to understanding how transnational feminist collaborations in relation to place and time bring out the political, racial and cultural diversity and complexity of alliances and solidarities across activist, academic, and institutional North–South divides. They underline the importance of intersectional gendered perspectives in feminist struggles, not only in communities but also in the human rights, environment, population, and sustainable-development discourses in and around the UN.
Tinker also explores the ongoing interplay between feminist research and analysis as she discusses the framing of UN agendas related to women’s rights and gender equality—WID, women and development [WAD], gender and development [GAD], and gender mainstreaming. She looks at the four UN world conferences on women and the preparatory meetings to set the agenda, along with the decisions made by multilateral, bilateral, and other donor agencies on funding women’s organizing in the developing South. She shows how these agendas have evolved in response to critiques centered on their impacts on Southern women’s lives. (p. 11)
M. Shanthi Dairiam (see chapter 14) further illustrates the evolution of feminist theory and praxis in her discussion of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), established in 1946, pressed for the convention and was tasked with its preparation. Dairiam points out that neither the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nor the legally binding treaties adopted prior to CEDAW4 had advanced the human rights of women. They did not “reflect the specific conditions that women experience,” and the “neutrality” of their provisions “had the effect of privileging a male model of existence.”
Dairiam explains that transnational feminist advocacy for the convention included the CSW’s mobilization of the UN system, which pushed the General Assembly to declare 1975 as International Women’s Year, and 1976–1985 as the Decade for Women. The CSW’s 1973 working paper “argued for a single, comprehensive convention that would legally bind states to eliminate discriminatory laws, as well as de facto discrimination.” The World Plan of Action agreed at the UN First World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975 “gave high priority” to the adoption of CEDAW. The framing of the convention drew on contemporary feminist scholarship, knowledge, and theory from the global North and South (in the areas of political and public life, education, employment, health, rural women, law, marriage and family life, etc.) to establish “normative legal standards for equality that are substantive in nature, attributing equal value to women and men,” provide “a unique definition of ‘discrimination,’ recognizing the gendered pattern of the lives of women and men that disadvantages women,” and task states with the responsibility to “take positive steps to redistribute resources, power and opportunities…. to enable [women] to overcome the effects of past discrimination.” CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and entered into force in 1981 after twenty ratifications by member states, and “today, with 187 states parties, it is one of the most highly ratified international human rights treaties.”
Different Levels of Engagement of Transnational Feminist Movements
As mentioned earlier, the chapters explore various complementary levels at which transnational feminist movements engage in social change processes often intersecting with one another. Some transnational feminist networks engage with powerful hegemonic institutions such as the UN, within a global development policy framework. Others operate in national or regional activist movement settings using postcolonial, political economy, poststructuralist, and decolonial5 analytical frameworks, and participating in wider social justice movements. Still others work within institutions at the international, regional, national, and local levels. Alliance building is discussed here as a key aspect of transnational feminst praxis. (p. 12)
We use the term “glocal” to describe how transnational feminist movements often work simultaneously at the global and local levels, where global solidarity informs and contributes to local possibilities for social change. In a discussion of the “glocal” approach, Desai argues that feminism operates in “a geography of historically specific relational processes across borders, as opposed to the ahistorical and bounded notions of local, national, global.” In this approach to understanding transnational feminism, the concept of “place” is key. She explains that place can be understood as “a product of social relations, practices, and processes…. and as a site of operation of power and [is] hence dynamic and conflictual. It is also an expression of historical sedimentation and of factors and processes beyond place.” From this understanding of place, transnational feminism has deeply questioned old divides and contributed to “a reworking of the Cold War metageography of First World–Third World; and…. a questioning of the sovereignty and self-determination of the liberal nation-state.”
Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay (see chapter 23) interrogates these different framings in her profound critique of the current trajectories of transnational feminist movements. She argues that “the successful installation of feminist knowledge and ideas in policymaking institutions is reversing the basic tenets of transnational feminist movements, which sought to decompose the production of the Third World woman.” Instead, “there is increasing homogenization of the histories, needs, and interests of the vastly different experiences of women around the world and the construction of the implicitly consensual priority issues around which all women are apparently expected to organize.” As a consequence, “the power to define women’s needs and interests [is] increasingly shifting to global policy arenas,” and “there is both derecognition of the local and context-specific struggles around women’s rights and erasure of the structural and redistributional issues that lead to the denial of rights.” She challenges transnational feminist movements to find “new bases for solidarity other than the insertion of gender in international agendas,” and to resist assimilation in global agendas through “a re-energized politics of recognition and redistribution.” The chapter is an important critical and cautionary response to what may be viewed as the triumphalism of transnational feminist organizing in global conferences and processes, and the “homogenization” of the needs and interests of women in postcolonial societies as well as poor, ethnic minority, and other marginalized women in developed countries.
Global Policy Change Arenas
Transnational feminist movements have coalesced around strategic global policy change arenas. Antrobus describes the UN Decade for Women as “life-changing for many, and a watermark in public policies and programs that would transform male-female relations everywhere.” It brought about “laws against discrimination against women;” “changes in men’s role in domestic life and increasing responsibility for housework and child care;” “the increase in women’s access to a range of academic and professional fields previously closed to them;” “the introduction of women’s studies and other (p. 13) programs at universities;” the linking of “academics and researchers, bureaucrats and activists in processes of policy-making that would change women’s lives in countries across the global South and industrialized North;” and “in the academy, it produced new understandings, knowledge, and theories that would challenge conventional wisdom.”
Various chapters examine the four UN world conferences on women to show how transnational feminist organizing provided the catalyst for the conferences, a process that was enabled by “femocrats” (feminists who represented governments on the CSW and by feminist staff at the UN and other multilateral and bilateral agencies). The four world conferences on women and the reviews of the Beijing conference (Beijing +5, Beijing +10 and Beijing +15), with their accompanying NGO forums and funding, provided the impetus for transnational feminist organizing and politics. As we can personally attest, the engagement of transnational feminist movements was significantly wider than in the conferences on women, and feminists were active in all the UN global conferences held in the 1990s (including the environment, Rio de Janeiro, 1992; human rights, Vienna, 1993; population, Cairo, 1994; social summit, Copenhagen, 1995; habitat, Istanbul, 1996; and food summit, Rome, 1996). As discussed by Antrobus, feminists developed South–North women’s alliances and caucuses. Moreover, they challenged the patriarchal international development paradigm constructed by the UN’s founding fathers and “development decades” of the post–World War II era, and contributed to its reenvisioning.
The visibility and strength of transnational feminist organizing in the 1990s was also a reflection of feminist activism within intergovernmental and governmental institutions. Joanne Sandler (see chapter 7) makes the point that since its establishment in 1945, the UN has been a key site of engagement for “independent and fierce-minded women’s rights advocates” in “transnational feminist movements working within and outside mainstream organizations,” starting with the establishment of the CSW in 1946. She posits that “the results of this engagement are more than paper tigers,” and that women’s rights organizations and movements at the national, regional, and global levels and national women’s/gender machineries working within governments, were able to pressure states into passing laws and policies that aligned with their ratification of CEDAW. But “beyond the domestication of international policy agreements…. the intergovernmental processes leading to these achievements have helped to expand women’s networks and movements within and between countries and regions and to deepen partnerships between them that have endured and matured over decades.”
Sandler specifies that these interventions manifested at the national and local levels as women’s rights in numerous national constitutions; domestic laws, policies, and programs on a range of issues, including criminalizing domestic violence; and quotas for women’s representation in parliaments and local governments have contributed to “chipping away at the stronghold that men have had on powerful public roles.” As discussed in the chapters, over eighty countries worldwide use various forms of gender-responsive budgeting and planning that address gender inequalities in such areas as poverty, health, education, and agriculture. UN peacekeeping and political missions in conflict situations have shown measurable change as a result of UN security council (p. 14) resolutions on “women, peace and security,” in areas including women’s participation in postconflict elections and disarmament programs, and protection practices to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.
As mentioned earlier, Dairiam demonstrates the success of transnational feminist movements in the functioning of CEDAW as a global peer review mechanism and its relevance to all the 187 member state signatories. She underlines that, unlike many other international human rights/development instruments, CEDAW monitors gender equality in both the global North and South. She discusses in detail the CEDAW Committee’s reviews of high-ranking European countries (in the Global Gender Gap Index), which, despite high levels of educational achievement, show the impact of gender stereotyping and inequality on women and girls in occupational segregation; high rates of women in part-time employment because of their responsibility for care and social reproduction; wage gaps (with women earning between 66% and 84% less than men for work of equal value); lower pension contributions and entitlements than men receive because of their part-time employment and taking career breaks for child care; unequal access to leadership and decision-making; and the over-sexualized depictions of women and girls in the media and advertising, reinforcing women-as-sex object stereotypes and contributing to girls’ low self-esteem.
Working with(in) Institutions
Key to the success of transnational feminist movements has been the strategy of working simultaneously inside and outside institutions. Transnational feminist movements have targeted both global governance institutions and the nation-state and have contributed to the establishment of national women’s/gender machineries, appointment of women at high levels in government and the UN, and funding of gender-equality programs. Thus, on the one hand, transnational feminist movements can claim many successes in “mainstreaming” gender through engaging in direct political struggles with mainstream (“malestream”) institutions, such as the UN, governments, legislatures, the military, media, religion, and family. On the other hand, as the critical reflections in the Handbook reveal, there are difficult and awkward contradictions, collusions, and co-optations in working with and within UN global institutions and governments.
Jennifer F. Klot (see chapter 28) contributes to a lively debate on the role of “feminist norm/organizational entrepreneurs” (also referred to as “femocrats” and “warriors within” by Sandler and others) in challenging patriarchy within international development institutions. On the adoption of UNSCR 1325, she notes, “It had taken the UN Security Council over fifty years to recognize the relevance of women’s rights and gender equality to the maintenance of international peace and security.” And she quotes Cox, who made the point that “international institutions universalize the norms proper to a structure of world power…. but international institutions may also become vehicles for the articulation of a coherent counter-hegemonic set of values. In this way, they may become mediators between one world order and another,” an idea that may be extended (p. 15) to the role played by femocrats, warriors within, and feminist norm/organizational entrepreneurs in articulating a counter-hegemonic set of values within patriarchal bureaucracies at the multilateral and governmental levels.
Sandler shares her experience and understanding of transnational feminist movements’ engagement with and impact on the UN system. She attests that the process of challenging patriarchal power included calling for quotas for women in public office; the appointment of women’s rights and gender advisers; the creation of gender units, equal opportunity offices, government ministries of women’s rights or gender equality, women’s/gender studies centers, and professional development programs; the designation of special rapporteurs on human rights and other issues; and the increasing demand for specialized gender expertise in a wide range of fields.
Sandler uses the term “warriors within” to explore the experiences of femocrats within the UN system, and the processes and dynamics of shifting and destabilizing, if not yet transforming, institutional power and the deep institutional structures, cultures, rules, and practices that hold gender inequality in place. She makes the point that “it is crucial to avoid conflating feminist and gender expert. Many gender experts are not feminists, and many feminists are not employed as gender experts.” She uses “a generous definition of the terms feminist, and feminist bureaucrat or (femocrat)…. [to] include individuals who are committed to radically transforming the unequal gender relations, misogyny, and patriarchy—including instances of their appearances among women—that continue to be rooted in the dominant cultures and priorities of many organizations.”
Anita Vandenbeld (see chapter 8) examines the focus of transnational feminist movements on advancing women’s political power through national parliaments. The statistics she cites provide a telling picture of the relative success of transnational feminist organizing. In 1945, there were fewer than 2% of women in democratically elected legislatures globally. By 1975, women accounted for 10.9% of parliamentarians globally. The global average rose to 13.5% in 2000, 18.8% in 2010, and 20.4% in 2013. Women have not achieved 30% (or a “critical mass”) of the elected seats in any region of the world: the Nordic countries (not defined as a region) lead at 42%, followed by the Americas at 24.8%; Europe (excluding the Nordic countries) at 22.7%; Africa at 21.9% (above the global average). Asia (19.1%), the Arab States (17.8%), and the Pacific (12.8%) fall below the global average.
Vandenbeld brings together transnational feminist debates on women’s political representation and social change. She debunks key assumptions about women’s political representation: that it is increasing and will continue to do so; that the more democratic a country, the more women will be elected to public office; and that increased numbers of women in elected office leads to greater economic development. She interrogates the arguments made for targeting women’s political representation, and asks whether women politicians represent “women’s interests” and if women’s political representation correlates with women’s economic and social development. She also questions the essentialist argument that women bring a “distinct leadership style” to and have a “civilizing effect” on politics. (p. 16)
Vandenbeld also points to the vital role played by feminist movements transnationally and nationally in opening up political space for women, including advocacy at the global and regional levels resulting in international conventions and agreements that provide the basis for women’s political participation; establishing feminist political parties; and providing leadership training, funding, and other forms of support to women candidates. Spaces for the advancement of women’s political representation include “temporary special measures,” such as quotas, reserved seats, and appointments; civil society and local government as “entry points” into politics; the link between family and kinship relations and politics in many societies; situations of crisis, conflict, and change; and transnational networking. However, she also points to the numerous challenges faced by women in politics: family and domestic responsibilities, social and cultural stereotypes, women’s own “internalized” stereotypes, unequal access to education and political knowledge, lack of access to campaign financing, political party gatekeepers (“old boys’ networks”), personal safety, and the “double bias” against women from marginalized groups. Continuing institutional barriers include electoral systems, parliaments, and political parties.
Sherrill Whittington (see chapter 29) explores situations in conflict and examines “how women’s active participation during the brief window of opportunity provided by the transition from ceasefire to the negotiation of peace agreements and development of international peacebuilding mandates,” is crucial to ensuring a critical mass of women represented in national legislatures, which opens the door to redressing “gender-based discrimination in social, economic, political, security, and governance arenas.” She quotes global statistics from postconflict states where women’s representation in the legislature has exceeded a critical mass; for example, in Rwanda (64%); South Africa (42.3%), Mozambique (39.2%), Timor-Leste (38.5%) and Burundi (32.1%) (IPU, http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/world.htm). She underlines the importance of including CEDAW and UNSCR 1325 in the mandates of UN (and other) peacekeeping and transitional structures, which provide the framework for supporting women’s efforts in fragile postconflict states. She compares the different experiences of three Asia-Pacific states currently engaged in postconflict reconstruction: Timor-Leste, Bougainville, and Solomon Islands.
Whittington discusses the presence of such support in Timor-Leste to the achievement of a critical mass of women parliamentarians and their impact on constitution-building, legislative reform, political and socioeconomic development, gender-responsive budgeting, and other postconflict state-building processes. In comparison, despite women’s active role as peacemakers during the conflicts in Bougainville and Solomon Islands, their absence or low participation in the peace negotiations, and the resulting lack of articulation of their priorities in the mandates of the international peacekeeping and transitional structures, are linked to low levels of women in decision-making, inadequate international support and funding to promote women’s rights and gender equality, and “many lost opportunities for women’s voices and concerns to shape peacebuilding and postconflict reconstruction.” (p. 17)
In exploring the extent to which transnational feminist movements have been able to bring gender equality into state-building, Helen O’Connell (see chapter 30) makes the link between African and European countries experiencing conflict and financial crises, and the opportunities presented for building new gender-responsive political settlements. She interrogates concepts of “political settlement,” “legitimacy,” “accountability,” “responsiveness” and “transparency” from a feminist perspective. And she envisions how to advance gender and social justice in the process of state-building and rebuilding in conflict and crisis contexts through, for example, writing or amending constitutions, law reform, and political participation, among other possibilities. O’Connell proposes the following definition of state-building: “actions by internal actors (with or without external support) to develop inclusive political processes and the capacity and institutions of the state to fulfill its roles as duty bearer by respecting the human rights of all women, men, girls, and boys (of all sexual orientations) and transsexual and intersex people, by meeting at least the minimum expectations of all persons for security, access to justice, public services, and economic opportunity, and by enabling the growth of a vibrant, independent civil society and media.”
In reflecting on the key strategies of transnational feminist movements, the contributors repeatedly discuss the importance of alliance building in feminist advocacy and in political engagement at all levels. Many of the chapters describe in detail how transnational feminist movements have been building networks and alliances across borders of activism, academe, state and policy, making them significant actors in advocating for change.
Etchart, for example, states that, “by definition, transnational feminist peace networks are means by which women extend the hand of solidarity across borders and across conflict lines in order to achieve just outcomes or compromises among leaders and their constituencies without resorting to violence.” Women’s old and new antiwar organizations are currently engaged in such activities as theorizing in the academy, acting locally in conjunction with other women’s organizations, joining forces with the Occupy and global civil society movements, and communicating globally.6
Antrobus discusses DAWN’s leadership and cooperation in forging alliances with North-based transnational feminist networks to advance women’s concerns globally at the UN world conferences of the 1990s.7 These were “key forums where (global) challenges were addressed and where new directions for bridging gender justice and economic justice began to take shape” (Sen and Madunagu 2001) and “they were also the first significant occasions when ‘women’s issues’ came forward from the margins of women-only conferences into the mainstream global agenda.”8 This was a momentous process of building global feminist solidarity across differences to advance women’s interests by challenging neoliberalism from a feminist perspective and helping to shape a new international development paradigm. It must be borne in mind that less than a decade earlier, DAWN had challenged Northern feminisms in its South-based critical (p. 18) feminist publication Development, Crises and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspective9 and its advocacy at the Nairobi conference in 1985.
Dianne Rocheleau and Padini Nirmal (see chapter 31) explore how feminists have built bridges between thinking and action on ecology and development, working together with the indigenous-inspired social movements and development alternatives. They look at how feminists in academe and social movements have collaborated on environmental issues related to peasant struggles, food sovereignty, indigenous rights, and climate change, creating the stream of thought and action defined as feminist political ecology (FPE). They describe the emergence of FPE through various transnational feminist processes and the contributions of women in the broader environmental and social justice movements. Through this alliance building, they created a space that recognizes the “complex interactions among class, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and the environment in terms of rights, responsibilities, knowledges and social movements.”
In the economic arena, Mariama Williams (see chapter 17) discusses transnational feminist alliance building and mobilizing around global and regional trade and investment policies. She illustrates how the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), comprising women’s organizations operating at local and global levels, formed a complex conduit to bring a feminist analysis on gender and the economy into the global policy arena. Working across academic, activist, and policy arenas, IGTN helped to shift the debate on macroeconomic and financial policies. Williams underlines that the success of IGTN was the result of its ability to operate on different levels, working as a loose alliance and network with a clear advocacy focus and as a “strong feedback bridge between academic thinking and social activism, stimulating policy-oriented research within academia as well as enhancing the policy work of international organizations.”
Gender-responsive budgeting is another result of successful alliance building among feminist academics, activists, and policymakers at the international, national, and local levels. Zohra Khan (see chapter 18) looks at how feminist practice and analysis pushing for gender-responsive budgeting has helped shape national fiscal policies. She documents the ways in which feminist activists working with academics and femocrats in government have brought a gender perspective into governmental planning and budgeting, resulting in the earmarking of resources for programs that address women’s empowerment and gender inequality. Working from the feminist political imperative to transform economic and social inequality, feminist economists (in academe, intergovernmental and governmental institutions, and feminist movements) have collaborated to challenge mainstream neoliberal economic theory and practice that had been the framework for formulating development policies and programs. As Khan comments, alliance building offered a “practical approach for assessing a government’s commitment to realizing women’s rights.” Working inside and outside government processes, feminist alliances on gender-responsive budgeting achieved “strong normative frameworks for gender equality and women’s rights articulated in national constitutions, bills of rights, and domestic legislation on a range of issues, including violence, pay parity, and other anti-discrimination legislation.” (p. 19)
Similarly, Shahrashoub Razavi (see chapter 16) shows how feminist economists in advocacy organizations and femocrats in government brought the subject of care work into economic and social policy by forming alliances with such institutions as the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). She underlines the importance of the bridge-building between these arenas, reflecting on the ways in which women’s movements have been able to position themselves, whether on their own or in alliance with other actors (inside or outside the state), to shape social policies and to monitor their ‘on-the-ground’ implementation. Razavi understands the importance of feminist advocates, policymakers, and researchers joining forces with economically marginalized women, who have the most to gain from the equitable reduction and redistribution of care work. As have other contributors to the Handbook, she raises important points about how feminist ideas and research on care have found their way into policy deliberations and public action in the “process of diffusion…. through different channels and modalities, including donor circuits and intergovernmental organizations, as well as in more diffuse forms through national, regional, and transnational ‘epistemic communities.’”
This caution that feminist ideas are often “lost in translation” through engagement with “malestream” international, governmental, and NGO institutions resounds throughout the Handbook, particularly in relation to processes of gender mainstreaming.
The term “glocal” is useful for analyzing how transnational feminist movements work outside institutions, creating more fluid kinds of engagement. Sumi Krishna (see chapter 33) describes it as the “side stream.” The concept of glocality reflects the positioning of the contributors (and transnational feminist networks and movements) in diverse places, contexts, experiences and knowledges, where local contexts are a manifestation of transnational feminisms. At the glocal level, “global” transnational feminist movements are connected to and inform local struggles through shared feminist identities; a canonical body of knowledge, methodologies, strategies such as alliance building, and so on. It is important to underline that the local dialectically contributes new knowledge and analyses, methodologies, and strategies for change to the global movement. While not all the contributors used the term “glocal,” as editors we take the liberty to frame the contexts discussed in this way.
Virginia Vargas (see chapter 20) explores Latin American feminisms’ challenge to democratization processes in the region, and brings home the importance of place and context. She connects feminist struggles in Latin America to the first, second, and third waves of transnational feminist visions and agendas. Feminists across the continent contributed new ways of thinking about democracy as they built their distinct identities, theories, and paradigms from different streams: feminists on the left of the political spectrum campaigned against women’s exclusion from and subordination in the public and private spheres; urban women from the shanty towns confronted women’s traditional roles and the public-private divide; and women in (p. 20) political parties and trade unions questioned “the democratic dynamics inside these traditional spaces of male legitimacy.” Feminists politicized the private sphere, causing “a series of epistemological [and, we would add, ontological] ruptures,” which offered new pathways to interpreting reality. These ruptures included women bringing their “private” grief for their “disappeared children” into the public sphere and challenging patriarchal and authoritarian regimes; feminists making visible “what until then had remained nameless: domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape in marriage, and the feminization of poverty”; and Chilean feminists, in their fight against the Pinochet dictatorship, extended the concept of democracy—politically and theoretically—with their slogan “democracy in the country and in the home.” In the 1990s, and continuing into the twenty-first century, Latin American feminists responded to multicultural and multi-ethnic realities, “challenging the myth of the unitary nation on which the imagery of the state had been built.” According to Alvarez and colleagues, the Latin American and Caribbean feminist encuentros (encounters), first held in Bogotá, Colombia in 1981, have served as “critical transnational sites in which local activists have refashioned and renegotiated identities, discourses, and practices distinctive of the region’s feminisms.”10
Amrita Chhachhi and Sunila Abeysekera (see chapter 21) contest the narrow understanding of transnational feminist movements as being only about the global arena and North–South relations, and focus on South Asian regional transnational feminisms and knowledge production. They trace the organic process through which South Asian women claimed feminism and created a movement. The chapter makes linkages between the “subjective” life histories of individual feminists and key political events in the region, for example, the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 into two nation-states based on religious identity, the war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 that led to the creation of the new nation-state of Bangladesh, and the Sri Lankan civil war from 1983 to 2009, based on ethnic identity and grievances. “We realized that the ‘imagined communities’ of ‘Indian,’ ‘Pakistani,’ ‘Sri Lankan’ that had been clumsily crafted together through the symbols of ‘statehood,’ such as national constitutions, flags, and anthems, were not representative of the diverse religious, ethnic and linguistic groups and indigenous and tribal communities living within their territorial borders. Nor did the nation-states offer the promise of equal citizenship to many. [….] Such political positioning located South Asian feminists outside any comfortable zone of belonging (nation, community, or liberation movement) and had immediate consequences of solidarity across borders.” The chapter resonates with Vargas’ reflections on the epistemological and political contributions of Latin American feminisms to a new “radical democracy,” while focusing on the South Asian context, which includes “the multidimensional and interconnected impact of patriarchies, globalization, religious fundamentalisms and militarization.” However, Chhachhi and Abeysekera are also open-eyed about the complexities and contradictions of building a “Southasian feminist identity” in the context of the region’s “deep structures of nationalism” and “external geopolitical dynamics.”
O’Connell European feminist realities through her examination of the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis in European countries, which, we note, are similar to the “structural adjustment policies” (SAPs) that have been imposed on indebted Third (p. 21) World governments by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund since the 1990s. O’Connell describes how “families and households on no, low, or modest incomes in European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland (Irish Republic), are hit hardest by the austerity or fiscal stringency measures adopted by governments to cut budgetary deficits…. They are worst affected by rising food and energy costs, wage freezes, job insecurity, and unemployment or underemployment. Women…. are bearing a disproportionate…. burden, through public sector job losses and cuts in essential public social services.” Agencies within national gender machineries have either been closed or faced significant budget cuts. The response of transnational feminist movements, particularly in southern Europe, has been to take to the streets in protest, calling on solidarity with feminists in the Nordic countries. Via the Internet, mobile communications, and social media, women’s rights activists are coming together to draw attention to the deep gender gaps and biases within European institutions.
Lanyan Chen (see chapter 22) offers a fascinating insight into the dynamics of feminist engagement in what we define as the glocality of China. She traces the evolution of Chinese women’s struggles against the Government’s move from the planned socialist economy (of the 1950s through the 1970s) to a market-based state capitalist economy (from the 1980s to the present). She argues that this transition has been guided by a neoliberal growth-oriented agenda that emphasizes the use of state power to protect capital over the rights of labor as well as people based on their gender, class, ethnic, migration status, and sexual orientation. Chen examines the emergence of Chinese women’s awareness of women’s rights since the Government’s ratification of CEDAW in 1981 and, more importantly, through the preparations for the Beijing conference in 1995, when the Chinese government declared that “Equality between Men and Women” was a “principal state policy.” She argues, however, that “while women in other countries have made advances in economic and political participation and protection of their rights to dignity, health, and access to services, due in part to the outcomes of the UN world conferences on women, China, the host of UN Fourth World Conference, continues to systematically reverse the gains enjoyed by women in the pre-reform periods [1950s–1970s].”
Chen probes the Chinese Government’s adoption of neoliberal policies and the institutionalization of values, rules, and norms by which the rights of all women, industrial women workers, migrant women workers, and rural women have been systematically subjugated to the “growth-oriented agenda,” “assaulted,” and eroded. She points to the burgeoning of grassroots women’s movements, leading to increasing awareness, alliance and coalition building (among themselves, with other disadvantaged groups, based on class, ethnicity, migration status, sexual orientation, and so on, as well as with progressive men); use of social media; and demands for their rights, including economic and political rights, the right to protection against discrimination, sexism and all forms of violence, sexual and reproductive health rights, and the right to dignity.
Grassroots engagement in transnational feminist processes at the glocal level are taken up particularly in the chapters that look at feminist organizing around livelihoods and environmental issues. Marjorie Mbilinyi (see chapter 19) illustrates how transnational feminist movements operated to support local women’s land rights and alternative (p. 22) economies, building from economically poor women’s struggles through glocal organizing. She analyzes the different strategies that engage rural community women’s political processes with internationally connected networks in “transformational” feminist processes to resist multinational corporations engaged in mining, tourism, horticulture, and large-scale agriculture. She suggests that the key to successful social change is listening to grassroot activists’ own knowledge, recognizing the “enormous potential of transformative feminist movement building” when it is “grounded locally with grassroots women activists.”
Sumi Krishna (see chapter 33) examines economically marginal rural women’s struggles for sustainable livelihoods in India. She contributes an interesting reflection on the Chipko movement, which gained international attention through the writing of ecofeminst Vandana Shiva, a narrative to which Rocheleau and Nirmal also refer. Although the story of “tree hugging women” has deeply informed the transnational feminist discourse on the environment, Krishna argues that it did not improve women’s ecological resource base or change oppressive traditional patriarchal structures. Krishna proposes that this failure, despite its championing in the literature, happened because transnational feminist movements did not recognize the multiple oppressions (class, caste, and race) informing local “side stream” political struggles. Like Mbilinyi, she suggests that to address grassroots women’s realities, transnational feminism needs to learn from and build theory and practice from these realities. She concludes that “the side streams do not have all the answers but they do point to ways in which we can begin to build productive and equitable relations between feminists across cultural contexts, nations, and regions.”
Ana Agostino (see chapter 32) illustrates how this has been achieved by economically marginal women affected by climate change. These women have engaged in demands for climate justice through creative ways of participating in transnational processes that build glocal connectivity. She gives examples of transnational feminist movements working to “restore justice” by acknowledging the “epistemic violence” of current development regimes and demanding systemic change, “repairing the harm done to individuals, to communities at large, to ecosystems, and to nature.” She describes the organization of feminist climate tribunals held around the world where women speak about their place-based knowledge and understanding of the economy, ecology, and community; challenge the paradigms of production and efficiency; provide knowledge and understanding of how to repair the harm done; and propose other ways of doing things.
Tensions within Transnational Feminist Movements
As outlined earlier, praxis is key to transnational feminist theory and knowledge building. One of the cornerstones of feminist praxis is reflexivity—speaking, learning, and engaging in critical reflection; creating new knowledge; and working towards change (p. 23) from the standpoint of personal and collective experiences. Given the different positionalities, experiences, and forms of knowledge that our discussion of the chapters suggests so far, it is not surprising that there are internal tensions within transnational feminist movements, particularly in relation to the challenges of building solidarity across differences. Indeed, it is hoped that the Handbook will contribute to raising issues of difference around the sometimes troubled dynamics of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and generation, and power and knowledge systems within and outside feminist movements. As editors working across difference ourselves, we recognize the familiar tensions (between and within the global North and South and among policymakers, academics, and practitioners, for example), and efforts to close the gap between the grassroots and the international elite. In this section we explore some of these fragmentations and divisions, diverse standpoints, and what we term “unruly feminist politics,” as well as different generational experiences of power.
Fragmentations and Divisions
The divides between Northern and Southern feminisms are well known and not surprising, given the different geopolitical, economic and socio-cultural contexts in which feminists operate. As the genealogies and histories we have been describing suggest, these divides are not straightforward. On the one hand, many of the contributors acknowledge that Southern feminists (most notably the DAWN network) have often led transnational feminist debates since the mid-1980s. On the other hand, Northern feminists have had greater access to jobs, funds, publishing houses, and so on. The situation is made more complex by feminists located in the global North who identify as indigenous, of African origin, “women of color,” or “mixed race,” among other identities, and who have built a powerful identity, presence, voice, and influence (with the caveat that it is not monolithic) in Northern and global academe. Southern feminists may have to travel to Northern institutions to pursue academic qualifications and positions in international institutions, escape wars and conflicts, and seek citizenship and employment. And Northern-born feminists who live most of their working lives in the global South often have an ambiguous identity and position in feminist movements. The Handbook suggests that while there has been significant bridge-building and healing across the traditional North–South divide, particularly since the 1990s, there remains a need to recognize and work on continuing fragmentation and divisions.
Carty and Mohanty quote from their interview with Avtar Brah, who comments on the North–South divide:
Transnational feminism needs to revisit the old debates about the specificity of patriarchal and capitalist gender systems that prevail in different parts of the world. Politics of solidarity…. need to emerge from such appreciation of “difference” and analysis of global modes of exploitation and patriarchal inequalities. For us in the North, we have to have a deep acknowledgement of the intersectional (p. 24) modalities of power—around racism, class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality—between us and women in the South. From our previous experience we know that it is not easy to win solidarity without taking account of our differential locations and positionalities vis à vis one another. We have to have respect for other ways of life—other than those in the West—without succumbing to patriarchal imperatives. A vibrant transnational feminist movement can only thrive if there is mutual respect.
In another interview by Carty and Mohanty, Richa Nagar, from northern India, speaks of the differences within the global South, offering a provocative analysis of working as a feminist with marginalized, economically dispossessed communities:
First, the violence perpetrated by many mainstream projects that invoke the label of “feminism” or “gender” has made many people distance themselves from things that make claims and articulate project goals and ideas in the name of feminism. Two, the kind of praxis that has inspired me and my grassroots activist colleagues in rural North India over the years is being lived and created by many people (academics, movement-based intellectuals, artists, peasants) who do not speak the language of feminism. I have, therefore, found it necessary to grapple with ways in which ideas that some of us might see as feminist, can actually grow in conversation with efforts of nonfeminists who are integrating theoretical and grounded knowledges and practices in creative and committed ways.
The Handbook thus reflects a diversity of standpoints as well as creative tensions. Tinker writes from the standpoint of an American feminist scholar-activist who contributed to framing the WID agenda. Her chapter implies American and European feminist leadership in defining the WID framework, challenging the impact of the 1950s international development paradigm based on the prevailing post–World War II liberal-based economic model promoted by American economists, and establishing key networks that supported women’s organizing in developing countries (such as Isis International and the International Women’s Tribune Center, set up in New York City in 1975).
Tinker reflects on the critiques of the early WID approach and the ideological assumptions underlying liberal economic theory. She discusses how WID sought to integrate women into economic development, arguing that “projects would be more efficient if they took into account women’s economic contributions.” WID aimed to validate women’s work through time-use studies that led to appropriate technology projects and income-generating projects for women, which were often culturally inappropriate and seldom resulted in income for women commensurate with their time spent. She accepts the critique that WID did not challenge the capitalist system and that its emphasis on women ignored class, religion and ethnicity. Tinker concludes, however, that “sex identity—not gender—remains the most defining characteristic globally.” (p. 25)
Antrobus’ chapter on DAWN acts as a counterpoint to Tinker’s by identifying and locating Southern feminist voices, perspectives, and organizing within global transnational feminist movements. DAWN’s book, Development Crises and Alternative Visions, written by Gita Sen and Caren Grown and launched at the Nairobi conference in 1985, “challenged Northern definitions of feminism and the notion that feminism was irrelevant to poor women from the South,” and “destabilized the Northern moorings of the feminist movement and gave voice to Southern feminist perspectives.”
Hall presents another standpoint with her implied understanding of the bridge-building role played by African American feminists, Indigenous feminists, women of color, and others, with feminists from the global South in challenging American and European radical and liberal feminist analyses and strategies for change. Like many interviewees in Carty’s and Mohanty’s chapter, she argues that African American women, indigenous women, and women of color have contested the singular focus on patriarchy, and re-examined the public-private dichotomy that informs radical and liberal feminist theory on violence against women. Hall also issues a challenge to transnational feminist movements: “As neoliberal retrenchment has snatched back many of the social gains made by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s, the response must not be one of defense. Instead, reflecting on the limitations of antiviolence work that lacks an analysis of imperialism, racism, homophobia, and capitalism, and in rising to face new forms of sexism, austerity, conservatism, and xenophobia, feminist challenges to violence must expand, not contract.”
Klot’s chapter questions mainstream understandings of the genesis of UNSCR 1325 in feminist and women’s organizations, and offers “an alternative analysis of the political opportunity structures that were most significant” in bringing it about. She critiques feminist scholarly debates on the discursive terrain of UNSCR 1325, and points to the resolution’s origins in the UN discourse on peacebuilding and the Responsibility to Protect. The chapter makes visible the cadre of “feminist norm/organizational entrepreneurs” within the UN system and in the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security (a core group of peace, humanitarian, and development organizations) who worked in collaboration with influential male and female “door openers” within “the very institutions that 1325 sought to transform.” And it “addresses the primordial feminist dilemma of reconciling antimilitarist and pacifist ideals with 1325’s legitimization of humanitarian intervention when threats to women constitute threats to international peace and security.” While we recognize Klot’s important contribution to the discourse on the emergence of UNSCR 1325, we note that the resolution is imbricated within the current boundaries of the UN system and Security Council. Thus UNSCR 1325 does not challenge militarism as an ideology and system or the hegemonic, Western-dominated, realist and neorealist international relations agenda of the Security Council. It may therefore be viewed as an approach in which transnational feminist movements “pick up the pieces” after “the boys have gone to war.”
Desai, a scholar-activist positioned in the high politics of US academe, discusses the difficulty of practicing solidarity across differences and inequalities that exist within transnational feminism. She raises questions about transnational feminist activism (p. 26) around the UN, which she depicts as privileging the “transnational activist class,” who, “whether from the global North or South,” enjoy well-paid jobs and positions, “opportunities for travel and interaction with other feminist activists,” a process that has “alienated some activists who cannot travel and in many instances has focused time and energy away from community-based struggles.”
Sandler, from her previous position at UNIFEM (now UN Women), acknowledges the privileged position of femocrats in international governance institutions such as the UN, and also offers an insider’s view of the many “warriors within” “who work on gender equality in mainstream organizations [and] are acutely aware of their privilege and positions.” She quotes a former UNIFEM regional director, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, who observed that:
Working in the UN system forced me to be clear. Growing up in rural Zimbabwe during the war in my country, being raised by my mother who was a widow for 28 years, being the first in my family to go to university, and then being a regional director at UNIFEM, I realized that I had a responsibility to tell girls in rural communities or with disadvantaged families, “You can be who you want to be. Never let anyone hold you back.” When you have that opportunity, you need to deliver with connectedness. You need to be clear on the transformation that you seek to bring into this space. It’s more than a job. It’s a calling.
Unruly Feminist Politics
As many of the chapters illustrate, transnational feminist movements operate not only in formal UN (and other) intergovernmental and governmental spaces but also in diverse academic and community spaces, from which they may move in and out of formal spaces or choose to remain “on the margins.” There is often an edginess among the contributors as they describe their involvement in different strategies and actions, and reluctance to be labeled as any particular “type” of feminist. A familiar metaphor is that feminists wear many hats, and depending on the occasion, they might identify as an activist, academic, a professional or community worker. Similarly, transnational feminist movements are not regimented. Desai explores how specific cartographies inform the fluid complexity of transnational feminist movements as a whole. They are not neatly divided silos of engagement—the local, national, regional, and global—just as social change does not happen in neat steps from community to national to international spaces. The process is much messier, often contradictory, and far from predictable. The chapters that focus on these “messy” processes in which transnational feminist movements engage, speak to the troubled dynamics of gender, class, race, ethnicity, and sexual power systems.
Thanh-Dam Truong (see chapter 11) looks at the gendered political economy of trafficking and the responses of different transnational feminist movements to the governance and regulation of the sex industry. She raises issues about patriarchal capitalist borders and sites of control around the transnational sex trade in her observations about (p. 27) the glocal sociocultural and economic relations involved in sex trafficking. Her analysis points to the deep intrusion of commercial interests in the market for sexual services and the human body, and the difficulties faced by transnational feminist movements that engage in the rapidly growing sites of exploitation. She points to how these new forms of commoditization of the human body require new questions for feminist analysis and organizing. She suggests that it is important to reframe “transnationally organized forms of sexual or reproductive labor” in relation to the “globalization of reproduction as a macrosocial phenomenon in order to reveal the technologies of political power wielded over the workers involved.” Truong underlines that the “sexuality and reproductive capacity” of the female body carries the “legal and social brunt” of the changing global order, and calls for “newly formed transnational feminist knowledge” to “build bridges between different epistemological positions to deepen understanding about the emerging structural contradictions in the human trafficking business.”
Rosalind P. Petchesky (see chapter 9) also raises the complexities of biopolitics and new technologies in her discussion of contemporary body politics. She shows how transnational feminist movements have expanded the concept of bodily integrity from the “right to choose” (e.g., sexual partners, abortion, or number of children) to include issues of gender identity, organ selling, and disability as well as the right to wellbeing, security, and safety. Bodies, in her analysis, are part of “unruly” politics used to resist established power. She traces the struggles around the body as feminists work together with allies, such as disabled people, trans* persons, and queer movements. Through new forms of activism around the body, security, and rights, the field of body politics is increasingly linking claims about reproduction, sexuality, and gender identity to those related to food security, housing, health care, livelihoods, ending war, systemic violence, racism, poverty, and environmental degradation.
Petchesky argues that there has been a “disastrous fragmenting of transnational movements around body politics into…. different strands,” replacing the word “body” with “person” in UN documents, thus “dematerializing the subject of rights, removing her from her physicality and ‘sexualness.’” Petchesky is critical of the way some feminist and mainstream reproductive health advocates have buried “the sexual,” “folding it discreetly into marital/heterosexual and childbearing relations.” At the same time she raises questions around the disciplining of the modern body, for example, public health systems for tracking modes and patterns of HIV transmission that “become by definition mechanisms of judgment, categorization, and surveillance. Similarly, childbearing has become medicalized and commoditized with insurance and aid practices leading to “considerable risk of C-section to ‘protect’ the fetus, regardless of the pregnant woman’s desires.”
Priya A. Kurian, Debashish Munshi, and Anuradha Mundkur (see chapter 35) critically interrogate ICTs in relation to violence against women. Along with other contributors, they scrutinize the impact of the digital age and social media on transnational feminist movements in recent years. They examine the impact of information and communications technologies on feminist organizing as feminists use cyberspace to build awareness, facilitate discussions, and create transnational networks for global action on (p. 28) violence against women. In probing the potential, in the digital age, to organize global protests against violence against women and generate empowerment and change, they raise important questions about the potential difficulties and pitfalls of acting in solidarity around violence against women. They suggest that even if online activism has the power to cross generations, class, and race within and outside the feminist movement, such networking has not always been inclusive. They point out that there are complex issues around the universality of women’s rights versus the particularities of religion, culture, and tradition that can lead to conflict and misunderstanding as women from outside the localities where the violence occurs try to act in solidarity with women within those localities. As “women across the boundaries of states, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and race have always faced the reality of culture and national identity being written on their bodies often in the form of practices that limit, in fundamental ways, their ability to exercise autonomy and protect bodily integrity.”
Thus, while ICTs can provide a useful platform for the local articulation of issues, particularly through debates and discussions, even as women activists gain power in some contexts, they may be rendered powerless in others “amid the tensions between the global and the local, access and exclusion, and the competing dynamics of caste, class, and race.”
The Handbook also provides a platform for the articulation of tensions among generations of feminists. Alexandra Garita (see chapter 10) raises issues about young feminists’ inclusion and exclusion in the processes around sexual and reproductive health and rights. She analyzes the “backroom politics” of establishing global policy norms for sexual rights and reproductive health over the last two decades. Her chapter points to a generational shift currently taking place among feminists working on body politics, as the “post-Cairo generation” has started to claim its space, voice, and vision. She makes an important point about the difficulty of passing on organizational knowledge, history, and positional leadership to younger women in reproductive rights feminist movements, and notes that feminist leaders from the 1990s failed to “invest in a younger generation of feminists to take the work forward. The consequence of this lack of investment is palpable…. younger generations of feminists entering transnational movements…. question whether there is a shared feminist understanding of power within.”
She quotes a study by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), which concludes that “the power dynamics between and across women of different ages within our own movements have generated unnecessary suspicions, negative stereotypes and competition, as well as false dichotomies across generations that can cause deep fragmentation. The unwillingness to share power is something younger feminists have identified throughout every region, attributing this dynamic to environments where trust is weak, and where the contributions made by different generations are overlooked.” (p. 29)
Sarah Hendricks and Keshet Bachan (see chapter 36) continue this line of inquiry by examining how girls and young women have engaged in networking and coalition-building on- and offline around various feminist issues, carving their own space, particularly online. They argue that the proliferation of ICTs and the rise of social media have been at the heart of online girl-led activism that has also translated into offline activism. They illustrate Gillian Youngs’ observations (see chapter 34) that the digitally networked world has substantially changed the historical terms and conditions of gendered power as ICTs extend the scope of feminist connections and possibilities. Youngs describes how the “new networked world of ICTs disrupted historical masculinist constraints on women’s political presence and engagement and opened up possibilities in these areas, accessible to growing numbers of individuals and groups.”
Hendricks and Bachan provide recent examples of these new openings and changes in the way young feminists are creating knowledge and activism online. Young women bloggers were at the head of the protest in the early days of the Arab Spring. In Kenya, Akirachix, a grassroots movement led by young women web developers, entrepreneurs, and engineers mentored young women to join the information technology sector. The US-based online network Girls Who Code (www.girlswhocode.com) has encouraged thousands of girls to enter the computer science field. They also point to the numerous websites (e.g., Tumblr), blogs, and hubsites, where girls and young women write about feminist issues as promising spaces for future activism.
Have Transnational Feminist Movements Transformed Patriarchy?
Underlying much of the commitment and passionate engagement of transnational feminist movements, indeed what brings feminists together, is the imperative of transforming patriarchal institutions in all their manifestations—from violations of intimate relations to the discriminatory and inequitable gender norms of political, economic, social, and cultural institutions. In this section we look at the contributors’ reflections on the ways in which transnational feminist movements have engaged in transforming patriarchy. Some contributors seek to answer the question of whether transnational feminist movements have destabilized patriarchal systems, such as neoliberalism, militarism, democracy, and religious fundamentalism, which underpin global political economy, security and governance and affect every aspect of our lives. We also raise questions about co-optation and collusion, working with men, and going beyond gender binaries.
Sandler states optimistically that “patriarchy may be at its tipping point, and it will take determined partnerships across many sectors, countries, and cultures to push it over the edge and eliminate its deleterious practices.” (p. 30)
Vargas introduces the wonderful Latin American term, “depatriarchalization,”11 arguing that feminist political theory and epistemology have contributed to radicalizing democracy, giving meaning to the new conceptualization of democracy as a way of life and not only a form of government, and unpacking “the asymmetrical construction of democracy” that has been “normalized under the abstract veil of universality.” Feminist movements have introduced new conceptualizations of democracy, citizenship, and “the right to have rights” that take into account multiethnicity, multiculturalism, intersectionality, multiple knowledges, colonialism, decolonization, depatriarchalization, and the body as a territory that carries rights, which has contributed to the deconstruction of homogeneous visions around nation, women, citizenship and cultures. We suggest that there is an important role for women in parliaments and other decision-making arenas in advocating for the adoption of these principles and practices, but also note Vandenbeld’s caveats about the current situation of women’s political representation globally. Transnational feminist movements therefore still have a long way to go in circulating these new conceptions of democracy.
From another arena of struggle, Mariz Tadros (see chapter 25) examines the complex and changing dynamics of feminist engagement with patriarchal religions. Focusing on religious forces (including governments, sociopolitical movements, faith-based organizations, and transnational networks and coalitions) that “play an intrinsically political role rather than on spirituality as a body of beliefs,” she explores the diverse platforms of feminist scholarship and activism in countering and engaging with religious fundamentalisms. She refers to a survey of 1,600 women’s rights activists from 160 countries conducted by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in 2007. Eighty percent of those surveyed responded that religious fundamentalisms have had a negative impact on women’s rights. AWID has published the findings of the survey as well as feminist experiences and strategies of “resisting and challenging fundamentalisms” to highlight ways in which feminist movements can counter the influence of religious fundamentalisms.
A number of contributors reflect on transnational feminist movements’ engagement with neoliberalism. Taylor makes the point that “governance is increasingly about managing a global market economy to secure the interests of global capital, and in such processes, women’s rights and human security tend to fall off the agenda. This is especially so when we examine decisions made in the UN system, the multilateral institutions of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization.” Moghadam describes the global environment in which transnational feminist movements are now operating as being “characterized by neoliberal capitalism, militarism, and patriarchy…. [and where] the sheer scale of the problems in those countries, which reflect the profound contradictions of international relations as well as the persistence of patriarchy, would seem to surpass the capacity of transnational feminism activism.” Carty’s and Mohanty’s exploration of “the anatomies of dispossession and violence in the age of neoliberalism” provides an important analysis of the “ongoing women-and-feminist-led social movements” confronting patriarchal “gender injustice and neoliberal practices.” They map out feminist responses to neoliberalism, including the threat (p. 31) that “neoliberal states appropriate gender discourses in their attempts to explain away or justify the erasure of women’s rights.” They argue that transnational solidarities among feminists are being forged as they recognize the ways in which patriarchal globalization/neoliberalism have “impacted women’s lives in tangible ways and have pushed them into deeper organizing for change,” inspiring the “transnational solidarities” that are “key to antiracist and anticapitalist feminist struggle” today.
Taylor’s discussion of the “gains and reversals” in women’s human rights and human security exposes transnational feminism’s unfinished business with patriarchy. She points out that “research in regions of the global South reveals that patriarchy has an adaptive character within modern state systems, and intersects with other forms of inequalities to limit women’s citizenship and identities.” And while women have been visible in “mobilizing and proposing changes affecting security at the global level, it is particularly at the national and regional levels that systems of inequality and repression remain intact and women’s voices are absent.” With regard to processes of globalization and governance, she states that feminists are still trying to make sense of the ways in which “economic globalization intersects with new forms of colonialism, patriarchy, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, fundamentalism, and narrow nationalism and how all of these undermine advances in women’s rights.”
Antrobus (2014), reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing conference in 2015, writes:
Today’s political economy is one in which the increasing power of multinational corporations threaten a new type of neocolonialism that determines the policy framework of governance in international institutions from the WTO to the World Bank and the UN itself to states, from the most powerful to the “least developed.”…. The globalization of this neoliberal policy framework has increasingly compromised the ability of states to protect the majority of people and the environment, leading to increasing inequality between and especially within countries.
We note that transnational feminist engagement with the global financial crisis, the multilateral trading system, the care economy, gender-responsive budgeting, and poverty eradication, among other economic arenas, is still viewed as peripheral (an “add-on”) to mainstream neoliberal economic theory and practice at the global, regional, and national levels. So, while, as the chapters show, contemporary globalization has created unprecedented opportunities for organizing and mobilizing across borders, there is much more to do if transnational feminist movements are to transform political and economic relations in an unjust and inequitable system.
Contradictions, Collusions and Co-optations
As the Handbook shows and this introduction reflects, the genealogy, evolution and history of transnational feminist movements have been dispersed, fluid, flexible, creative, dialogical, and therefore, not surprisingly, untidy processes. There are no “central” institutions that hold this “longest revolution” together. On the one hand, its organic (p. 32) evolution has enabled inclusiveness, diversity, the building of women’s power, and the articulation of feminist agendas in many spaces, including mainstream governmental, intergovernmental, and other institutions. On the other hand, the chapters also expose the contradictions, compromises, collusions, co-optations, and strategic errors of transnational feminist movements as they engage with mainstream institutions and seek to change systemic power from within and without.
In her chapter on feminist engagement with the UN, Sandler discusses how “feminist knowledge can be distorted to support technocratic administration”; for example, the training for peacekeepers on gender-based violence essentializes women as victims. She refers to Mukhopadhyay, who notes that “the courses we developed on gender and development in the 1980s took off around the world. They went from three weeks of learning and inquiry to a technical fix for bureaucrats who will not invest the time, now watered down and distorted to a one-day briefing session,” referred to by Menon as “gender appreciation courses.”12
Sandler explores “the…. struggles…. [and how the “warriors within”] internalize at the personal level, as they balance feminist ‘ends’ with bureaucratic ‘means’, and walk a tightrope between cooperation and co-optation.” However, referring to Caglar, Prugl, and Zwingel (2013), she makes the point that “even though the motivations fail to align precisely with feminist principles or challenge gender power relations, the focus on women’s empowerment and rights may further evolve over time, building on the imperfect footholds that feminists have gained in these spaces.” She concludes that, “it is perhaps inevitable that contestation and distortions emerge when feminist theory and analysis intersect with bureaucratic…. regimes.”
Hall discusses the complexities of feminist engagement with state institutions in relation to the professionalization and depoliticization of antiviolence work in North America. She argues that feminist theoretical and strategic debates to “yield state responses,” while they “may have expedited short-term gains,” have “ultimately undermined transformative organizing around violence against women and inhibited grassroots alliance building within and across borders.” Hall describes the processes, starting in the 1970s and 1980s, by which white middle- and upper-class feminist understandings of patriarchy as being the root (and often sole) cause of violence against women and liberal feminist conceptions of the public-private dichotomy led to the creation of particular state responses to violence against women. These state responses have often undermined the safety and security of indigenous, African American, South Asian, and Arab women, women of color, and poor women.
Hall makes a key link between the contradictions and co-optations of feminist movements’ engagement with state agencies and their dependence on state funding: “This move toward depoliticized antiviolence work cannot be understood outside the shifting political economy, and, in particular, the increasingly punitive austerity of neoliberalism.” State-funded feminist organizations “are often restricted by state funding regulations that demand limited or no ‘political content’ or ‘advocacy.’” In addition, the funding of many feminist organizations for work on violence against women has been eliminated under “austerity [measures]…. coupled with an (p. 33) increasingly punitive response to violence against women” by the current neoliberal Canadian Government.
This issue of feminist organizations’ dependence on and collusion with the state has been debated for decades, particularly with regard to “state feminism” or “national women’s and gender machineries”—that is, the structures and mechanisms13 (established by governments across the world to promote women’s rights and gender equality since they were recommended at the 1975 Mexico conference. It is not surprising that women from the ruling elite who tend to occupy these spaces act in conformity with the political, economic, social, and cultural ideologies and values eschewed by their governments. This often results in a lack of responsiveness to the needs and interests of women and girls from politically, economically, and socially marginalized groups.
Chen critically interrogates the co-optation and collusion of the “national women’s machinery” and “state feminism” in China. She points out that the Chinese Communist Party exerts firm control over the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF), resulting in the ACWF being more supportive of the government’s policies and cooperating less with grassroots women’s groups. As the “state feminist” approach does not fundamentally challenge the capitalist economic system and the existing state apparatus,” there has been a resulting failure to uphold women’s substantive social citizenship through the protection of entitlements guaranteed by the state, and “systemic gender biases manifested in state-led policies and policy implementation…. have prevented women’s advancement despite gender-specific action plans and programs.” Thus the attainment of “equality between women and men in China is far from being achieved.” Chen also exposes the painful irony that “despite their responsibility for advancing women’s rights, the ACWF is tasked with the surveillance of women in villages and urban neighborhoods to ensure the successful execution” of the Government’s “one-child policy.” This state policing and management of women’s fertility and pregnancies has led to their loss of dignity, humiliation and vulnerability as they are frequently checked by family planning officers, fined or forced to undergo abortions.
The chapters on militarism, war, peacebuilding, and postconflict rebuilding expose profound contradictions, collusions, and co-optations between transnational feminist movements and patriarchy. A number of contributors present hard-hitting analyses of the collusion and co-optation of Western feminism in supporting and condoning the US-led “wars on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. They point to the arena in which transnational feminist movements still have a long way to go in challenging patriarchy.
Maryam Khalid (see chapter 24) explores feminist approaches to unmasking militarism (viewed as an ideology that includes the military complex; security; war; other state-led military interventions; and indirect interventions, such as the proxy wars of the Cold War era, international violence, and terrorism). Feminist perspectives illuminate that militarism is constructed “through gendered understandings of the world,” gendered assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity; the privileging of masculinity over femininity; and the promotion of military values, such as aggression, violence, and unquestioning loyalty. Militarism underpins the construction of the patriarchal state, the national interest, and the state’s engagement in international relations. It functions (p. 34) to “normalize a view of the world…. as marked by war, violence, and aggression,” and it makes acceptable the violence of militarism through a process of sanitization (e.g., employing euphemistic terms such as “clean bombs,” “collateral damage,” and “peacekeeping missiles”). Feminist perspectives also point to militarism’s gendered effects, not only in the context of war (e.g., the different effects of war and armed conflict on men and women, women’s experience of rape and sexual torture), but its “all-embracing reach in…. societies in which it is a dominant paradigm.” Khalid makes the point that “the increasing number of women in the military has not led to a rejection of key assumptions or characteristics of masculine militarism. Rather, women’s roles in the military are still linked to the ‘feminine’ and function to support the masculinity of the state and its militarism.”
Hall locates the discussion within the “culture versus rights” debate, which is borne out in the experience of South Asian Muslim and Arab communities in North America with regard to “crimes of honor” and “honor killings.” She argues that it frames “Muslim women as victims of their culture, in its reliance on a dichotomy between culture and nonculture (i.e., Western culture), but it also creates an assumption of Western society [as] free from gendered and family violence.” It further reflects the “hegemonic ordering of a secular West over a ‘backward’ Other,” that ascribes “an inherent violence to certain non-Western cultures, and places these in opposition to ostensibly noncultural, universal human rights.” Hall juxtaposes this feminist debate in North America with the US military’s justification(s) of its post-9/11 “wars on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Khalid argues further that the US administration of George W. Bush created a post-9/11 gendered, racist, and Orientalist “wars on terror” discourse based on a set of binaries about us/self (the US state and its people) and them/other (Al Qaeda, the countries that harbor them, the East, Arabs, and Muslims), which “legitimized” the US-led military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003, respectively.14 Critical to Khalid’s argument is that American feminist concerns and language were co-opted in the discourse that “constructed other women as voiceless victims of a barbaric (other, male) enemy,” and that some American feminist organizations supported the US-led “wars on terror”.
Tadros argues that “the West’s engagement with ‘the Muslim world’ after 9/11 represents a shift from being blind to religious forces (secular reductionism) to working through a narrow ‘religious prism’ in engaging with highly diverse social, political, and economic phenomena (religious essentialism), that has a highly detrimental impact on women’s rights.” She contends that the post-9/11 context has been characterized by a two-pronged attack by the West: fighting “terrorism” through security, and targeting “Muslim communities” through sociocultural interventions. Tadros (referring to Kandiyoti 2011) makes the point that the debate between American liberal feminists who condoned the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan in response to the Taliban’s violations of women’s rights and the radical feminists who condemned the intervention as a form of “cultural imperialism,” served to essentialize Afghan women.
Seema Kazi (see chapter 26) takes this argument further, in tracing the contemporary history of war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka. Quoting Richard Falk (2012), the chapter defines “terror” as “political violence that targets civilians, independent of whether the actor is a non-state movement or a sovereign state.” She examines in (p. 35) detail the horrific gendered impacts of the US-led “wars on terror” and domestic “wars of terror” waged by the postcolonial states within their national borders. Kazi makes the point that:
Prior to 9/11 the situation of Afghan women had not been part of the global discourse on the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, throughout the 1990s, there was little international concern or sympathy for the suffering of Afghan women inflicted by two decades of war. It was only in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, and the retaliatory US-led Operation Enduring Freedom military offensive against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, that Afghan women appeared in the US foreign policy discourse and the international public imagination.
The stated justification for the US counteroffensive was democracy, human rights, and the rights of Afghan women. Operation Enduring Freedom was constructed as a moral mission to rescue Afghan women from Taliban tyranny.
Sandler’s chapter encourages us to ask whether transnational feminist movements’ engagement with the UN system, as well as increased numbers of women staff and diplomats operating at senior levels in the UN, have transformed patriarchal power with regard to global imperatives such as peace/militarism/war/conflict or the redistribution of wealth/elimination of poverty. We pose the question of whether, in focusing on transforming the “interstitial” spaces within the UN, including the framing of UNSCR 1325 and other resolutions on “women, peace and security,” have the “warriors within” lost sight of the bigger picture?
We recall the 2003 annual meeting of the CSW,15 which comprised hundreds of representatives of transnational feminist movements, including femocrats from the UN and other multilateral and bilateral agencies, government diplomats and feminist activists. It took place in the basement of the UN’s headquarters in New York in the immediate run-up to the US-led military invasion of Iraq. Despite the vociferous antiwar debates taking place simultaneously in the global media and massive demonstrations in various capital cities around the world, the CSW failed to raise the issue or challenge “the boys” upstairs in the UN Security Council, who met shortly after to debate the military intervention. We also note that feminists in the US and UK parliaments (as well as other NATO countries) either colluded with, failed to engage in the debate or were unable to win the argument against the military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Claire Short, UK Secretary of State for International Development (1997–2003) stands out as the lone feminist voice in the UK parliament and Cabinet against the military invasions.
Tadros quotes Kandiyoti (2011), who raises concerns about UN-led gender mainstreaming programs in the postconflict reconstruction process in Afghanistan:
The workings of global governance institutions (United Nations agencies in particular) in the service of a gender equality agenda in Afghanistan instituted a form of donor-driven gender activism that could not reach beyond the ministries in Kabul in a country where the writ of the Government barely extended outside the capital. This made the technocratic formula of ‘gender mainstreaming’ politically hollow and ushered in another layer of instrumentalism—this time in the service of development and post-conflict reconstruction.”
This discussion raises the need for further research on the role of femocrats within the UN’s “gender architecture” as well as transnational feminist movements on the outside in the “wars on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their/our loud silence during the post-9/11 debates in the UN Security Council bears some interrogation. As does the implicit support of the US-led military invasions by femocrats in the UN and other multilateral and bilateral agencies who have been engaged in gender-responsive humanitarian and development programming in Afghanistan and Iraq, an approach which may also be read as “picking up the pieces” through the entry point of UNSCR 1325.
Working with Men
Although the Handbook focuses on the diversity, divisions, and challenges within transnational feminist movements, the role of men is somewhat muted. The question of the inclusion of men as part of the feminist movement is not raised directly, except in the chapter by Jose F. Serrano-Amaya and Salvador Vidal-Ortiz on “profeminism.” They use this term to describe men’s movements working alongside women’s on feminist issues. The contributors define themselves as “profeminist” and analyze how men’s groups in the Americas engage in the fight against patriarchy and work to transform hegemonic masculinity.
They speak to the complexity of alliances and solidarity among profeminist and feminist groups, as male and female feminists have sought to tackle structural sexism. While their chapter aims to show how Latin America has developed an interesting model for profeminist engagement, particularly in ending gender-based violence, the silence and non-engagement around the question of men (despite the focus on gender power relations) in the Handbook raises interesting questions that reflect Serrano-Amaya’s and Vidal-Ortiz’s concluding questions about what kinds of alliances men and women can form to end gender injustice. Can profeminist men’s groups claim to be feminist?
Working beyond Gender Binaries
Another issue that the Handbook addresses is how transnational feminist movements are exploring the need to go beyond gender binaries. Vargas, Carty and Mohanty, Desai, and Petchesky speak to the trans* engagement and the space for different genders as well as sexual identities’ organizing and engaging in feminist spaces. These are discussed theoretically, particularly in relation to US, European, and Latin American feminisms; however, the discussion also suggests that going beyond gender binaries is a much contextualized debate—and in some arenas a generational and contested issue.
For example, in her discussion on radical democracy in Latin America, Vargas poses the question of how to avoid the “androcentric dualism” that defines gender equality from a masculine paradigm. She argues that it is important for transnational feminist (p. 37) movements to move beyond seeing women’s experience in opposition to masculinity. Garita positions this debate as generational—she mentions that sexual identity and going beyond gender binaries is a key issue for the younger “post-Cairo” feminists. Certainly, the silences and assumptions around gender norms are a troubling issue for transnational feminist movements. Petchesky raises the question of trans* persons’ rights and positioning in feminist analysis and feminist movements when she questions the feminist groups across the globe that privilege the “fight against sexual abuse and violence against women…. as the highest expression of feminist activism.” This reinforces the neocolonial discourse of the ‘victim subject’ countering and contradicting other feminist understandings of how neoliberal power operates. She suggests that it would be “almost unimaginable” that the same crowds would “march in the streets to demand justice for a trans* sex worker or a poor Dalit woman who had been raped and beaten to death.” And she points to the silence around the “dozens of trans* women and men (most of them poor and dark-skinned) [who] have been brutally murdered.” The issue of gender identity and heteronormative politics in the transnational feminist movement continues to be one of the more complex issues to be tackled in the future.
Conclusion: Ways Forward
Although the Handbook sets out clearly what has been achieved by transnational feminist movements—putting women’s rights and gender equality on the international and national development agendas, bringing to world attention the importance of ending violence against women, developing new frameworks in which women’s productive and reproductive work count in economic development planning, opening the way to ensuring sexual and reproductive rights and health, recognizing women’s contribution to agriculture and environmental sustainability, underscoring the need for women’s political leadership, highlighting gender bias in all areas of policymaking, working to transform women’s citizenship in processes of state-building, and engaging in peacebuilding and postconflict rebuilding—it is also written at a moment of self-reckoning and questioning about the work that still needs to be done.
The contributors offer a many-layered approach as they look forward. Some argue for new imaginaries and feminist visions, along with the need for fundamental structural changes through resistance and transformation. Others emphasize the need for different forms of alliance building and a strengthening of strategic coalitions, and still others present pragmatic and strategic directions for institutional engagement in the light of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. In conclusion, we bring together some of the suggestions proposed by the contributors in order to show the creative variety and diversity of ideas that will no doubt inform the work of transnational feminist movements in the future: in terms of defining the challenges ahead, ways of working within institutions, building alliances and glocal strategies. (p. 38)
Overall, the contributors see major challenges ahead. As Hall stated, neoliberalism “has snatched back” the gains made by feminists in the 1970s and 1980s. The response, however, cannot be defensive. Rather, feminism needs to expand to reflect on and analyze the complex interlinkages among “imperialism, racism, homophobia and capitalism” and the new forms of “sexism, austerity, conservatism and xenophobia”.
Tadros concludes that transnational feminist movements seeking to address religious fundamentalisms’ threat to women’s rights, face challenges on a number of levels: Globally, they “cannot ignore the power and influence of a securitized Western policy agenda, and how it shapes development policy more generally and gendered policies considered of strategic importance or of security risk more specifically.” As power configurations at the global, regional and national levels shift, transnational feminist movements will need to be responsive to their implications for the gender equality agenda, while being sensitive to the historical, political and economic contexts in which it is being negotiated.
Kazi, in pointing the way forward for transnational feminist movements in South Asia, indicates that there exists “a broad regional/transnational feminist political opposition to war and militarization.” She states further that this is reflected in a growing body of feminist scholarly literature “which has the potential to develop into a more substantive transnational alliance in the region.” However, she acknowledges that the “security-centric discourse privileging the nation-state conflates criticism with treason and support for ‘the enemy,’ making it much more difficult for women to challenge the ‘nationalist’ paradigm and widen the analytic frame.”
Klot concludes that “the achievements associated with UNSCR 1325 outside of the UN system, especially in the context of informal peace processes, reflect a failure to influence how UN peacebuilding operations interpret, shape, and respond to women’s security risks and needs. Ultimately,…. 1325’s emancipatory potential…. rests with its ability to enable feminist transformative agendas within the context of UN peacebuilding as well as outside it.”
Strategic Engagement with Institutions
In considering the way forward, Sandler suggests that the UN, with all its imperfections, must continue to be an important site for transnational feminist activism. However, she makes the critical point that there are limits to the extent to which women’s rights and gender equality can be advanced through the UN unless national and local feminist movements have more influence on national politics and foreign policies in the majority of UN member states. She also states that international reform at the UN is crucial, including reform of the structure and methods of the UN Security Council. As the Pathways to Women’s Empowerment study notes, “deeper-rooted structural constraints that perpetuate inequality must be tackled in all contexts, including in the formal institutions that produce the rules and services upon which citizens depend.” And “femocrats and those charged with advancing women’s rights through bureaucracies need to (p. 39) reimagine themselves as part of a movement, linking with each other within and across institutional locations and levels, and with transnational feminist networks and movements outside, to form a wall of resistance to sexism and misogyny, within the UN—in its policies, programs and budgets—and at the national level in each of its Member States.”
Contributors currently working within UN institutions are aware of how strategies need to adapt and change to ensure that feminism advances both structural and systemic change.
Khan, in considering ways forward for gender-responsive budgeting (GRB), suggests that on the one hand, GRB can support “the democratization of institutions by integrating the voices of women into government planning and budgeting.” But at the same time, she notes the danger of GRB as a mainstreaming strategy. In her years of engagement as both a feminist advocate and femocrat, she has noted that GRB has lost its political impact “as it becomes fully enmeshed in government systems.” Rather than it being a powerful strategy, it has in some places become co-opted by government and donors who have “depoliticized the agenda making it a purely technical exercise with endless toolkits and checklists.” Khan notes that GRB is too slow to bring about the fundamental economic and social change that is necessary for women and girls to realize their rights. She underlines that GRB is not about transforming macroeconomic structures but about “shedding light on inefficiencies in public spending and redirecting resources to achieve social development outcomes.”
Razavi, like Khan, raises questions about the need to change macroeconomic thinking around care, asking feminists to “scrutinize how the provision and receipt of care is impacted by the broader structures and patterns of development,” as they pave the way forward. In proposing a future for care she asks that transnational feminists, both scholars and practitioners, “capitalize on the rich array of research and policy analysis that has taken place over the past decade or so, to advance the policy agenda on care beyond what was enshrined in the Beijing Platform for Action.” She underlines the political importance of redistributing care work from families to the public sector through public financing, although she recognizes that translating feminist research and policy analysis into global intergovernmental commitments will be an uphill battle.
Whittington concludes that “ensuring women a critical role in postconflict governance should be accorded the highest priority in all peacekeeping mandates, donor conferences, priorities, and agendas of the international community. There must be a focus on enabling women to capitalize on their engagement in the peace process and gains made in postconflict elections, in order to transform the political, economic, and social conditions of women [and men] in the country.”
Building New Alliances
In addressing the questions around building just and ethical futures, the contributors underscore how transnational feminist movements need to continue strong alliance and coalition-building. (p. 40)
Chen presents a number of recommendations based on the experience of China. She suggests that acknowledging the failure of “state feminism” to advance women’s rights and gender equality in China has the potential to lead to a re-evaluation of its gender analysis and strategies, and the building of alliances with grassroots women’s movements in order to change gender and other forms of discrimination and oppression in the society. She notes that in recent years, the coordinated struggles for gender and social justice by grassroots women has led to a broader recognition of women’s rights as human rights in China. She therefore sees the need to tackle social exclusion and deprivation through feminists networking with disadvantaged groups and building coalitions with other progressive forces “around a discourse of social citizenship, equality and justice.”
Desai underlines the need to continue to build solidarity based on mutual recognition, support, affinity, and complementarity through the daily political work in organizations, through networks, at events and by movements. Garita points to the importance of coalition-building if the transnational feminist movement is to secure sexual and reproductive rights and health in UN global and regional policymaking processes. She suggests that these coalitions have led to a normative global policy agenda around numerous issues from adolescent sexuality to agreements to end all forms of stigma, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But she points to the setbacks due to conservative forces that undermine women’s human rights, erotic justice and diversity. In looking forward she sees a key strategy as being the need for “generations of older, younger, and middle feminists to come together and develop shared knowledge, analysis, and strategy through processes of accompaniment based on principles of solidarity, cooperation, mutual respect, generosity, and nonviolence.”
Serrano-Amaya and Vidal-Ortiz underline the need for men’s groups to form alliances with feminist groups, specifically learning from the experience of Latin America where there have been significant developments in the study of men and masculinities and success in tackling structural sexism and other women’s and feminist issues.
Krishna speaks of the need to build an inclusive “shared” platform in order to ensure collective emancipation from patriarchy. Ways forward require that transnational feminism confronts the deep structural injustices of “everyday patriarchy.” She suggests the need to lessen the ever-widening chasm between feminism of the privileged and that of the less privileged. This means the urban/rural divide has to be broached as middle class urban feminists concerned with identity and violence issues reach out and work with oppressed rural women concerned with livelihood sustainability. She also concludes that the tensions between funded NGOs and non-funded movements need to be bridged.
In considering the contributors’ reflections on the future, we found “glocal” to be a useful concept in understanding how transnational feminist movements navigate between the grounded knowledge of everyday local resistance and struggles and the global (p. 41) hegemonies that must continually be traversed. Krishna argues that transnational feminist movements in the future must engage with the “myriad and dynamic new political spaces created by people’s movements at the grassroots, in the local side streams of national and global development. It is in these side streams…. that we can begin to understand the politics of transformative organizing.”
Mbilinyi suggests that in rethinking how to recognize the care economy as part of economic livelihoods concerns and struggles for land, it is important that grassroots women are able to organize themselves, analyze, and make change happen. Although, as mentioned earlier, she speaks of the “enormous potential of transformative feminist movement building which is grounded locally with grassroots women activists,” she warns that “this is not necessarily a ‘win win’ situation in which all women come out sisters. Powerful women (and men) benefit from the existing power structures, and will resist all efforts to deprive them of their privilege and power.”
Running somewhat counter to the suspicions about the power of the market and the actors in the private sector expressed by many contributors, Hendricks and Bachan make the case for working with the private sector when speaking about the future of girls in development. Funding for popular campaigns that can open up new policy spaces in which to discuss human rights violations of girls “in the new and compelling context of girls’ empowerment,” can lead to developments at the international level supported by grassroots mobilization led by young people. These, too, are glocal engagements, when they argue that “girls today recognize, in a way that was less cogent to previous generations, that the interconnectedness of global issues carries implications for their own lives in an immediate way that requires their mobilization.”
New Feminist Knowledge
Several contributors see new forms of knowledge as being necessary for moving forward. Truong states that “newly formed transnational feminist knowledge must build bridges between different epistemological positions to deepen understanding about the emerging structural contradictions in the human trafficking business.” She calls for a deconstructing of the “apparatus of knowledge” on sexuality and the family, validating gender and family diversity, and sexual pluralism. In the current era of globalization, “redirecting emancipatory social action…. must go hand in hand with setting new limits on markets to redress the collusion between diverse forms of power (state, capital, technology) and…. a reconstruction of the values that protect human dignity within the multiple layers of transnational commerce involving the human body.”
When considering the new areas of focus required, Youngs argues in a similar vein that it is important that transnational feminists champion women in science and technology in order to help form new cultures of innovation engaging women in ICTs and knowledge and skills associated with them. As she states, “the demand for new feminist theory and imaginings to fit the new circumstances and potential has not diminished as the digital age has developed and incorporated growing numbers of people, societies, (p. 42) and economies.” Even if the digital age has represented a sea change in its knowledge building, power, and potential to affect social change, she is concerned that digital transformations have reinforced the gender inequality already embedded in industrial modernity—the relative lack of presence of women in arenas that determine technological change.
Rocheleau and Nirmal call for new approaches to science(s) and knowledge(s) that would counter the challenges to techno-fix responses to climate change and other ecological crises, as well as undermine the apocalyptic environmental crisis scenarios as preludes to reactionary/fundamentalist politics and oppression of vulnerable groups (women, ethnic, sexual and racial “minorities,” and migrants among others). They also propose the application of feminist perspectives to bio-political debates on bodies and ecologies and an extension of FPE insights on gendered territories, resources, rights, land use, and resource management regimes.
Envisioning Alternative Feminist Imaginaries
Several chapters articulate a vision of alternatives to global capitalism as the way forward. Mbilinyi starts from the vision of a people-centered participatory development “whereby women and men all benefit equally from development and participate equally in control over resource mobilization and allocation.”
Agostino proposes that transnational feminists need to engage with resilience and innovative practices toward a different development model as they move away from an economistic-centerd vision to one based on sufficiency, mutual responsibility, equity, care and justice. She argues that there are alternatives to the “productivist logic” for which growth is the only answer, and feminists need to join in building counter-narratives to the dominant views of what constitutes a “good life,” by practicing “transformative justice”:
Humanity as a whole, men and women, need to find new ways of living in our common planet and to introduce changes in our relationships to others, to nature and to our own imaginaries of a good life. Care and mutuality and the connection between self and others and nature, which tend to be associated exclusively with the feminine, acquire in the process a whole new meaning for human beings in general as essential threads for moving toward more sustainable societies.
Rocheleau and Nirmal also call for a decolonial “turn” to “open up new categories of identity, affinity, and difference and new ways of understanding and engaging in relationships in space(s) and place(s).” They “envision alternative ecologies and economies that protect the rights of people and the health of the earth or posit social and political alternatives that hold science accountable to do no harm (precautionary principle) and serve the common good.” They see these visions as nourishing feminist struggle, “moving it in new directions, with different rhythms, colors, and patterns of relation” that reflect “a diversity of people in everyday ecologies.” In seeking these new visions, (p. 43) feminists are contributing to the “crucial work of making new worlds on the ground, and bringing to life a larger world in which many worlds can live and thrive.”
Desai, in her quest for a feminist imaginary, is somewhat more pragmatic when she says, “Transnational feminist movements continue to chart new courses and terrains in our quest for other possible worlds even as we are limited by the concepts and practices of our current world.”
Blowing Away the Cobwebs
As we state in the opening of this introduction, the Handbook is timed to contribute to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. In bringing together such diverse voices and perspectives, it underlines the importance of open engagement with transnational processes, such as the post-2015 agenda. Although UN processes are not the only spaces in which transnational feminist movements are actively involved, they continue to be important agenda-setting moments. Learning from the vast experiences, analyses, and ideas presented in the Handbook, we, as the editors, would like to conclude with some ideas for the future that we see as emerging these discussions.
Any future agenda being developed needs to be embedded within a strong human rights framework, in which women’s rights and gender equality are clear goals, along with the elimination of all forms of gender-based discrimination, including sexual and other forms of gender-based violence against lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Such an agenda needs to address systemic and structural issues of power that inform the profound atrocities, injustices, and inequalities of patriarchal neoliberal capitalism, militarism, and religious fundamentalism(s).
Transnational feminist movements need to take advantage of this pivotal moment to regroup globally, in concert with progressive people of all genders, to challenge the institutions (such as the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN system, including the Security Council) to rethink a coherent political-economic paradigm based on peace and security for all, equitable economic distribution and social protection, respect for the limits of the planet’s carrying capacity, and limits on corporate control and commodity speculation. Such a framework would acknowledge the crucial role of women in the formal and care economy and in rural livelihoods, and include comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. In forging such an agenda, transnational feminist movements will have an important role to play in ensuring that governments and intergovernmental organizations undertake the systemic transformations needed for gender, political, economic, social, and ecological justice.
From a position of fifty years of knowledge production, activism, working with institutions, and critical reflection, it is now time to blow away the cobwebs and recognize that transnational feminist movements form a key epistemic community that can inspire and provide leadership in transforming international political economy, development and peace processes. As editors, we see transnational feminist movements as needing to continue to shape political spaces and institutions at all levels and to recognize the myriad (p. 44) formal and informal ways in which gendered power relations define and inform everyday life. Building on their histories, knowledge, and deep understanding of political and social transformation, transnational feminist movements have much to offer as we face the tough challenges ahead.
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(1.) The term “glocal” (global + local) recognizes that global forces are constructed and played out in localities that are linked by networks as people connect, communicate, organize, build alliances, and mobilize for change.
(2.) Examples of transnational feminist networks organized around particular theme(s) or regions include Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD), African Feminist Forum (AFF), Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), Isis International, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Women and Development Network, Society for International Development (SID/WID), Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), Women in Development Europe (WIDE), Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), and Women Living under Muslim Laws (WLUML), to name a few.
(3.) The chapter draws on interviews with Sara Ahmed, Linda Martin Alcoff, Peggy Antrobus, Beverly Bain, Himani Bannerji, Avtar Brah, Urvashi Butalia, Teresa Cordova, Elizabeth Crespo-Kebler and Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, Angela Davis, Zillah Eisenstein, Laila Farah, Honor Ford-Smith, Joan French, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Asha Hans, Aida Hernandez, Linda Peake, Islah Jad, Lee Maracle, Margo Okazawa-Rey, Richa Nagar, Julia Oparah, Minne Bruce Pratt, Nawal El Saadawi, Rhoda Reddock, Fatima Sadiqi, Alissa Trotz and Andaiye, Mara Viveros-Vigoya, Judith Wedderburn, and Gloria Wekker.
(4.) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), all adopted by the UN in 1966.
(5.) For elaboration on the decolonial approach, see the chapters by Desai, Rocheleau and Nirmal, and Vargas, which look at how indigenous and other feminists groups decenter hegemonic Western scientific knowledge and history.
(6.) Women’s old and new antiwar organizations include Code Pink, Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST), Global Women’s Strike, Gold Star Families for Peace, International Action Center, Raging Grannies, School of the Americas Watch, Syracuse Peace Council, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, Women in Black, Women in Conflict Zones Network (WICZNet), Women’s Fightback Network, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and Women Waging Peace.
(7.) For example, UNCED, Rio de Janeiro 1992; ICPD, Cairo 1994; and WSSD, Copenhagen 1995.
(8.) The North-based transnational feminist networks included the Association for Women’s Rights and Development (AWID), Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), Women and Development Network, Society for International Development (SID/WID), Women, Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and Women in Development Europe (WIDE), among others.
(9.) The original Development, Crises and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives was published for the Nairobi Conference by Kali for Women, India in 1985 with funding from NORAD. The book, authored by Gita Sen and Caren Grown, was subsequently published in Monthly Review Press in 1987.
(10.) Sonia E. Alvarez, Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Ericka Beckman, Maylei Blackwell, Norma Chinchilla, Nathalie Lebon, Marysa Navarro, and Marcela Ríos Tobar (n.d.). “Encountering Latin American and Caribbean Feminisms.” See http://www.havenscenter.org/files/Alvarez_3_alvarez-etal.pdf
(11.) The word originates in Bolivia, where the Office of Depatriarchalization is located within the Vice-Ministry of Decolonization. Vargas notes that the creation of this office was the result of the pressure generated by a very persuasive campaign by feminist groups, who launched the slogan “without depatriarchalization there is no decolonization.”
(13.) For example, ministries, divisions, departments, units, gender focal points, and national gender commissions.
(14.) These binaries included West vs. East/Arab/Muslim; self vs. Other; us vs. them; civilized vs. barbaric; rational vs. irrational; progressive vs. backward/stagnant; democratic vs. despotic; developed vs. underdeveloped; Western masculinity as moral, rational, autonomous, competitive, “the liberator,” needs to bring progress to “them” vs. Eastern masculinity as barbaric, irrational, threatening, dangerous, violent, aggressive, “the oppressor”; and Western femininity as liberated, nurturing and supportive, needs protection from “barbaric” men vs. Eastern femininity as passive, victim, oppressed, voiceless, lacking agency, needs rescuing.”
(15.) The themes of the 47th Session of CSW held in 2003 were (1) participation and women’s access to the media, and information and communication technologies; and (2) women’s human rights and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. See http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/47sess.htm.