Key Resources: Feminist Solidarity and Collective Action

Feminist solidarity and collective action
Case studies

Feminist solidarity and collective action

The Power of Association: Reflecting on Women’s Collective Action as a Force for Social Change, Thinkpiece #2, UK Feminista (n.d.),, 6 pp. (last checked April 2013)

In this brief, articulate, and eloquent consideration of women’s collective action, Naila Kabeer situates her discussion within the context of rising individualism and the seemingly unstoppable spread of neo-liberal economic ideas across the globe. For Naila Kabeer, however, this power is countered by the power of continuing collective efforts by women around the world to bring about change in their lives and societies. Her reflection on the motivation, processes, and dynamics at work in the coming-into-being and development of groups involved in collective action brings in examples from India, Thailand/Burma, Bangladesh, and a transnational movement.

Changing Their World: Concepts and Practices of Women’s Movements (Second Edition) (2012), Srilatha Batliwala, Toronto, Mexico City, Cape Town: Association for Women’s Rights in Development,, 86 pp. (last checked April 2013)

Produced by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, this is a hugely helpful resource, which analyses the experiences of women’s movements from around the world in order to understand their evolution, their strategising, the impact they have made, and the lessons that can be learned from their experiences. The paper is divided into three chapters. The first chapter defines terms and ‘clarifies concepts’, and the reader is essentially ‘walked through’ an intellectual framework for understanding (feminist) movements and movement building. The second chapter presents summaries of the many case studies of women’s movements undertaken for this project (the full case studies can be downloaded from, and the third chapter reviews the insights gained from the case studies.

New South Asian Feminisms: Paradoxes and Possibilities (2012), Srila Roy (ed.), London and New York: Zed Books, ISBN: 9781780321899, 208 pp., website:

With contributions from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the UK, this book considers the current state of South Asian feminist politics, which is threatened by religious fundamentalism, nationalism, neoliberalism, and ‘NGO-ization’. Reflecting the view that once radical and autonomous forms of feminist activity have been ideologically fragmented and replaced, the contributors provide an insight into new expressions of feminism in the region today, with mobilisation around such issues as disability, violence, and queer subjectivities, such a change inevitably pointing to a generational divide within feminism in this region.

Women in Movement: Feminism and Social Action (2012), Sheila Rowbotham, London and New York: Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-415-82159-9, 370 pp., website:

First published in 1992, and now reissued by Routledge in their Revivals series, this book by renowned feminist writer and scholar, Sheila Rowbotham, provides a fascinating introduction to a wide array of women’s movements, ranging historically from the late eighteenth-century to the early 1990s – Part VI of the book focusing on ‘Recent Women’s Movements and Social Protest’. The book outlines the economic, social, and political ideas that have inspired women to organise and challenge gender discrimination and bias in political and economic concepts, and while the main focus is on movements in Europe and North America, there are also chapters on movements in India and China.

Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance? (2011), Sandra Grey (ed.), London and New York: Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-415-664 13-4, 186 pp., website:

Comparing the experiences over the past 40 years of women’s movements in Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA, this book takes as its starting point the notion that the women’s movement is over, something that would seem to be the case if disruptive action is considered to be an essential element when defining a social movement. The book goes on to examine the development of feminist activism globally, and in cyberspace. Finally, in an effort to determine whether a contemporary women’s movement exists, the book presents contributions from young activists from around the world.

Women’s Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms (2010), Amrita Basu (ed.), Boulder, CO: Westview Press, ISBN: 9780813344447, 512 pp., website:

With contributions from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and the USA, but with a focus on the global South, this book considers the development of, and challenges facing, women’s movements from countries around the world. The book disputes widespread assumptions about the Northern origins of local feminisms, with contributors situating women’s movements firmly in their localities, through explorations of their interaction with the state, civil society, and other social movements.

Women’s Movements in Asia: Feminisms and Transnational Activism (2010), Mina Roces and Louise Edwards (eds.), London and New York: Routledge, ISBN: 978-0-415-4870-0, 288 pp., website:

In this work, the history of feminism as well as the current state of women’s movements in 12 Asian countries: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam is outlined. Examining the effects of cultural, economic, political and religious influences on national feminisms, as well as transnational factors, such as colonialism, the chapter authors also assess the contribution of Asian feminists to global debates on women’s rights.

Solidarities Beyond Borders: Transnationalizing Women’s Movements (2010), Pascale Dufour, Dominique Masson, and Dominique Caouette (eds.), Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, ISBN: 9780774817950, 280 pp., website:

With case studies from North America, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, this book provides both a theoretical and a practical examination of transnational women’s movements. The first, largely theoretical, part of the book discusses social movements; with Part Two looking at the development of solidarity through the recognition by feminist activists and women’s movements of shared interests. Part Three focuses on the challenges faced by women’s movements involved in solidarity building, and the embracing of other progressive movements in pursuit of shared objectives. The book’s introductory chapter is available online (last checked April 2013)

NGOs: between buzzwords and social movements’ (2010), Islah Jah, Chapter 18 in Andrea Cornwall and Deborah Eade (eds.) Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby: Practical Action Publishing, in association with Oxfam GB, pp. 193/202, ISBN: 9 781853 397066, 320 pp., website:

In this piece, Islah Jah contends that the rise of the non-government organisation (NGO) movement, with its attendant ‘professionaliation’ and ‘projectisation’ and donor-funded efforts to promote civil society, has effectively depoliticised the women’s movement in Palestine, and demobilised Palestinian civil society in its national struggle. For the author, NGOs /with their supposed positive, democratising effects / should not be seen as synonymous with civil society, and that a much more critical assessment of them is needed. The book can be downloaded in its entirety, at no cost, from (last checked April 2013). See also Islah Jah (2004) ‘The NGO-isation of Arab women’s movements’, IDS Bulletin 35(4): 34/42.

Women’s Health Movements: A Global Force for Change (2007), Meredeth Turshen, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 978-1-4039-7898-1, 272 pp.,

This excellent book provides a valuable introduction to women’s health movements and their achievements in a globalising world. Recognising that women’s activism is rooted in the global context of inequality of resources between North and South, and between genders, races and classes, the book also considers the shift in emphasis in women’s health being brought about by activists / from biology to social relations. The chapters are as follows: Women Organizing: Activism Worldwide; The Global Context; Women’s Environments: Home, Community, and Workplace; Fighting for Health Services, Struggling with the Pharmaceutical Industry; The Sexual Politics of Violence Against Women; Women’s Reproductive Rights; and Framing Women’s Health Problems: Towards a New Universalism.Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Networks (2005), Valentine Moghadam, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN: 9780801880247, 272 pp.,  website:

In this clearly and accessibly written book, Valentine Moghadam argues that while globalisation has exacerbated economic and social inequalities, it has at the same time enabled the communication and exchange of information that has facilitated the growth of transnational feminist networks, which have used the internet for coalition building and advocacy and lobbying work to advance the goals of feminism, and to challenge the many negative aspects of globalisation. The author examines six feminist networks - AWMR, DAWN, SIGI, WEDO, WIDE, and WLUML - analysing the organisation, objectives, programmes, and outcomes of these groups in their efforts to secure gender equality and the human rights of women across the globe.

Women and the Politics of Place (2005), Wendy Harcourt and Arturo Escobar, Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press, ISBN: 978-1565492073, 288 pp., website: 

In this book, Wendy Harcourt and Arturo Escobar examine women’s economic and social justice movements, and how these are politically negotiating globalisation, via a conceptual framework developed from anthropology, geography, ecology, feminist, and development studies. The book includes the experiences of women who are mobilising around the issues of reproductive rights, land and community, rural and urban environments, and global capital. The book was developed from an issue of the journal Development / 45(1), March 2002 / and the introductory article to this issue can be found at (last checked April 2013)

The Global Women’s Movement: Issues and Strategies for the New Century (2004), Peggy Antrobus, London and New York: Zed Books, ISBN: 978-1842770177, 224 pp., website:

In this work, eminent veteran feminist activist and scholar, Peggy Antrobus, firstly surveys the emergence and growth of a global women’s movement / through the United Nations (UN) Development Decades of the 1960s and 1970s, the UN International Year of Women in 1975, theUN Decade for Women 1976-1985, and what she considers to be the ‘lost’ decade of the 1980s - and in the second part of the book, focuses on feminist leadership, political strategies, and challenges for the future for transnational women’s activism.

Women’s Movements in International Perspective: Latin America and Beyond (2000), Maxine Molyneux, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 9780333786772, 256 pp., website:

In what has become a classic work, Maxine Molyneux examines women’s movements in contrasting, liberal, authoritarian, and revolutionary states, considering anarchist feminism in nineteenth-century Argentina; the politics of abortion in Sandinista Nicaragua during the 1980s; and the state-sponsored Cuban women’s movement during the 1990s. Further chapters analyse state socialism and women’s movements and citizenship, revealing the complex interaction between states and women’s movements, and the diversity and specificity of experiences and responses generated.

Analysing women’s movements’ (1998), Maxine Molyneux, Development and Change, 29(2): 219-45

This scholarly article is a highly theoretical exploration of women’s movements, aiming to combine analysis from feminist theory and development studies in order to provide an account of the emergence and character of women’s movements. The author identifies three different forms of collective action, which she terms termed ‘independent’, ‘associative’ and ‘directed’, and discusses the relation of such movements to the pursuit of political goals. She also debates the usefulness or otherwise of conceptualising women’s interests, and finally, assesses the place of women’s movements in the contemporary politics of citizenship.


Majority/Minority Relations in Contemporary Women’s Movements: Strategic Sisterhood (2012), Line Nyhagen Predelli and Beatrice Halsaa, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN: 9780230246584, 352 pp., website:

This book explores the way in which relations between ethnic majority and minority women’s movements in Norway, Spain, and the UK have developed, and are regarded by activists. The authors of this book examine the historical and social and political factors that help to explain why ethnic majority and minority women have organised separately, along racial and ethnic lines, and consider the minority women’s critiques of majority women’s movements, the responses from majority women’s movements, and efforts at joint mobilisation and ‘strategic sisterhood’ on the issue of violence against women.

‘Negotiating the politics of difference in the project of feminist solidarity’ (2007), Jill Steans, Review of International Studies 33(4): 729-43

Written for an academic audience, this article argues that while a ‘politics of difference’ has hampered efforts to build feminist solidarity across the divides of class, nationality, ethnicity, and religion, this does not negate the importance of the concept of solidarity, and that differences among women do not automatically preclude solidarity. For the author, in fact, respect for difference is a necessary condition for forging solidarity, and conflict can in many instances prove to be creative rather than divisive in the process of building solidarity and movements.

We exist! Voices of male feminism’ (2005), Dean Peacock, Chapter 14 in Shamillah Wilson, Anasuya Sengupta, and Kristy Evans (eds.) Defending Our Dreams: Global Feminist Voices for a New Generation, London and New York: Zed Books, ISBN: 1 84277 727 0, pp. 187-200, website:

This article is in fact a conversation between six men working on women’s rights and gender equality in men’s organisations in South Africa, in which they reflect on their reasons for becoming involved in this kind of work, what they have gained as individuals from it, and their role, as men, in the struggle for the realisation of women’s rights and gender equality.

Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1987), bell hooks, London: Pluto Press, ISBN: 978-0861043798, 216 pp., website: 

First published in 1981, this classic, groundbreaking work on feminist history and theory argues that the thinking of white, middle-class feminists has been inherently racist, failing to acknowledge the issues of race and class in its analysis, when, historically, black women have been oppressed by both white and black men, and by white women. For bell hooks, the fight to bring about an end to sexism and racism cannot be separated.

‘Under Western eyes: feminist scholarship and colonial discourses’ (1986), Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Boundary 2 12(3): 333-58 and ‘‘‘Under Western eyes’’ revisited: feminist solidarity through anticapitalist struggles’ (2002), Chandra Talpade Mohanty,Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28(2): 549-35

Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s hugely influential 1986 article, ‘Under Western eyes: feminist scholarship and colonial discourses’, is a powerful critique of Western/Northern feminism and its creation of ‘Third World Woman’; a monolithic, ahistorical construction, based on a set of Eurocentric assumptions and preconceptions about women and women’s lives in the developing world. The author also sought to challenge the falsely universalising premise of much Western feminist thinking, stressing the importance of recognising that feminist scholarship is being produced in a global political and economic context of domination by the ‘First World’‘‘‘Under Western eyes’’ revisited, (2002) is a fascinating, thoughtful discussion by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, written 16 years after the publication of her original article, in which she looks again at themes discussed in ‘Under Western eyes’, and examines the ways the essay has been read (and misread), seeking to make clear that although often interpreted as doing the opposite, the essay did envision a common political project, in spite of the failings of Western feminism. The author also considers the political and economic changes which took place between the writing of the two essays, highlighting the challenges posed by globalisation and religious fundamentalisms to the rights of women. Stating that while her earlier focus was on the distinction between ‘Western’ and ‘Third World’ feminist practices, with commonalities between the two downplayed, it now is on an anti-capitalist transnational feminist practice, with crossnational feminist solidarity and organising against capitalism a necessity.

Case studies

‘Solidarity Economy Initiatives from the Ground Up: What Can We Learn from the Women Home-based Workers of Southeast Asia?’ (2013), Rosalinda Pineda Otreneo, 11 March, Geneva: UN Research Institute for Social Development, (last checked April 2013)

This short thinkpiece from the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) looks at successful examples of organised home-based women workers in the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia, who are working together to improve their livelihoods. In the Philippines, the network PATAMABA combines microfinance and mutual aid and builds women-led cooperatives and group enterprise, which focus on food production to enhance food security. In Thailand and Cambodia, producer groups belonging to the HOMENET network have, in the case of one silk weavers group in Thailand, control of the whole supply chain, from raw materials to finished product, and in Cambodia, generated government interest in their ways of working. (This piece is a contribution to UNRISDs project ‘The Potential and Limits of the Social and Economic Solidarity Economy’, which is running from 2012 to 2013.)

‘Women’s Collective Action: Unlocking the Potential of Agricultural Markets’ (2013), Sally Baden, Oxford: Oxfam, (last checked April 2013)

This report provides new evidence, from quantitative and qualitative research carried out in Ethiopia, Mali, and Tanzania, on the economic and empowerment benefits of women’s participation in collective action groups across different agricultural farming systems and markets. The success factors and intervention strategies that have enabled women to benefit most are analysed in order to identify lessons for the future, and the research highlights gaps in both current development practice and the wider policy environment which need to be addressed to ensure that collective action in agricultural markets is effective and empowering for rural women. Individual country case studies accompanying this report are also available, at the link above.

‘A Life with Dignity: Honduran Women Raising Voices to Improve Labour Standards’ Oxfam Programme Insights (2008), Juan-Carlos Arita, Oxford: Oxfam GB, (last checked April 2013) This paper from Oxfam describes how CODEMUH (Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas), a grassroots women’s collective in Honduras, mobilised a popular movement around labour rights in the maquilas of the country’s textile industry. Focusing on occupational health, CODEMUH ran a campaign - which included research, training, and advocacy workshops for the women themselves - building alliances locally, nationally, and internationally, and engaging with key journalists and the media. The paper examines the challenges and the strategies deployed to overcome them, and provides a set of recommendations derived from the CODEMUH experience of women having greater capactity to advocate for change in policy and practice at corporate and national levels.


Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), 215 Spadina Ave, Suite 150, Toronto, Ontario, M5T 2C7, Canada, tel: 1 416 594 3773, email:, website: AWID is an international, feminist, membership network organisation that works to promote gender equality, sustainable development, and women’s human rights. The organisation has a diverse membership / including development practitioners, development organisations, researchers, academics, activists, policymakers, and funders /many of whom have direct experience of implementing gender mainstreaming programmes within their own, or other organisations. AWID works to a set of initiatives - Where is the Money for Women’s Rights?; Resisting and Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms; Women Human Rights Defenders; Building Feminist Movements and Organisations; Women’s Rights Information; Influencing Development Actors and Practices for Women’s Rights; and Young Feminist Activism, commissioning and publishing work on all these areas. A further initiative is the AWID Forum, held every four years, and which is perhaps the key networking event for all those working in gender and development, whether as professionals in development agencies, grassroots activists, or academics and students.Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), c/o Women and Gender Institute, Miriam College, Katipunan Road, Loyola Heights, Quezon City 1108, Philippines, email:, website:

DAWN is a network of Southern feminists and activists working for economic and gender justice and political transformation at the global level. DAWN published its groundbreaking and still highly influential book, Development Crises and Alternative Visions, in 1987. DAWN’s research themes provide the focus for the network’s global advocacy efforts: the political economy of globalisation; sexual and reproductive health and rights; political restructuring and social transformation; and political ecology and sustainability. Advocacy work is aimed at influencing mainstream development thinking and policy, securing the gains made through the United Nations conferences, working for greater accountability and radical restructuring of international financial institutions, and mainstreaming gender analysis in progressive development organisations.

GenderCC /Women for Climate Justice, Anklamer Str. 38, 10115 Berlin, Germany, tel: 49 30 21980088, email: via the website, website:

Established during the UNFCCC COP (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Conference of the Parties) 13, in Bali, in 2007, GenderCC is a networking platform for organisations, institutions, and gender and climate-change experts. It serves to provide information and resources for those wishing to gain familiarity with the issues, as well as those who are already more deeply engaged in research and action in the area of gender and climate change. Registered users of the website can add literature and case studies to the databases and information is downloadable to all website visitors, at no charge. The website gives useful summaries of all the UNFCCC COPs that have taken place so far in terms of the activities undertaken during the conferences around the issue of gender.

Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS International), 249 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211, USA, tel: 1 718 388 8915, fax: 1 718 388 0285, email:, website:

GROOTS International was launched in 1989 and is a women-led network which aims to connect leaders and groups in poor rural and urban areas in the South and North, and provide mutual support and solidarity among women working to redevelop their communities. The network has four thematic programme areas: Governance; HIV and AIDS; Caring Community Development; and Community Resilience and Recovery. GROOTS is a member of the Huairou Commission (, a global membership and partnership coalition that aims to empower grassroots women’s organisations to improve their community development work, and to exercise collective political power at an international level.

Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), SEWA Reception Centre, Opp. Victoria Garden, Bhadra, Ahmedabad 380 001, India, tel:  91 79 25506444, fax: 91 7925506446, email:, website:

SEWA, the celebrated Indian trade union, was started in 1972, and has a membership made up of poor, self-employed women workers. It describes itself as both an organisation and a movement; a movement made up of three different strands / the labour movement, the co-operative movement, and the women’s movement. SEWA’s main objective is to organise women workers for full employment, which for SEWA means employment from which workers obtain work security, income security, food security, and social security (at least health care, child care, and shelter). As well as organising women and supporting them in building their own workers’ organisations, SEWA also organises campaigns, and provides services to members such as savings, insurance, child care, and health care, which are run as co-operatives.

Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), 355 Lexington Ave., 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA, tel: 1 212 973 0325, email (general enquiries): via the website, email (publications and resources):, website:

Founded in 1991, WEDO is an international, US-based organisation advocating for women’s equality. Its programmes, projects, and advocacy campaigns fall into three broad categories: Women’s Leadership; Sustainable Development; and Global Governance. In the area of women’s leadership, WEDO aims for the empowerment of women as decision-makers and leaders, especially in environmental and sustainable development arenas. Its sustainable development programme works to ensure that sustainable development policies, plans, and practices are gender responsive, with climate change a top priority; and WEDO works for transparent, accountable, and effective global governance, emphasising the role of the United Nations and civil society participation in achieving this. The website provides free access to a large number of resources related to the work of the organisation.

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), WIEGO Secretariat, Harvard University, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA, tel: 1 617 496 7037, fax: 1 617 496 2828, email: via website, website:

Established in 1997, WIEGO is an international research and policy network, which aims to improve the status of the working poor, particularly women, in the informal economy, and effectively sees itself as ‘a ‘‘think tank’’ for the SEWA-inspired international movement of organisations of informal workers’. WIEGO members and associates come from over 100 countries and are drawn from three broad areas: membership-based organisations of informal workers; research, statistical, and academic institutes; and development agencies, both non-governmental and inter-governmental. The organisation has five main programme areas: global markets; organisation and representation; social protection; statistics; and urban policies, and its website contains many valuable resources on these topics.

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), 1 rue de Varembe, Case Postale 28, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland, tel:  41 (0)22 919 70 80, fax: 41 (0)22919 70 81, email:, website:

With its beginnings in women’s peace campaigning during the First World War, WILPF’s work today is concentrated in three areas: Disarmament / addressing the challenges of security, including a critique of militarism, over-armament, and the use or threat of use of force; Human Rights - the programme seeking to bring together issues of peace and security with women’s human rights; and the Peacewomen Programme /which works to ensure women’s rights and participation in international peace and security efforts. The Peacewomen website ( contains many resources and publications, while the WILPF online journal provides up-to-date and informative articles on relevant issues.