How to build a gender-just social movement

Amy HallAmy Hall photo

‘Social change is not possible without changing power relations, and power relations don’t change if you don’t address gender and racial relations, (Atila Roque, BRIDGE e-discussion October 2011).

Women’s rights and gender justice are ‘on paper’ supported by most movements for social justice, but none are immune to the risk of discrimination and inequality.

The new Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Social Movements, from the BRIDGE team at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) seeks to explore the dynamics which can leave gender justice behind in movements. The report also highlights the challenges faced by activists who dare to speak out and try to change gendered politics and practices within movements.

Gendered attitudes, behaviour and stereotypes can be ingrained while intersectional barriers within and between movements can make progress slow and difficult. The report highlights that integrating gender perspectives is about much more than just ‘including’ women or ‘thinking about’ women and gender minorities.screenshot of homepage Gender and Social Movements

The pack contains case studies, comparative analysis and reflections of those involved in social movements, developed as part of the BRIDGE Cutting Edge Programme on Gender and Social Movements. The three year collaborative research period involved over 150 activists, practitioners, scholars and supporters from around world. The pack was authored by feminist activist and writer Jessica Horn and the online version goes live today.

For those wanting to inject some gender justice into their cause, the report has suggestions on how to create and sustain gender-just social movements.

Support internal activism for change
Sticking a head above the parapet can be a frightening thing. It is important to support those who do try and address the politics of their fellow activists. Just because women or gender minorities are present it does not mean that discrimination is not happening.

Turn the spotlight inwards
While fighting for others to take justice seriously, the most uncomfortable scrutiny for activists can be exploring their own actions. Examining privilege can make visible the ways in which systems of oppression interact with each other, such as gender, race, class, sexuality and disability. This works to strengthen solidarity with other movements and contributes to pushing progressive politics forward.

young women demonstrating in Tunis

young woman participating in Tunis march – photo by Jessica Horn

Build inclusive alliances
It cannot be a matter of choosing between different issues if full justice is to beachieved. Intersectional analysis can help movements to identify how different axes of power intersect and to define areas of common struggle between social movements. Building a dialogue between different movements can help to identify these.

Change all the way through
Many movements have some kind of organisational base or core group who are influential in thinking and action. Commitment needs to come from these people as much as the broader support base. It can be useful to track progress on women’s rights and gender justice and learn from experiences along the way.

Perfect the politics
Even when campaigners support gender justice in theory, the practice can be a different story. Developing the gender politics of a movement may include agreeing to make women’s rights and gender justice clearly visible in movements’ external agendas and creating spaces for open discussion on what this means.

Expose gendered power
Recognise and transform culture, power dynamics and hierarchies within movements by making visible the way that gendered power is understood and practised in the ‘deep structure’ of movements. This includes exploring the gendered division of labour, rethinking masculinities and consciousness raising.

Hold members to account
Drawing the line on impunity for gender-based violence is essential. This includes challenging domestic violence, harassment or abuse from those within the movement, but also challenging failures within leadership and key members who do not take a stand and wash their hands of discrimination or violence within movements.

Keep an eye on relationships with organisations
The power relations between movements and organisations are multifaceted and can bring opportunities as well as tensions. Organisations and institutions dedicated to movement-building and support should consider how they can encourage and support movements to tackle all forms of oppression.

Stick at it
The ultimate test is sustaining the positive ways in which social movements engage with gender and integrating them into all practices; as mainstream power shifts, there can be a backlash against success. When another issue becomes topical or ‘the revolution’ is over the transformation must remain.

Amy Hall is an Editorial Assistant with the Knowledge Services department at IDS.

BRIDGE supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice. The Cutting Edge Programme on Gender and Social Movements is part of the Gender, Power and Sexuality Programme, which is administered by the Participation, Power and Social Change team at IDS.

Read more recent blogs relating to gender issues:

2 Responses to How to build a gender-just social movement

  1. […] I wrote this post based on the report for the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change blog: ‘How to build a gender-just social movement‘. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: