The power of women to enact change is undeniable. From Emmeline Pankhurst to Angela Davis, we celebrate the global impact of great women each year on International Women’s Day.
While there is no denying the role of individual women to push women’s rights forward and inspire generations of feminists, too often the immense power unleashed by women coming together and acting collectively is not acknowledged.
At Womankind Worldwide, we know that women’s movements are integral to creating lasting change. For the past 30 years we have worked with movements to support women to get elected, to empower women to assert their economic rights and to tackle violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation. By supporting women’s movement’s we have taken steps towards a more gender equal world. Today, on our 30th anniversary, we shine a light on just how important women’s movements are to achieving gender equality everywhere.
Women’s movements are formed of women coming together to transform the lives and rights of women and girls. They take action to ensure women can access essential services, to change policies and laws and to create shifts in attitudes and behaviours. Together women’s movements work to resist violence, inequality and discrimination at all levels of society.
Women’s movements are paramount to advance and fully realise the rights of all women. Because of their diversity, they are a collective of different perspectives and skills, adept at challenging systems of oppression. Together they create change by taking action including organising protests and petitions, advocating for changes in laws, using media to raise awareness and mobilising online activism.
Women’s movements have achieved a lot over the years, from the introduction of domestic violence laws in Zimbabwe and securing the first gender balanced parliament in Ethiopia, to the referendum on abortion rights in Ireland and the suffragette movement in the UK. When women come together they can create historic change from the grassroots to the global level, overcoming the insurmountable odds stacked against them.
While women’s movements have made important gains for the rights of women, these hard won advances are under threat from global changes. Rising fundamentalisms, financial crises, political turmoil and backlash against feminism risk setting back women’s rights throughout the world. Women’s movements are as vital today as they have ever been. Yet, many of the women working tirelessly to resist inequality on the frontline risk backlash, censorship and violence.
When women speak out, attempt to have a say in the decisions affecting their lives or defend their rights, far too often they are silenced, undermined and even endangered. Recently, we’ve witnessed a drastic increase in threats and violence against women human rights defenders in countries including Afghanistan, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, USA and Zimbabwe.
This is why today we call for governments to protect women human rights defenders, trust their expertise and meaningfully engage them on all issues that affect women – and to join global activists in calling for a UN-wide policy to support and protect women human rights defenders. This echoes the recent statement made by Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Center for Reproductive Rights, International Service for Human Rights, Plan International, Sexual Rights Initiative and the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights that highlights the duty that States have in creating an enabling environment for the defence of human rights and need to take appropriate, robust and practical steps to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of women human rights defenders.
Over 75 well known public figures have joined our call by signing an open letter and its extremely encouraging that so many strong women, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, Dame Emma Thompson DBE, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Emma Watson, Annie Lennox and Theo Sowa, are standing with us to call on governments to protect women who speak out.
It is easier than you think to support women on the frontlines fighting to overcome oppression. There are many ways to stand in solidarity with women’s movements, here are just three:
Get informed. The first step to supporting women’s movements is understanding the issues. Reading women’s stories will help to understand the context and what movements are working towards. You can also check out this new animation that illustrates the impact and importance of women’s movements.
Spread the word. Talk to your friends, family and colleagues and help to raise awareness about the work being done by women’s movements. Only when people are aware can we work together to support change.
Take action. Volunteer with organisations that are experts on women’s rights, donate to appeals that provide funding for women’s movements and help lobby governments to act.
Whether you choose to become more informed, spread the word to friends or support financially, we all have a part to play. Now more than ever women’s movements need our support, so this International Women’s Day why not pledge to support women’s movements?
Caroline Haworth is chief executive of Womankind Worldwide