Feminist Movements Making A Change

Violence against women is a global problem

Evidence of gender based violence filled the headlines in 2012. The gang rape of a young woman in India sent shockwaves through the world as did the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old women’s rights activist who spoke out for girls’ education in Pakistan.  In Northern Mali, a total of 211 cases of rape were reported since the occupation in early 2012 though this figure is believed to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ given the cultural stigmatization of sexual violence in the country. In Canada, a 2012 study found that 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.

We are witnessing a global response

Violent acts against women have been met with global outrage in 2012. People took to the streets in India to push for political action to stop gender violence. Escalating sexual harassment in Cairo is being met with an online campaign to raise international awareness. International organizations are also stepping up: the United Nations recently put a global ban on Female Genital Mutilation. It is clear that women’s rights are no longer absent from the global agenda and for that we must thank the efforts of local grassroots movements.

Local solutions are the most effective in creating positive change

A recent study looked at national policies on violence against women from 1975 to 2005 in 70 countries to see how they have been influenced by the presence of local women’s rights movements such as those happening India and Egypt today. The study found a significant increase in government responses to violence against women in countries where feminist movements were active and vibrant.

“The autonomous mobilization of feminists in domestic and transnational contexts – not leftist parties, women in government, or national wealth – is the critical factor accounting for policy change.”

This shows that the presence of feminist organizations and the work they do to change social norms and attitudes is extremely influential with regards to policies on violence against women. In fact, from 1974 to 1994, in 36 of the countries studied, women’s movements were the first actors to identify, articulate, and push for action with regards to women’s issues. Even legislative insiders (such as women in government and left-leaning politicians) haven’t been able to fully take on social change issues without the backing of local organizations and feminist movements.

Why are local organizations the most successful at producing change? Because the unique tools that they use – protests, public disruptions, networking, advocacy and challenging male domination without excluding male voices – prove to be the most effective. The actions of legislative insiders also matter, but even women in government won’t have much influence if they are not supported by a social atmosphere conducive to change.

The MATCH Fund has believed in the power of feminist movements from the beginning and continues to support them today

Past partners of MATCH marching for women's rights in Central America in the 1980s.

Past partners of The MATCH Fund marching for women’s rights in Central America in the 1980s.

At The MATCH International Women’s Fund, our goal is to create a global community that fosters women’s growth, empowerment, and innovation. For more than 35 years, we’ve recognized that grassroots movements are the most effective in creating change and that’s why we’ve chosen to work with local women in over 500 women’s organizations in more than 70 countries since our inception.

The women’s rights march in Central America in the 1980s, seed funding to the African Women’s Development Fund which is now a Pan African force for women and supporting Afro-Peruvian women to engage in the political process in Peru are but a few examples of the kind of work The MATCH Fund has been involved in over the years to support the grassroots movements of women.  We continue to believe that marrying the efforts of local women`s organizations with Canadian voices and resources will bring us closer to the “tipping point” for a more equal and just world for all.

To read  Mala Gtun and S. Laurel Weldon’s article “The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975–2005” click here.