GUEST EDITORS: Prof Amanda Gouws (Stellenbosch University) and Azille Coetzee (Stellenbosch University)

Conceptual Rationale:

Feminist activism and mobilization through women’s movements and organizations are important in order to set political agendas for change, address issues of gender injustice and/or raise consciousness about gender inequality.  Very often women’s mobilization takes place around a single issue that has the possibility to unite women across identity categories such as race, class or political affiliation for a specific cause. Feminist activism has the potential to contribute to substantive equality/citizenship when it engages the state and political parties.  

There is an important difference between women’s organizations and feminist organizations.  Women’s organizations may have women as members, but may not necessarily have feminist goals.  Beckwith (2000) cautions us to distinguish between women’s movements, feminist movements and women in social movements.  These three categories are conceptually distinct and organize in different ways.

Globally social movements form around issues of social justice, very often engaging issues of marginalized and historically excluded groups and have become central in putting pressure on states and global organizations to reconfigure the socio-economic order.  Collective action can be horizontal and vertical (Kabeer in Thompson and Tappscott (2010).  Horizontal mobilization takes place between citizens and communities at local, national and global levels – this can also be called “invented spaces”.  Vertical mobilization uses the spaces that the state creates for engagement, also called “invited spaces”. Mobilization and activism are therefore varied and complex.

Social movements are often gendered, organizing around Molyneux’s ideas of practical (short term gains) and strategic gender interests (long term transformational change) with women’s movements taking on issues of, for example, gender based violence, reproductive rights and human trafficking.  Social movements involving contentious politics have to take into consideration the gendered nature of opportunity structure that will determine their success, the way in which issues for mobilization is framed, the repertoire of action and what resources are available. Many of these movements include dimensions of the recognition of identity as well as economic redistribution as theorized by Nancy Fraser.  With greater globalization it has become imperative that mobilization crosses borders in the form of transnational movements. These large mass based coalitions put pressure in global arenas to change conditions of inequality.

In the African context good examples of women’s transnational organizing is the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD), Women in Law and Development In Africa (WILDAF), The African Feminist Forum (AFF) and the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL).

Movement building is a political process that involves an engagement with the state and policy making.  In South Africa feminist engagement with the state leads to mobilization around the making of legislation and its implementation that can be considered localized temporal movements(movements that are short lived in local contexts), like the Coalition for Rural Democracy campaigning for the redrafting of the discriminatory Traditional Courts Bill.  For feminists in government to be successful there needs to be a close alliance with women’s organizations in civil society. With the greater NGOization of women’s organizations (where organizations become bureaucratized gaining staff and budgets, losing activism) women’s engagement with the state has shifted and changed shape, something that needs further analysis.

Some of the most important activism takes place at community level through community based organizations (cbo’s), especially in rural areas.  On the local level there is always an interaction between the collective identity of the movement and the collective identity of communities and how local injustices shape political agendas, especially around cultural practices.

Digital forms of organizing through social media have become invaluable, as the #EndRapeCulture, #MeToo movements have shown, in raising global consciousness about gender based violence and cultures that normalize sexual violence that has led to important law reforms, among other things.  Mobilizing women through social media was also integral to the global Women’s Marches after Donald Trump became the President of the USA. This mobilization focused on the impact of the rise of the right and populist/nationalist rhetoric that contribute to the roll back of feminist gains of the last few decades.

With a global repositioning of LGBTIQ and transgender interest mobilization against continued marginalization, violence and discrimination against members of these communities have foregrounded their vulnerability but also their agency.  This mobilization has contributed to put LGBTIQ issues on the political agenda.

In this issue of Agenda we are interested in articles that deal with movement building, feminist activism and mobilization.  Articles dealing with the following issues will be considered:

  • Movement building
  • Transnational movements
  • Organizing through social media/ digital campaigns
  • Movements that engage with gender justice issues, eg housing, reproductive health, land
  • Movements that focus on recognition and redistribution
  • Women’s participation/leadership in service delivery protest
  • Organizing/mobilizing around gender based violence
  • Analysis of political opportunity structures, issue framing and repertoires of action used in mobilization
  • LGBTIQ and transgender mobilization/activism
  • Mobilization around policy issues/legislation
  • Movements that are in abeyance of the state (where movements refuse to engage the state)
  • Mobilization around feminist intersectional identities
  • Case studies of mass based organizations or local women’s organizations
  • Ways in which women have resisted by creating collective identities through, for example, song and other cultural expressions.

Contributions are accepted in any form, prose (both theoretical and practical), poetry, narrative, interviews, and visual arts.  

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