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Female voices on the world stage: exploring women in global movements

‘We are living in sad and turbulent times’ says Dr Katerina Krulisova, Lecturer in International Relations at Nottingham Trent University, in a recent webinar on Women in Global Movements.

You don’t have to look very far to find examples of the human rights violations, violence and discrimination facing women and girls around the world. The gender pay gap, abortion legislation, sexual violence, educational inequality, lack of women in positions of power and the threats and violence that female politicians experience – these are all key issues that continue to impact women – and wider society – today.

As a result of the ongoing issues facing women across the globe, we have seen a rise in women's NGO’s, transactional advocacy networks, social and protest movements in an attempt to highlight and improve the treatment of women and girls worldwide.

The Anti-trump feminist backlash

The catalyst for one of the most prominent feminist movements of recent years was the election of President Trump in 2016.

Trumps presidency shocked many women into action. His election was viewed as a significant backlash against gender equality, with the President cutting international funding for women’s rights and reproductive health, blocking laws that promote equal pay and reproductive justice, and himself being accused of sexual violence. During the first year of his presidency, Trump even asked the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to omit forbidden words – which included foetus, evidence-based, transgender, and diversity – from the agency’s budget.1

“Donald Trump’s surprise win in 2016 galvanized once-politically quiescent women and jolted those who had believed second-wave feminist victories were enduring” writes Susan Chira, Editor-in-Chief of The Marshall Project. “This “resistance” drew on two potent forces: the passion of the newly awakened, primarily grassroots participants; and the organising experience of professionals and institutions determined to channel that passion into sustainable electoral and policy gains.”2

This feminist resistance movement has continued to gain traction over the past 4 years, as we have seen evidenced via anti-trump protests, the recent US elections and movements such as the #MeToo campaign – widely thought to be a defining movement in global feminism and cyber activism.

Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, is a vocal and high-profile advocate for women and girls' rights, forming the Girls Opportunity Alliance – a foundation which seeks to empower adolescent girls through education – in 2018.

“The world is a, sadly, dangerous place for women and girls, and we see that again and again” says Obama. “Young women are tired of it. They’re tired of being undervalued, they’re tired of being disregarded, they’re tired of their voices not being invested in and heard.”3

US vice-president elect, Kamala Harris, believes the key to gaining equality for women is to have more women in positions of power:

“I believe a key to tackling the challenges we face is ensuring women are at the table, making decisions. Something I’ve seen over and over again in my own career is that women in power bring a different perspective, an essential perspective”.4

But is this perspective always a united one?

Solidarity and the patriarchy

A concept that is often discussed with regards to womens’ movements is the idea of solidarity. Feminist standpoint epistemology argues that women’s experience of being oppressed by patriarchal societies gives them a common understanding of what it is like to be marginalised.

This is echoed by Keisha N. Blain, History Lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh: “The biggest challenge facing women in the United States today is patriarchy. This is especially evident in the realm of politics. Regardless of a woman’s experience, education or abilities, the patriarchal nature of U.S. society fosters the perception that women are less qualified and less competent than men. What patriarchy has done is convince people that a strong and intelligent woman represents a problem; a disruption to the social order rather than an integral part of it.”5

It is argued that this shared experience of oppression, not just in the US, but globally, unites women in a way that men don’t experience. This feeling of solidarity, of shared experience and purpose, brings women together and helps to propel resistance movements forward.

However, can all women really share a similar outlook on the world?

The concept of intersectionality - the argument that sex-based oppression does not occur separately to, or exclusively from, other socially and culturally constructed categories such as race or class6 - is important when debating the impact patriarchal oppression has on women's experiences.

“A white middle-class woman would have experienced sexism in a different way to that of a black working-class woman, whose experience is also fuelled with moments of racism and class-based oppression. Sexuality and disability also play an important role” says Dr Krulisova. “Similarly, when a high-profile woman, such as Angelina Jolie or Emma Watson, becomes an advocate for women’s rights, we ask; can someone in such a privileged position really speak on behalf of all women?”

Feminism and international relations

Since its inception as a discipline, international relations has sought to shed light on the problems and tensions that emerge in global politics. Understanding the way women engage with global issues allows us to view international relations through a different lens.

Our Online MA in International Relations gives you the intellectual skills to help you understand the complexities of international arenas and apply these different theories into practice. This course will help you get to grips with theoretical debates, ideas around global governance and the link between political economy and international security.

Whether you're looking to negotiate policy for impactful change or generate solutions to global disputes, choosing to study with us will enrich your international relations experience and help you reach your career goals. For more information, please visit our course information page or give our admissions team a call on UK: 0800 032 1180 or Intl: +44 (0)115 941 8419.

References

  1. ZOELLNER, D (2020) Five major things Trump has done to roll back women’s rights (Online) Available at: <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-women-international-womens-day-abortion-policies-healthcare-a9380411.html> [Accessed 23.09.20]
  2. CHIRA, S (2020) Donald Trump’s Gift to Feminism: The Resistance (Online) Available at: <https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/publication/downloads/Daedalus_Wi20_5_Chira.pdf> [Accessed 23.09.20]
  3. OBAMA, M (2018) “Enough is enough”: Michelle Obama speaks out in support of #MeToo (Online) Available at: <https://www.vox.com/2018/10/11/17964506/enough-is-enough-michelle-obama-metoo-global-girls-alliance> [Accessed 23.09.20]
  4. HARRIS, K (2019) What Are the Biggest Problems Women Face Today? (Online) Available at: <https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/03/08/women-biggest-problems-international-womens-day-225698> [Accessed 23.09.20]
  5. BLAIN, K (2019) What Are the Biggest Problems Women Face Today? (Online) Available at: <https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/03/08/women-biggest-problems-international-womens-day-225698> [Accessed 23.09.20]
  6. HARRIS, A. (1993) “Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory”, in Feminist Legal Theory: Foundations, D. K. Weisberg (ed.), Philadelphia: Temple University Press