Movements around the world strive for equality across all spheres of life. Women’s movements, in particular, focus on the issues of gender equality and women’s rights. With a feminist agenda to connect them, these groups focus on ethical, economic, political or social justice issues and seek to address imbalances on global, national and local levels.
While a lot of progress has been made, there remain a range of issues to be addressed. In 1948, the United Nations (UN) established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. However as of 2014, just 143 of the 195 member states had pledged to exercise equality between women and men in their constitutions and as the UN asserts, discrimination persists, even in countries who have guaranteed parity. Published in 2016, the latest Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum gives the top ranked country – Iceland – a score of 87.4% in terms of overall gender parity.
Feminist groups and their allies seek to create solidarity between women in different areas of the world to further their causes, but this can be problematic when the vast spectrum of female experience is taken into account. When women on opposite sides of the globe live very different lives in terms of freedom and opportunity, can a single set of women’s rights serve all women equally? Can women in a position of relative privilege speak for others?
Technology as a facilitator of feminist action
The internet has enabled international movements of all kinds to achieve new levels of unity with innovative platforms for collaboration, and feminist groups are no different. Online spaces for connection and communication, such as discussion forums, online communities and chat sites, provide the means for sharing ideas, experiences and thoughts easily and safely from anywhere in the world.
Technology has become such an important medium for feminist discourse that it has resulted in new forms of activism. ‘Cyberfeminism’ - “the work of feminists interested in theorising, critiquing, and exploiting the Internet, cyberspace and new-media technologies” – exists in many forms today, from social networks, websites and film-making to the recording of real-world experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project is an open online platform that allows women to submit their own first-hand encounters of sexism, anonymously if they wish. The accounts are stored in an online archive, designed to illustrate the frequency and prevalence of gender inequality in modern society.
‘Hacktivism’ – “the act of breaking into a computer system for a politically or socially motivated purpose” – has also become a powerful vehicle for feminist activism. In 2013, global human rights organisation Breakthrough teamed up with hacktivist groups in New Delhi to create #Hack4Change, a two-day hackathon intended to champion women’s rights in India. Spurred into action by the high-profile rape and murder of Jyoti Singh by six men in 2012, #Hack4Change’s organisers supplied data sets on crimes against women and challenged volunteers to creatively visualise it for maximum impact. Although not a direct digital attack, the hackathon took official data and repurposed it to reflect a feminist standpoint.
The difficulty of global feminist solidarity
The two examples above demonstrate part of the problem when it comes to a global women’s movement. Although based on the same principles of feminism, women on opposite sides of the world can be seen to be fighting very different practical manifestations of gender inequality, resulting in differences in their lived experiences. Where such disparity exists, should women with more personal and cultural freedom act on behalf of those who may not have the same rights? Or would this constitute a further oppression of some women’s rights to self-articulate their own position? Can women the world over find common ground in the shared experience of discrimination, regardless of the form it takes?
Whatever your view, it’s impossible to overlook the part the internet has played in putting women from different backgrounds and cultures in touch with each other. Global connectivity has raised awareness for a multitude of international issues and movements, many of which would certainly have struggled to attract the same attention without it.
In 2014, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Islamic State in West Africa. Soon after the story broke, the #bringbackourgirls hashtag began trending on Twitter, spread to other social networks and sent news of the abductions around the world. The hashtag was taken up by international humanitarian groups, including UNICEF and Amnesty International, and an independent group operating under the #BringBackOurGirls name still work for the safe return of the 112 girls who are still missing.
At its peak, the campaign drew the support of then First Lady Michelle Obama, and spurred protests outside Nigerian embassies in London, Los Angeles and New York. Rooted in gender politics, these demonstrations can be seen as an example of feminist solidarity, and this international focus simply would not have been possible without social media to circulate the story from continent to continent.
A route to understanding international feminism in action
Through critical analysis as well as theoretical and empirical research, the study of International Relations can help us make sense of global movements, such as feminism. Examining instances of feminist expression and the networks that facilitate them can allow us to approach issues from a range of conflicting perspectives, an essential skill for anyone looking to pursue a career in global affairs. The ability to perceive a set of ideas in the context of an individual’s own culture is of high value to employers and organisations working on the world stage.
Our Online MA in International Relations aims to deconstruct feminist theory and relate it to real-world, focusing on contemporary events in order to provide students with tools that help them to understand its complexities. Designed to spark active discussion and debate amongst the international student body, the course encourages you to explore varying perspectives and experiences within different countries and societies, as well as political and social spaces.
If you’re looking to enhance your knowledge of international feminism and other global movements, our Online MA could be the stepping stone to a deeper understanding and a career that helps you make a difference. Discover more by filling in our online form.