Standing with the changemakers - launch of new Womankind report

Lee Webster | Oct 24, 2017

Female Genital Mutilation campaigners in Insinya town, Kajiado County wearing traditional Maasai dress

Womankind has worked with women, their organisations and movements for almost three decades, and we’ve learnt a few things in that time about the incredible power of women to change the world.

We know that progressive change happens when diverse and independent women’s movements have vision, strength, resilience and collective power. We know that this change is sustained when these women’s movements thrive and flourish over time.

We are proud to launch a new briefing, Standing with the changemakers, highlighting the roles of women’s rights organisations and movements in bringing about advances in women’s rights, and what the international community can do to support them.

This report brings together desk research, in-depth interviews with women activists, and conversations with over a hundred women’s rights organisations and representatives of women’s movements in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and Zimbabwe in 2016 and 2017.

Advancing rights for women

We know and trust that women’s rights organisations and movements are vital to a just world where the rights of all women are respected, valued and realised. They advance women’s rights in three key ways. First, they ensure policies and laws that tackle discrimination and protect and advance women’s rights are developed, adopted and implemented. Second, they promote social change that supports the achievement of women’s rights. And third, women’s rights organisations provide vital services that support the realisation of women’s rights, including for instance, shelters for women survivors of violence, and savings schemes for women small business owners.

Time and again, women’s movements have proven to be successful in bringing about meaningful change in women’s lives due to their ability to unite and mobilise large groups of women, and make their collective voice heard. 

  • In Zimbabwe the women’s movement used research, community dialogues, training, advocacy and lobbying to ensure that the 2013 constitution included a clear gender equality clause and language that ensured customary law could no longer discriminate against women.
  • In Nepal, thanks to years of campaigning by the Feminist Dalit Organization and others in Nepal’s women’s movement, the 2017 Local Level Election Act stipulated that at least two out of the four members of each Ward Committee must be women and one should be a woman from the Dalit community. Thanks to these efforts, in September 2017, large numbers of women, including over 6,000 Dalit women, were elected to local government for the first time.
  • In Uganda, a landmark Domestic Violence Act came into force in 2010 that includes provisions on the protection of survivors, punishment of offenders, and procedures and guidelines for the courts to follow. This followed years of mobilisation and tactical advocacy by the Ugandan women’s movement.

The OECD, an influential group of governments, has recognised the vital contribution of women to advancing women’s rights:

"Few of the normative advances on women’s rights would have been possible without the advocacy of women’s rights organisations and movements to raise public awareness, pressure governments for change, and hold governments to account for implementation of laws and policies."

We know then that women, their organisations and movements, have the experience, the skills, the commitment and the passion to drive forward real and lasting change in women’s lives. Yet two interrelated factors work together to hamper their efforts – backlash and lack of resources.

Backlash against women's rights

Right now a global backlash against women’s rights is on the rise. On the one hand, rights for women are enshrined in global frameworks, from the Convention on the Elimination of all form of Discrimination Against Women (1979) to the Sustainable Development Goals (2015).  But commitments on paper have not created a shift in gender relations; instead, the power dynamics that drive inequality between women and men remain in force at all levels. Powerful shifts in global politics are driving backlash, including rising religious fundamentalisms, economic and ecological crisis, political turmoil and nationalism, conflict and civil strife, and increasing threats against and attacks on feminist activists.

At the same time, women’s movements and organisations are operating on a shoestring. They consistently highlight the lack of core, flexible, long-term funding as a serious impediment to their impact on women’s rights. With limited funds and a lack of donor government support for their agendas, they are often operating in survival mode, and as such are led by the agendas of donors and large development organisation, rather than having the space to set and follow their own agendas, based on their knowledge of the challenges facing women in their countries and communities.

Supporting women's movements

Despite the enormity of the challenges facing them, women’s movements and organisations, in all their diversity, continue to stand strong and to demand an end to violence and discrimination against women.  Supporting women, their organisations and movements is both a matter of urgency and necessity. At Womankind we are proud to stand with the changemakers. Through this new report and its recommendations, we call on the international community, donors and development organisations to join us, and take practical steps to ensure women’s rights organisations flourish and thrive.


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