Sisterhood: the alliance of friendship and fight at the heart of the women’s movement

Sophie Ireland | Jul 30, 2018
Womankind staff photo

"I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own." - Audre Lorde


July 30th – International Day of Friendship 

Today is the International Day of Friendship – a day to celebrate those relationships that enrich our lives and provide us with a sense of belonging. In 2011, the United Nations proclaimed July 30th as a day to recognise how strong bonds of trust between peoples and countries can inspire peace efforts and promote an international understanding and respect for diversity.   

On this day, it is fitting to celebrate the power of friendship to drive global action on gender equality. This is the “sisterhood” of the women’s movement – an alliance transcending class, culture, and ethnicity, and united by its single common cause: equal rights for all women.


Why sisterhood is as important as ever

Since the beginning, friendship and solidarity have been at the heart of the campaign for equal rights. From the resilience and courage of the suffragettes to the vision of more contemporary feminist organisations such as FEMNET, the power of community to effect change has been demonstrated time and time again. Whilst the contribution of these networks of influential feminists is undeniable, the impact of those women closest to us must also be celebrated: our friends and colleagues who provide us with daily doses of inspiration and energise our ambitions.

2018 has been labelled the year of the woman,” as the 100th anniversary of the first UK women’s enfranchisement saw sisterhood manifest through a multitude of feminist campaigns and protests. The Women’s March, #TimesUp campaign, and #MeToo movement have provided moments of clarity, bringing the women’s movement into the spotlight and showcasing a diverse camaraderie of women united in their determination to secure equal rights and their belief that togetherness is the way to achieve it. 

Whilst these moments have stirred optimism, the need for sisterhood remains pertinent. The ongoing gender pay disputes at the BBC, the rise in domestic violence lurking in the shadows of the Word Cup’s high media profile, and the groundswell in sexual harassment claims that have followed the Weinstein scandal demonstrate that our unity and strength in the feminist movement is as imperative as ever – and these problems only scrape the surface of those being faced by women around the globe.


Womankind and global sisterhood 

As a volunteer with Womankind, I have learnt the importance of collective action and sustaining an international dialogue on gender issues that celebrates diversity. Through fostering strong relationships with international partners and collaborating on the realisation of a world free from gender injustice, Womankind contributes to nurturing the global nature of this sisterhood. I spoke to the team to find out more about what sisterhood means to them:

“For me, sisterhood is something that endures across countries, time-zones and languages.” (Louise, Policy & Programmes Officer)

“Sisterhood is inspirational. Sisterhood is supportive. Sisterhood is celebratory. Last but not least, Sisterhood is fun – having a great time whilst changing the world.” (Olivia, Philanthropy Manager) 

“Sisterhood is about women operating as a family, where the same rules apply.  It doesn’t meant that we don’t disagree with each other, but it means we stand up for each other, protect each other and celebrate each other.” (Piyumi, National Programme Development Manager) 

Since 2015, Womankind has partnered with The Women’s Legal Aid Centre in Tanzania and the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya on a project aimed at strengthening community responses to violence against women and girls. In this UK Aid Match project funded by DFID, Womankind has supported our partners to create strong community networks of legal support and inspire confidence in women to reclaim their rights. The spirit of sisterhood established through this project has encouraged girls like Jennifer to spread the word about the harmful consequences associated with FGM:

“I want to show Maasai girls that anything is possible and teach their parents and the community that girls deserve to make decisions for themselves.” 

A call to action

It would be inaccurate to suggest that women’s movements are unchallenged by one another, operating entirely as one. It would also be undesirable for them to work this way.  It is this passion and diversity that creates the variety of feminisms upon which the strength of the global women’s movement is based. 

This is the spirit of sisterhood – a dialogue stretching across borders and into all walks of life, fighting for a sentiment so simple, yet so deeply resisted: equal rights for all women. 

Time is up – join the sisterhood and stand with us in the fight for securing equal rights for all women and girls. 


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