Women's Movements Representing and Influencing Gender Inclusive Development

Women's movements in developing countries have a long history; women's groups and associations have been a part of anti-colonial movements, independence struggles, anti-authoritarian movements (Basu 1995; Waylen 1996; Molyneux 2001). Women's participation in these independence or anti-colonial struggles, revolutions, or wider political movements have allowed women during critical moments of state formation to make claims over being included in political institutions and policy.

Despite being vibrant and innovative, the women's movement has had fewer successes in terms of engendering political processes and institutions (even taking into consideration the introduction of quotas) in the last century (Basu 2010).[1] The movement has been successful in pursuing legal reforms and bringing about changes in state policies in particular areas such as reproductive health, education for women, child welfare, and labour rights. Feminists also point out that these policy changes were facilitated by the instrumental needs of the state, such as controlling population growth and increasing productivity. In fact, feminists have been more successful in bringing discursive changes in how women are thought about as a development category compared to tangible policy gains (Mukhopadhyay and Singh 2007).

At the national level, mobilization around policy processes in particular has been led by women's groups which are largely composed of professional middle-class and elite women. The elite and middle-class composition of women's/feminist groups and their leadership in mobilization around policies have led to debates about the elite bias/focus in women's/ feminist movements. It has also raised questions about whether women's groups effectively represent the interests of grassroots members and about their accountability to this constituency (Basu 2010). For example, in Bangladesh, women's movements have been successful in mobilizing around violence against women and legal reforms but have failed to mobilize around issues that are pertinent to poor rural women, such as migration or equal wage in the informal sector. In Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, feminism took the form of 'popular feminism' only when the movement was able to bring into the fold concerns of urban and rural working-class women (Lamas et al. 1995; Frohman and Valdez 1995; Soares et al. 1995). The elite and middle-class bias in the women's movement and whether it is able to represent the interests of poor women or create strong alliances with grassroots and working-women's groups is a debate that is pertinent for unpacking political settlement around gender from a feminist perspective.

At the local level, grassroots women's groups have usually mobilized around women's needs, such as the quality of service delivery by the state with the focus on holding the state to account (Macpherson 2008; Molyneux 2001). These movements focusing on local concerns have allowed women to contextualize their concerns within the wider social/political context and also integrate a gender analysis. While some of these movements are focused on specific or singular issues, such as women's protests against price hikes in India or Kenya; or protests against the dismantling of state services as in Peru or Chile (Basu 1995; Waylen 1997), but some of these local movements also addressed gender inequity. For example, the anti-alcohol movement in Andhra Pradesh, India by local women's groups, not only focused on banning alcohol and violence against women and created space for raising different issues, it also instilled a sense of citizenship among women and demands for wider participation (Goetz and Nyamu-Musembi 2008). Grassroots membership organizations, such as Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in India, which aimed at organizing informal women workers, have been successful in creating structures and strategies that allow them to negotiate workers' wages and working conditions at the local level and also in national policy spaces (Kabeer 1994). The domestic women workers' association in Brazil (Sardenberg and Acosta 2014) and the membership-based migrant women workers' association in Bangladesh started off as small associations (Nazneen and Sultan 2014) and later evolved into larger organizations advocating national strategies and policies that would serve the interests of their members.

Women's groups use diverse strategies for mobilizing and negotiating around gender equity concerns at different political and social forums. Analysis of women's movements in our case-study countries shows that these movements by grassroots, policy advocates, and other organizations use the following common strategies: a) build coalitions within the movement on particular issues; b) form alliances with other civil society organizations (CSOs) and the media; c) target selective parts of the state bureaucracy, including local government, concerned ministries, the national gender machinery; d) cultivate allies among women representatives and also among male politicians; e) use international women's rights discourse/human rights discourse to package their demands; and f) establish and highlight their expertise and experience on the particular gender equity issue around which they are mobilizing (Nazneen and Sultan 2014; Randall 1998).

These strategies have produced mixed results in legitimizing women's demands and generating responsiveness from the state and political actors. The issue-based coalitions and alliances have raised the visibility of women's activism within the civil society arena, and also helped to project the strength of their demands. For example, the Ugandan Land Alliance was crucial in raising women's demands for co-ownership (Tripp 2004; Kawamara-Mishambi and Ovonji-Odida 2003). However, these coalitions suffer from internal power struggles. Usually the well-resourced, national groups tend to dominate how agendas are set and the activities of the coalitions, and marginalize the grassroots organizations. This has implications for whether coalitions are seen as being representative of a wider constituency around a particular issue. The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) ratification coalition in Bangladesh is a good example of this particular legitimacy problem (Nazneen and Sultan 2014). Discussions in previous sections on Uganda and South Africa show that allies within the state bureaucracy and political parties, particularly men, and the strong links between women's movements and women representatives created scope for the movements to raise their issues in various forums (Goetz 2003a; Mbatha 2003; Hassim 2003; Htun and Weldon 2010). These coalitions and alliances also demonstrated a clear constituency for which the democrats' and sympathetic representatives were working.

Targeting by women's movements of selective parts of the state which are responsive to women's rights has produced results in representing women's rights issues in different state forums. In the case-study countries women's movements have targeted particular ministries or different levels of the government depending on the nature of the demand and the context within which issues are being raised. This indicates that there are plural entry points in dealing with the state and that opportunities for women may vary across different state institutions (Randall 1998). Comparative studies of how these entry points vary and in-country analysis of when and how women's movements have been able to access different state institutions need to be conducted.

The space available to women's groups to promote a gender equity agenda in politics may vary depending on political opportunity structure context. States that are going through a transitional phase, where the stability of elite alignments is in flux, may create opportunities for women's movements to participate in the negotiation processes and promote gender equity concerns (Castellijo 2011). Immediately after independence or in the post-revolutionary period there is a high level of interest in women's position and condition among the political elite. These issues are closely tied to the modernizing/nation-building agenda which lends them legitimacy (Waylen 1996). Women's movements are able to establish effective links with the political leadership and state during this period, but this interest in improving women's status among state and political actors wanes as time passes (Molyneux 1985; Goetz 2003b).

These observations hold true for some of our case-study countries. The state and the political leadership took a keen interest in women's representation and gender equity in Rwanda and Uganda immediately after the transitional period and women's movements in these countries were able to access the party leadership, voice their demands, create a new discourse around women's rights, and resist traditional authorities (Tripp 2003; Goetz 2003a; Burnet 2008). The inclusion of women in politics through use of quotas, women's active engagement in incorporating the gender equality clause in the constitution in Uganda and South Africa, and changes in inheritance law in Rwanda, all happened during this period. In South Africa, during the period of transition from the apartheid regime, women had the greatest voice and influence on the political leadership and the state machineries (Hassim 2003). In Bangladesh, the women's movement exerted the most influence during the decade of the 1990s when transition from an authoritarian phase took place. Women were able to gender mainstream the national five-year development plans, ensure direct elections for women in local government, and secure legal/policy changes on violence against women (Nazneen and Sultan 2010). In Chile, Brazil, and Mexico, the anti-authoritarian movement created scope for large-scale activism by women, particularly when they mobilized to demand answers for those who had disappeared under the authoritarian regimes (Kemp et al. 1995; Lamas et al. 1995; Soares et al. 1995). This created 'political entitlement' which women's groups claimed during the transitional phase to democracy, however, the space became fragmented as these countries entered a more stable phase and women formally entered policy spaces (Molyneux 2001; Basu 2010).

The international discourses on women's rights and gender equity have played an important role in creating space for women's movement groups to access the state and be consulted on various issues (Tripp 2012). In the case-study countries, for example, in Bangladesh and Rwanda, the UN international conferences and CEDAW shadow reporting processes have created the need for the state to consult women's movements on these issues/processes so that they are able to legitimize states' positions (Burnet 2008; Nazneen and Sultan 2010). In fact, discourses are important features of women's political opportunity framework. Competing ideologies and discourses may influence openings for women's participation in political processes and institutions or place limits on the representation of women's claims (Rai 1996). A key gap in using political-settlement literature for understanding the politics of securing gender-inclusive development is that the political-settlement framework does not include how different ideologies and discourses on gender influence political and social actors.

  • [1] This does not imply that women's representation in politics was not highlighted in the feminist agenda. By the time the second wave of the feminist movement started in the 1960s in mostWestern democracies, women had the right to vote and other formal political rights, though thegender bias within political institutions remained. Given this context, when agendas were drawnup for action, they were influenced by the context within which women's issues were being debated.
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