Women's rights campaigning has changed a lot since Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse in 1913. Hunger strikes, window smashing and setting fire to letterboxes are not the typical fare of a 21st century campaign strategy. Activists no longer adorn themselves in colourful sashes (well mostly). And the rallying cries for change are now more likely to reverberate through the twittersphere than be seen on a hand-embroidered banner.
But how much have we really learnt about campaigning for women’s rights in the hundred years since? In spite of the courage, anger and ingenuity shown by women around the world, and in spite of the great advances that have resulted from the actions of women like Emily Davison, we know that gross inequalities remain.
One relatively recent change in the campaigning landscape is that many mainstream development and human rights NGOs are now picking up the baton, whether this is in the form of dedicated campaigns on women’s rights (or gender equality), or looking at how to address gender issues within their existing campaigns.
So what does this mean?
Well first of all, to state the obvious, it means that there is a growing number of individuals and organisations now campaigning on women’s rights. It also means, at risk of stating the obvious again, that women’s rights have increasingly become a mainstream issue. After all, women’s rights are also human rights and making them a reality is critical to addressing poverty and inequality.
These are both very welcome trends. However, we want to ensure that the growing number and diversity of women’s rights campaigns and campaigners result in real change. In doing so, we want to reduce the risk of tokenistic gestures or oversimplified messages that actually end up reinforcing gender stereotypes or focusing on meaningless asks.
So this is why we have set up this blog.
We are a group of gender equality and women’s rights campaigners. Some of us work for women’s rights organisations, some of us work in human rights organisations, and some of us work for mainstream development organisations.
We want to share learning and stimulate debate about how to campaign effectively for women’s rights and gender equality. We want to investigate what works and what doesn’t, as well as draw out the key factors that contribute to a successful women’s rights or gender equality campaign. Perhaps most importantly, we want to explore whether there is something qualitatively different about campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. We know we want our methods to reflect our values and aims, but what does this mean in practice?
We will therefore use this blog to profile inspirational campaigns and inspirational campaigners. We will also suggest practical ways in which we can all improve our campaigning on women’s rights and gender equality. And we will challenge ourselves - and you - to practice what we preach so our campaigns are part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Here are just some of the questions we want to try and grapple with:
Do we, should we, can we use instrumental arguments for women’s empowerment?
How on earth do we take on the ‘sticky issue’ of cultural attitudes within our advocacy and campaigning?
How can we effectively engage men as women’s rights activists?
How do we stem the creeping tide of 'cupcake feminism'?
Who is this blog for?
This blog is for anyone engaged in campaigning. If you are women’s rights activist, human rights campaigner or simply fighting to end global poverty, then this is a blog for you.
And what do we want you to do?
Well apart from reading the blog of course, we want you to share it with others, discuss and test out our ideas, and even - dare we say - challenge our thinking. Your first task, however, is to share with us your own questions about gender equality and women’s rights campaigning.
So let the debate begin. In a calm and orderly fashion of course.
Rachael Stokes, VSO