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Global Governance and Feminist Activism  

Julie Mertus

Competing narratives exist in feminist scholarship about the successes and challenges of women’s activism in a globalized world. Some scholars view globalization as merely another form of imperialism, whereby a particular tradition—white, Eurocentric, and Western—has sought to establish itself as the only legitimate tradition; (re)colonization of the Third World; and/or the continuation of “a process of corporate global economic, ideological, and cultural marginalization across nation-states.” On the other hand, proponents of globalization see opportunity in “the proliferation of transnational spaces for political engagement” and promise in “the related surge in the number and impact of social movements and nongovernmental organizations. Feminist involvement in global governance can be understood by appreciating the context and origins of the chosen for advancing feminist interests in governance, which have changed over time. First wave feminism, describing a long period of feminist activity during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, developed vibrant networks seeking to develop strong coalitions, generate broad public consensus, and improve the status of women in society. Second wave feminist concerns dominated the many international conferences of the 1990s, influencing the dominant agenda, the problems identified and discussed, the advocacy tactics employed, and the controversies generated. Third wave feminism focused more on consciousness raising and coalition building across causes and identities.

Article

Feminism, Activism, and Scholarship in Global Context  

Nancy A. Naples and Nikki McGary

The histories of women’s studies and feminist scholarship reveal the lack of distinction between feminist activism and feminist scholarship. The term “feminism” consists of multiple theories and agendas depending on regional, historical, and individual contexts. Broadly speaking, feminism includes theoretical and practical challenges to gender inequality and multiple forms of systemic oppression. However, the political projects that make women their objects are not always feminist; and political projects that address women’s issues are not always framed around the concept of feminism. Women activists and organizations do not always explicitly identify as feminist, although they might be participants in struggles aligned with broad feminist goals, including women’s empowerment, autonomy, human rights, and economic justice. A major theme that runs through feminist scholarship on women’s activism relates to the question of what difference women’s participation and feminist analyses make for progressive struggles. Feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser argues that there are “gender dimensions” to all struggles for social justice, and “feminists better be in these struggles and bring out those dimensions because certainly nobody else will.” Feminist scholars have also long debated what counts as a women’s movement. Revisioning women’s movements to include the diversity of women’s political analyses and strategies requires rethinking the labels used to categorize feminisms more generally.

Article

Transnational Feminist Activism and Globalizing Women’s Movements  

Melinda Adams and Gwynn Thomas

Women’s activism has assumed an international dimension beginning in the nineteenth century. Transnational feminism has been shaped by debates over a wide range of issues: how to name and describe feminist inspired action that crosses national borders; how to create organizations, networks, and movements that acknowledge the multiple power differentials that exist among women while still allowing for concerted political action; and how to craft effective mobilization strategies in the face of highly differing forms of activism. These debates have fueled a surge in scholarly interest in the transnational activities of feminist groups, transforming the ways in which women’s studies, political science, international relations, sociology, and geography investigate the relationships between national and international levels of politics. The scholarship on transnational feminist actions has been influenced in large part by the concept of transnational advocacy networks/transnational feminist networks, which often bring together multiple kinds of actors such as social movements, international nongovernmental organizations, and more nationally or locally based actors. Another issue tackled by scholars who are politically committed to the goals of transnational feminist activism is how feminists are likely to achieve their goals and produce change through their transnational activities. These scholars can be expected to continue to develop their own research agendas on transnational feminist activism and to influence how transnational politics and globalization are studied in other fields.

Article

Feminist Ethics in International Relations  

Brooke Ackerly and Ying Zhang

The study of feminist ethics in international relations (IR) is the study of three topics. The first is the feminist contributions to key topics in international ethics and the research agenda that continues to further that enterprise. Feminists have made important contributions to IR thought on central ethical concepts. They rethink these concepts from the perspective of their impact on women, deconstruct the dichotomies of the concepts and their constituent parts, and reconsider how the field should be studied. Next, there is the feminist engagement with the epistemological construction of the discipline of IR itself, by which feminists make the construction of the field itself a normative subject. Finally, there is the feminist methodological contribution of a “meta-methodology”—a research ethic applicable in the research of all questions and able to improve the research practice of all methodologists. The contention here is that ethical IR research must be responsive to the injustices of the world, hence feminists have also explored the connections between scholarship and activism. And this in turn has meant exploring methodologies such as participatory action research that engages one with the political impact of research and methods. Furthermore, contemporary challenges related to climate, globalization, shifts in people, and shifts in global governance are encouraging feminists to work from multiple theoretical perspectives and to triangulate across multiple methods and questions, in order to contribute to our understanding of global problems and the politics of addressing them.

Article

Feminist Contributions and Challenges to Peace Studies  

Catia Cecilia Confortini

Many women across the world have addressed issues of peace and war since antiquity, from Christine de Pizan and Jane Addams to Betty Reardon and Elise Boulding. Although a few feminist scholars in the social sciences consider themselves “peace studies” (PS) scholars, other feminists contribute to PS by tackling peace and violence issues. PS comprises peace research, peace education, and peace activism. Feminists improve on and challenge these fields by insisting on expanded definitions of peace that suggest continuity between different forms of violence; highlighting the diverse roles played by women and other marginalized groups in violent conflicts and in peace processes; complicating our understanding of peace and violence while foregrounding gender as a social and symbolic construct involving relations of power; and proposing transformative ways of conceptualizing peace, war, and postconflict transitions. By seeing all forms of violence along a continuum, feminists transform PS’ understandings of peace. Furthermore, feminism brings women to the center of PS by making them visible as actors in both peace and conflict. Finally, feminism envisions a peaceful future that take into consideration women, other marginalized people, and gender. A number of themes continue to emerge from feminist engagement with PS, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and transitional justice—themes situated at the intersection of peace/violence and religion.

Article

UN, Gender, and Women  

Soumita Basu

After the end of World War II, women’s rights advocates at the United Nations vigorously campaigned for equality between the sexes. At the UN Charter Conference held in San Francisco in 1945, women delegates fought for the recognition of sex-based discrimination as a violation of human rights in Article 1 of the Charter. At the UN, issues relating to women were primarily placed under the purview of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), established in June 1946 with the mandate to “prepare recommendations and report to the Economic and Social Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields.” Three main perspectives underpin feminist International Relations (IR) literature on the UN, gender and women: promoting women’s participation and inclusion of women’s issues at the UN; gender critique of the UN, geared towards institutional transformation; and challenging the universality of the UN. Despite some fundamental differences between these three strands of thinking, their political significance is widely acknowledged in the literature. The co-existence of these contentious viewpoints resonates with the vibrant feminist politics at the UN, and offers a fruitful avenue for envisioning a better intergovernmental organization. This is particularly relevant in light of feminist scholars’ engagement with activism and policymaking at the UN from the very beginning. Nevertheless, there are issues that deserve further consideration, such as the workings of the UN, as reflected in its unique diplomatic characteristics and bureaucratic practices.