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Robtel Neajai Pailey
Though deeply contested, citizenship has come to be defined in gender-inclusive terms both as a status anchored in law, with attendant rights and resources, and as agency manifested in active political participation and representation. Scholars have argued that gender often determines how citizenship rights are distributed at household, community, national, and institutional levels, thereby leaving women with many responsibilities but few resources and little representation. Citizenship laws in different parts of Africa explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender and religion, with women bearing the brunt of these inequities. In particular, African women have faced structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to ensuring full citizenship in policy and praxis, with contestations in the post-independence era centering around the fulfillment of citizenship rights embedded in law, practice, and lived experience.
While African women’s concerns about their subjective roles as equal citizens were often sidelined during nationalist liberation movements, the post-independence era has presented more meaningful opportunities for women in the continent to demand equality of access to citizenship rights, resources, and representation. In contemporary times, a number of local, national, continental, and transnational developments have shaped the contours of the battle for women’s citizenship equality, including the prominence of domestic women’s movements; national constitutional reviews and revisions processes; electoral quotas; female labor force participation; and feminism as a unifying principle of gender justice.
African women have had to overcome constraints imposed on them not only by patriarchy, but also by histories of slavery, colonialism, structural adjustment, land dispossession, militarism, and neoliberalism. They have often been subordinated in the domestic or private sphere, with gendered values and norms then undermining their agency in the public sphere. Although African women have managed to secure some political, socio-economic, and cultural rights, resources, and representation, this has certainly not been the panacea for achieving full equality of citizenship or gender justice.
The extractive industries play a prominent but controversial role in the economies and development strategies of countries across the global South, often leading to clashes between local communities and governments and Transnational Corporations (TNCs) keen to exploit mineral reserves. Mining thus provides a multifaceted lens through which to engage with key questions about Development—who decides, who benefits, and who should be responsible for dealing with the long-term legacies of mining and associated issues of sustainability and environmental devastation? Women’s anti-mining activism is an important but underresearched element in this scenario and one that provides an interesting way to explore the complexities surrounding mining and development, from a gendered perspective, raising a number of questions and directions for future research.
Current research on this topic not only highlights the highly unequal power relations operating in this context, but also elucidates the ways in which grassroots women’s voices are heard (or not heard) in the global arena; the gendered nature and dynamics of community decision making; the high levels of violence and intimidation common to the experiences of many women anti-mining activists; and the constraints and challenges women face as activists. More broadly, research on women’s anti-mining activism contributes to analyze the gendered nature of the extractivist model of development.
Significant gaps in the existing literature provide productive avenues for future research. In particular, there is the potential to explore alternative visions of Development through engaging with women activists’ agendas, ambitions, and perspectives. However, there is also a need to further develop an understanding of the multiple challenges women activists face in this highly charged scenario and to analyze how the women themselves navigate and tackle these challenges. Finally, conducting research in this context presents particular methodological challenges. In this regard, it is important to consider possible approaches that might bring the perspectives of grassroots women anti-mining activists to the fore.
Aili Mari Tripp
The roots of contemporary women’s mobilization in Africa were in nationalist movements and in the early single-party era, when women’s mobilization was often closely aligned with and controlled by the ruling party and state. This changed in the multiparty era after the 1990s and how new forms of mobilization came to be characterized by their autonomy from political parties and the state. This autonomy allowed for new issues to be taken up as well new forms of mobilization ranging from grass-roots activism to nationwide campaigns, broad coalitions and cyber activism. In the early 21st century, the demands range from opposition to all forms of violence against women, to financing of businesses, the right to abortion, the adoption of gender quotas in government and the legislature, and many other concerns. After the mid-2000s, restrictions on freedom of association and speech began to impinge once again on civil society in many countries, sometimes constraining women’s activism.
Omar Manky Bonilla
Labor studies in Latin America have undergone important transformations in the early 21st century. Workers in several countries have contested the flexible processes of labor and work that were common through the 1980s and 1990s and the labor movement has transformed some of its traditional strategies. As a consequence, the field is witnessing important debates, such as those linked to the spatiality of labor strategies, the emergence of a broader notion of work, and the potential networks among labor and other struggles.
Ransford Edward Van Gyampo and Nana Akua Anyidoho
The youth in Africa have been an important political force and performed a wide range of roles in the political field as voters, activists, party members, members of parliament, ministers, party “foot soldiers,” and apparatchiks. Although political parties, governments, and other political leaders often exploit young people’s political activity, their participation in both local and national level politics has been significant. In the academic literature and policy documents, youth are portrayed, on the one hand, as “the hope for the future” and, on the other, as a disadvantaged and vulnerable group. However, the spread of social media has created an alternative political space for young people. Active participation of young people in politics through social media channels suggests that they do not lack interest in politics, but that the political systems in Africa marginalize and exclude them from political dialogue, participation, decision-making, and policy implementation. The solution to the problem of the exclusion of young people from mainstream politics would involve encouraging their participation in constitutional politics and their greater interest and involvement in alternative sites, goals, and forms of youth political activism in contemporary Africa.
Scholars of Latin American social movements since the 1980s have sought to explain the apparent upswing in cycles of contentious politics, the innovative characteristics of these new movements, and variations in how they interact with or sidestep conventional institutional politics. The regional context for these developments is very different from the postmaterialist conditions said to have spawned European “new social movements” since the 1970s revolving around identity and values, such as ecology, peace, gay rights, and women’s movements. Relevant causal factors for Latin America’s contemporary movements include popular reaction against neoliberal policies imposed by international financial institutions and brokered by national governments. Another factor was the transition from military authoritarianism in much of the region, inaugurating a struggle between political elites with a liberal-representative vision of democratization and social movements favoring radical/participatory democracy. The era of globalization also brought reexamination of the citizenship pact and of the hegemonic (mestizo) construction of the nation-state, fueling a reinvigoration of indigenous movements, some with their own cosmovisions of buen vivir (living well) that destabilized mainstream notions of the political. The interplay between party-electoral politics and grassroots movement activism took place against the backdrop of the “pink tide” of elected leftist governments, which swept much of the region in the first decade of the 21st century and subsequently appeared to recede. Throughout this period, scholars and activists alike debated whether fundamental change could best be achieved by movements pushing parties and governments to use state power to enact reforms or by movements themselves adopting radically horizontal and inclusive patterns of organizing—“new ways of doing politics”—that would transform society from below.
The January 1, 1994, Zapatista uprising among mostly Maya peasants in the poor southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, launched the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect, became emblematic of new ways of doing politics from below. What began as a rebellion of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional [EZLN]) quickly morphed into a social movement that both criticized national and global power structures and sought to empower local communities through everyday practices of de facto autonomy. Negotiations with the state over indigenous rights and culture quickly broke down, but the Zapatistas proceeded anyway to develop their own structures of self-government, autonomous education, healthcare, justice, and agrarian and economic relations, among other innovative practices. The Zapatista movement continues to raise important issues such as the role of culture and identity in popular mobilization, the social spaces for organizing in an era of globalization, the new characteristics of movements that practice alternative forms of prefigurative politics, and the possibility of redefining power from below. Scholars of the Zapatista movement have also posed probing self-reflective questions about the adequacy of conventional definitions of politics and Western positivist epistemologies and about the need for decolonizing research in indigenous and other oppressed communities.
The persistent and changing forms of military interventions in global politics present continuing challenges for democratic agendas. Authoritarian regimes in Africa bolstered by militarist structures limit the possibilities for democratic alternatives. This can lead to desperate hopes that some form of militarism is a necessary prerequisite for democratic transition sometimes with the assistance of a popular sense of appeal. The outcome of such interventions is often a prelude to yet another round of authoritarian politics. In countries like Zimbabwe embedded in a Southern African region with a history of armed liberation struggles the narratives of a liberating militarism remain strong, as does the official ownership of the liberation narratives and the purported trajectory they should follow. However as these liberation parties face growing challenges from opposition voices that contest for their own claims on liberation histories, divisions and factions within the dominant parties have increased. The future of these struggles remains uncertain but there is a growing danger that a global preference for any form of political stabilization will marginalize the more difficult challenges of developing democratic alternatives.