Associations and organizations are groups of individuals who form a body to achieve an aim. Women’s leadership and membership in associations constitute a vital part of Africa’s economic, social, and political history. Women-only associations and women in dual-sex organizations protested against colonial rule; fought for independence; and mobilized for democracy, peace, and equality. Still, women in associations also supported colonial projects, fought in war, and held up postcolonial authoritarian rule. Taken together, economic, social, and political accounts of Africa are inherently incomplete if they fail to interrogate women’s participation in collective action on the continent. Women have created and joined many kinds of associations and organizations in Africa. These include secular and religious associations. Some groups represent the interests of a profession (e.g., academics, journalists, lawyers, midwives, traders) or a political party or ideology (e.g., African National Congress Women’s League in South Africa). Others explicitly try to bring together women and men from multiple status and political groups (e.g., Women’s National Coalition in South Africa). Women have formed groups of friends and family members in their immediate vicinity, at times through small-scale rotating savings and credit associations. Other associations have a national membership base. Associations further vary in their relationship to the state. Some are formally recognized, and others are informal. Whereas some groups receive state financing, others depend solely on the contributions of its members, and many fall in the middle of the spectrum. Women have also forged intra-regional, pan-African, and global networks of individuals and organizations. It is not uncommon for a woman to belong to multiple kinds of associations simultaneously and for her memberships to vary over her lifetime. The associations and organizations that women have spearheaded rise and fall, consolidate and fragment, and succeed and fail in achieving their aims, reflecting local, national, and international contradictions and dynamics. The power of women-led organizations has changed over time. Women-led organizations registered economic revolutions, political upheavals, and religious conversion on the continent before the advent of European colonization, under European rule, and in postcolonial Africa.
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.
Rebecca J. Mead
Woman suffragists in the United States engaged in a sustained, difficult, and multigenerational struggle: seventy-two years elapsed between the Seneca Falls convention (1848) and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920). During these years, activists gained confidence, developed skills, mobilized resources, learned to maneuver through the political process, and built a social movement. This essay describes key turning points and addresses internal tensions as well as external obstacles in the U.S. woman suffrage movement. It identifies important strategic, tactical, and rhetorical approaches that supported women’s claims for the vote and influenced public opinion, and shows how the movement was deeply connected to contemporaneous social, economic, and political contexts.
Cheryl A. Hyde
Feminist social work practice is based on principles derived from the political and social analyses of women’s movements in the United States and abroad. As a practice approach, feminism emphasizes gendered analyses and solutions, democratized structures and processes, diversity and inclusivity, linking personal situations with political solutions, and transformation at all levels of intervention. Feminist practice is in concert with a multisystemic approach; it complements and extends strength-based social work. It requires of the practitioner, regardless of method, to be relational and open to other ways of knowing and understanding.
Gretchen Bauer, Akosua Darkwah, and Donna Patterson
Building upon their participation in anti-colonial struggles across Africa in the mid-20th century, African women have taken on many political roles in the post-independence period. While military rule and single-party rule precluded access to elected office in many countries in the early years after independence, female combatants fought alongside their male counterparts in ongoing struggles for national liberation in other parts of Africa, especially southern Africa, into the 1980s and 1990s. In many countries, national gender machineries established in the 1970s provided an institutional infrastructure for pursuing women’s rights even if they were often not fully implemented. State feminism, articulated through First Ladyism and state-led national women’s associations, sought to co-opt women’s struggles for political gain. In some instances, it did ameliorate women’s economic hardships and promote political participation. Women’s mobilization in the 1980s, in part a response to the severe impact of structural adjustment programs on devastated African economies, led to local-level organizing and eventually to a focus on women’s access to political office. Since the political transitions that swept the continent beginning in the early 1990s, women have accessed political office in all three branches of government in unprecedented numbers just as new forms of mobilization have emerged around issues like the rights of sexual minorities.
Natalie Florea Hudson
One of the main arguments advanced by feminists is that we must move beyond adding women to existing structures and institutions, and focus more on the theoretical, cognitive, and even moral commitments that emphasize the very creation and ongoing reproduction of such political bodies. Central to this concern are the feminist debates about the state and the gendered reproduction of the state in discourses ranging from security and violence to development and globalization. Feminist theorists have raised various approaches and critiques against the state. Some have shown how the state is deeply and fundamentally embedded to patriarchy, while others have described the state as a terrain that can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a manner that moves away from systems of domination, gendered hierarchy, and power over towards arenas that foster inclusion and emancipation. In response to mainstream international relations (IR) theory, feminists have argued that the state and its related notions of citizenship and sovereignty are gendered social constructs. They continue to challenge the primacy of the state in mainstream IR, while also engaging the state as an important political actor in the feminist quest for emancipation, equality, and justice. One strategy employed by some feminist organizations and women’s movements in an attempt to go beyond gender balancing and the rather basic goals of liberal feminism, but to still find ways to engage the state and state actors in meaningful ways, is gender mainstreaming.
Peace A. Medie
Violence, in all of its forms, touches girls and women’s lives in Africa. While there is evidence that girls and women do participate in violence, research has shown that a significant proportion of them have also been victims. Violence against women describes violence inflicted on girls and women because of their gender and includes femicide, rape, intimate partner violence, and human trafficking. It also includes harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage. While it is a global problem, the levels of some forms of violence against women are particularly high in Africa. The problem is caused by a complex interaction of factors operating at multiple levels, including at the global level. Historical records show that acts of violence against women, including intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence, were perpetrated during the colonial era. During this period, perpetrators of non-partner sexual violence included colonial officers and troops under their command. Cases brought before colonial courts sometimes resulted in the conviction of the offender, but sentences were generally light. However, incidents of violence against women were mostly resolved within the family or community, with relatives and traditional leaders playing a central role. The post-independence period has seen increased attention to violence against women. Activism by women’s movements contributed to placing the issue on the agenda of states and of international organizations such as the United Nations. Sexual violence perpetrated by armed actors during wars in the 1990s also served to draw attention to violence against women. Consequently, most African countries have amended colonial-era rape laws and have adopted new legislation to address acts such as intimate partner violence, early marriage, and female genital mutilation. Many of them have also created specialized criminal-justice-sector institutions to address various forms of violence against women. These actions on the part of states have been influenced by women’s movements and by pressure from international organizations such as the United Nations. While this demonstrates progress on the part of African states, there is a large implementation gap in most countries. Thus, girls and women rarely benefit from the progressive laws on the books. This demonstrates that there is much work that needs to be done to address violence against women in Africa.
Democracies and the processes surrounding recent transitions to democracy are gendered in a variety of ways. Recently, feminist scholars have questioned the exclusionary ways in which democracy is both theorized and operationalized and how these have resulted in women and men being incorporated into democratic polities. They have demonstrated how processes of democratization, particularly the third wave of democratization that has taken place over the last three decades, are gendered. They have also shown that women’s movements were key actors in the broad opposition coalitions against many nondemocratic regimes. In order both to understand the differing role of organized women in the subsequent transitions to democracy and the ways in which transition paths affect gender outcomes, feminist scholars have begun to focus on the complex and sometimes contradictory interaction of four variables: the transition; women activists; political parties and politicians involved in the transition; and the institutional legacy of the nondemocratic regime. Two main areas that have been explored in relation to the political outcomes of transitions to democracy are women’s participation in competitive electoral politics and major changes in gender policy. In order to expand one important emerging area of research that is looking at how attempts to establish democracy in post-conflict settings are gendered, feminist scholars with expertise in third wave transitions to democracy need to analyze not only women’s roles in post-conflict institution building but also the ways that the outcomes have gendered implications more systematically.
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.
Christopher P. Loss
Until World War II, American universities were widely regarded as good but not great centers of research and learning. This changed completely in the press of wartime, when the federal government pumped billions into military research, anchored by the development of the atomic bomb and radar, and into the education of returning veterans under the GI Bill of 1944. The abandonment of decentralized federal–academic relations marked the single most important development in the history of the modern American university. While it is true that the government had helped to coordinate and fund the university system prior to the war—most notably the country’s network of public land-grant colleges and universities—government involvement after the war became much more hands-on, eventually leading to direct financial support to and legislative interventions on behalf of core institutional activities, not only the public land grants but the nation’s mix of private institutions as well. However, the reliance on public subsidies and legislative and judicial interventions of one kind or another ended up being a double-edged sword: state action made possible the expansion in research and in student access that became the hallmarks of the post-1945 American university; but it also created a rising tide of expectations for continued support that has proven challenging in fiscally stringent times and in the face of ongoing political fights over the government’s proper role in supporting the sector.