A study commissioned by the World Bank and published in the American Political Science Review — conducted over four decades and in 70 countries — details the context of violence against women. Its core finding: the mobilization of local grassroots feminist movements is more important for positive change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians.
Unique in its incredible scope, the study includes every region of the world, varying degrees of democracy, rich and poor countries, and a variety of world religions. It encompasses 85 per cent of the world’s population. Analyzing the data took five years, which is why the most recent year covered is 2005.
The study has an in-depth examination of how more than 70 grassroots women-led groups in seven countries in Africa are helping women and communities to access justice in diverse contexts. Based on this research, the authors of the study concluded,
“Women’s autonomous organizing in civil society affects political change… Autonomous movements articulate the social perspectives of marginalized groups, transform social practice, and change public opinion. They drive sweeping policy change as voters, civic leaders and activists, by pressuring policy makers to respond to their demands and as policy makers themselves become sympathetic to the movement’s goals. These effects of autonomous organizing are more important in our analysis than women’s descriptive representation inside the legislature or the impact of political parties”
Whether mobilizing Congolese women around voting rights or the peace-building work led by Liberian women, these feminist movements were the first to identify the intersections of violence against women. It was through direct action, and community-based education they were able to catalyze government action. They were able to command public support and attention, and convinced larger media platforms that the issues were important not only for women, but for the general public. In countries that were slower to adopt policies on violence, collective action remained integral in leveraging regional and global relationships to advocate for local policy change.
What these findings tell us is that the single most powerful resource in transforming the state and the safety of women and girls are the women and girls in their own cities, villages, countries.
When these women get angry, get organized, and start speaking with the authority that only they can have from having their subjective life experiences, they transform their relative corners of the world. Often as women we are told not to get angry, but our anger at injustice is a powerful and effective catalyst for change that benefits us all.
The work of Liberian Nobel Winner Leymah Gbowee exemplifies this strategy. After a decade of devastating war “waiting for a white knight,” she realized no one was coming to save her people. She began organizing sit-ins and demonstrations actively mobilizing women in her native Liberia to demand peace. She — alongside President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — is credited with bringing an end to the 14-year-old civil war. She had this message for American women,”It’s time for women to stop being politely angry.”
With women engaged in peace-building actions, sharing power and positions, we have safer communities every single time.