Article: “Inclusion, Solidarity, and SocialMovements: The Global
Movement against Gender Violence”
S. Laurel Weldon
Issue: March 2006
Perspectives on Politics
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Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social
Movements: The Global Movement
against Gender Violence
S. Laurel Weldon
Women’s movements are increasingly divided along lines of race, sexuality, ethnicity, and class. When such division obstructs coop-
eration, women lose their most effective advocates in the public sphere. How can movements overcome these divisions and improve
their inﬂuence on policy and society? In some contexts, it seems that activists are able to overcome such divisions without denying
politically salient conﬂicts. The transnational movement against gender violence, for example, mobilizes people not only across
differences of race, class and sexuality but also across differences of language, national context, level of development, and the like.
How do they do this? I argue that the movement against gender violence has achieved cooperation through the development of
norms of inclusivity. Such norms include a commitment to descriptive representation, the facilitation of separate organization for
disadvantaged social groups, and a commitment to building consensus with institutionalized dissent. Developing such norms is not
the only possible path to cooperation, but it is an important and overlooked one. It illuminates a way of maintaining solidarity and
improving policy inﬂuence without denying or sublimating the differences and conﬂicts among activists. Existing scholarship on
social movements that attributes successful cooperation to shared interests, identities, or opportunities, is incomplete because it does
not take account of relations of domination among activists who cooperate. Attending to the context of structural inequality in
which social movements operate improves our understanding of social mobilization and illuminates overlooked paths to cooperation.
omen’s movements have reshaped the world’s
democracies, demanding that governments and
citizens pay attention to “women’s issues” such as
pay equity, violence, feminization of poverty, reproductive
rights, and representation.
But women’s movements, like
many contemporary social movements, are increasingly
divided along lines of race, sexuality, ethnicity, and class.
When such division obstructs cooperation, women lose
their most effective advocates in the public sphere. With a
renewed assault on women’s reproductive rights, eco-
nomic security, and freedom from violence in the United
States and around the world, women need effective sources
of policy inﬂuence more than ever.
It is critical, then,
that movements overcome these divisions and improve
their inﬂuence on policy and society. But can they?
Some scholars argue that a return to universalism, a
strategy of emphasizing commonalities rather than differ-
ences, will re-invigorate left movements and help them
regain policy inﬂuence.
Others argue that the perception
of a common identity (separate from that of all human-
kind) is critical to successful mobilization: Even essential-
ist identities that deny real differences can strengthen
In some contexts, however, activists are able to over-
come such divisions without denying politically salient
conﬂicts and differences. The transnational movement
against gender violence, for example, mobilizes people not
only across differences of race, class, and sexuality but also
across differences of language, national context, level of
development, and the like.
Though initially hobbled by
internal division, activists have united over two decades,
successfully promoting a number of international agree-
Violence against women has by no means been
eliminated, but activists have succeeded in dramatically
increasing the awareness of and resources devoted to com-
bating violence against women around the globe. How
did they do this? I use a case study of this movement over
more than two decades to answer this question.
The success of transnational organizing on gender vio-
lence has previously been attributed to processes of stra-
tegic issue-framing or changes in the political opportunity
But here I argue that the movement against
S. Laurel Weldon is associate professor of political science at
Purdue University (firstname.lastname@example.org). The author
thanks Jane Mansbridge for her help. Thanks also to Karen
Beckwith, Elisabeth Clemens, Jennifer Hochschild, Aaron
Hoffman, Debra Liebowitz, and Iris Young for comments
on earlier drafts. Thanks to Anne Walker and Vicki Semler
for helpful conversations, and to Charlotte Bunch, Arvonne
Fraser, and Jutta Joachim for helping with key details.
Reviewers for Perspectives provided many valuable sugges-
tions. Errors and shortcomings remain my responsibility.
Vol. 4/No. 1 55
gender violence has achieved cooperation through the
development of norms of inclusivity. Such norms include
a commitment to descriptive representation, the facili-
tation of separate organization for disadvantaged social
groups, and a commitment to building consensus with
institutionalized dissent. Developing such norms is not
the only possible path to cooperation, but it is an impor-
tant and overlooked one. It illuminates a way of maintain-
ing solidarity and improving policy inﬂuence without
denying or sublimating the differences and conﬂicts among
Existing scholarship on social movements that attributes
successful cooperation to shared interests, identities, or
opportunities, is incomplete because it does not take
account of relations of domination among activists who
Activists need to communicate and coordi-
nate their actions, but in contexts where some social groups
dominate others, the relations of domination distort com-
munication, making misunderstanding and conﬂict more
Such relations obstruct the development of
shared identities. Attending to the context of structural
inequality in which social movements operate improves
our understanding of social mobilization and illuminates
overlooked paths to cooperation.
Inclusive Procedures Facilitate
The same divisions and conﬂicts that permeate society
also affect social movements: Activists must construct coali-
tions across these divisions in order to command public
attention and inﬂuence. In addition to the sheer difﬁculty
of communicating with others from different cultural back-
grounds, power imbalances among activists distort and
Historically marginalized groups
or constituencies, even when they are nominally included,
often perceive more privileged groups as dominating activ-
Frequently, activists from the more
privileged group do not perceive or understand the prob-
lems. Relations of mistrust between such groups poison
relations between activists, make communication difﬁ-
cult, and ultimately can lead to the fragmentation and
subsequent decline of the movement.
One way to solve
at least some of these problems would be to eliminate the
broader conﬂict, to redress longstanding relations of social
inequality. But to directly solve these problems before orga-
nizing is usually not an option. If such social cleavages
cannot be eliminated, how can activists cooperate in their
Democratic theorists argue that procedural mecha-
nisms that are more inclusive, especially those that give
marginalized groups a stronger voice in deliberative pro-
ceedings, will create greater trust and improve communi-
cation among the participants, by countering the distorting
inﬂuence of power-differentials on discussion, and help-
ing activists to move to discussion of possible common
Measures that aim at securing a voice for mar-
ginalized sub-groups in group deliberations let marginal-
ized sub-groups rest assured that privileged members of
the group will not entirely dominate deliberations.
can then spend less time struggling against other activists
and more time working to develop a common plan of
action. Below, I specify three features of such inclusive
political communication: a commitment to work towards
agreement on speciﬁc issues while expecting dissent;
descriptive representation; and self-organization of mar-
The most effective way to ensure that marginalized sub-
groups or “internal minorities” have the opportunity to
develop and voice their distinctive perspectives is to ensure
that they have the opportunity for self-organization. Fem-
inist theorists have stressed the importance of autono-
mous organization by women, that is, organization under
conditions where women have the opportunity to set the
agenda and rules of engagement.
have argued that when dominated groups form a “counter-
public” or separate discussion among themselves, they are
better able to counter their marginalization in the broader
Such counter-publics function as “bases
and training grounds for agitational activities,” and pro-
vide a mechanism whereby marginalized groups can develop
and disseminate new concepts and ideas to the dominant
Self-organization permits groups to speak
as a group to some degree, and this gives their statements
more weight. This helps to put interlocutors on a more
Without descriptive representation (the physical presence
of members of marginalized groups) there are no mem-
bers of the group who can self-organize, develop, and
articulate the minority group perspectives. Descriptive rep-
resentation, or the bodily presence of members of margin-
alized groups helps to ensure that the ﬁnal product reﬂects
the perspective of the marginalized group, while also con-
ferring legitimacy on the proceedings: Symbolically, the
visible participation of members of marginalized groups
in deliberations increases the trust in the process by other
members of the group.
In order to overcome mistrust and include marginal-
ized groups in discussions, descriptive representation must
not be tokenism, but involve members of marginalized
groups in such numbers and contexts that they can dis-
cuss issues among themselves, set an independent agenda,
and present a perspective critical of the dominant group if
necessary. Although such measures will not solve all con-
ﬂicts among activists or guarantee solidarity, they can build
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
56 Perspectives on Politics
trust and improve communication even in the context of
severe social inequality.
Search for agreement and institutionalized dissent
Inclusive political communication requires a spirit of open-
ness, where all parties both genuinely listen to others and
seek to advance others’ understanding of their positions
and perspectives. In conditions of social inequality and
difference, truly open deliberations are likely to be char-
acterized by conﬂict. In such a context, institutionalizing
dissent is important to ensure that a search for agreement
does not silence weaker parties. Without such procedures,
the assumption of homogeneity of points of view tends to
reinforce dominant group positions and makes it harder
for marginalized groups to disagree.
On the other hand, without any commitment to a com-
mon project, dominant groups easily ignore marginalized
groups to pursue their own interests, claiming they have
agreed to disagree. By contrast, deliberations can be made
more inclusive by retaining a goal of some degree of agree-
ment, undertaking consensus-building on speciﬁc ques-
tions or contexts, but expecting disagreement (even
fundamental disagreement) as part of the process.
When these principles of inclusive political practice become
norms for movement activists, they will improve move-
ment deliberations. Norms are standards of behavior, rang-
ing from standards of mere appropriateness to standards
delineating rights and obligations.
Actors “use norms as
reference points in their communication and interaction.”
Actors arrive at new norms or reinforce existing ones by
acknowledging one another’s full or partial compliance
with norms. We would know that activists are using norms
when they behave in ways that reﬂect these principles and
refer to them in their deliberations.
Such norms of inclusivity produce decisions and issue-
frames that more constituencies can support, help move-
ments avoid foundering on the shoals of internal conﬂict,
and ultimately improve the policy inﬂuence of move-
ments. But norms of inclusivity are not necessary for coop-
eration; one can imagine other paths to agreement.
Below I consider other possible explanations for the emer-
gence of cooperation, suggesting that these accounts of
the emergence of cooperation overlook the importance of
intra-group relations of domination and the inclusive pro-
cedures that helped activists overcome these divisions.
Other explanations for successful cooperation include com-
mon material interests, shared identities, and political
Common material interests
Some expect cooperation to emerge most effectively where
activists share common material interests, or at least do
not have to overcome material conﬂicts of interest. O’Brien
et al. (2000) argue that the movement against gender vio-
lence has been successful while women’s international move-
ments for economic justice have failed because in the justice
movement women are divided by conﬂicts of economic
interest while in the movement against violence case no
such conﬂict arises. On this view, violence against women
is a non-zero-sum issue, an “issue which united women
across a vast ideological spectrum, and where gains in the
physical security and human rights of particular groups of
women are seen as gains for all, not as potentially detract-
ing from the opportunities of others.”
On this account, then, it is the type of interest that
matters; some types of conﬂict of interest (for example,
economic, zero-sum) are less amenable to resolution than
others. But it is often difﬁcult to separate interests, even
economic interests, from the way they are framed. Refram-
ing an issue can transform what seemed like a zero-sum
conﬂict to a “win-win” situation. Middle class and work-
ing class women have opposing interests in relation to
child care, because higher wages for child care workers
drive up the cost of child care (that middle class women
pay). But women are confronted with these seeming con-
ﬂicts of interests only because women are still doing the
majority of paid and unpaid childcare work. If men were
to take more responsibility for childcare, and if work-
places were to be reformed (shorter workdays, cooperative
daycare arrangements, paid maternity and parental leave,
pay equity for women so they could afford to pay the
higher wages for child care, etc.) so that all workers could
more easily be parents, all women would beneﬁt. Some
common set of policy proposals could address the inequi-
table distribution of childcare responsibilities that is at the
root of this conﬂict, and could be said to be in the interest
of both groups of women. Framing the conﬂict in terms
of the need for such policies could transform and largely
eliminate what seems like a conﬂict of interest.
Conﬂicting economic interests arise because “cheap
female labour in the South can draw jobs away from women
in the North”
, but both Southern and Northern share a
common interest in establishing better living standards
and wages for all women. Although even slight improve-
ments in wages and labor rights for workers in Mexico
have probably resulted in losing of jobs to locations in
Asia that can offer even lower wages, women in the global
South have been able to organize around common eco-
nomic interests in spite of these differences. Transnational
organizing has also been successful on other economic
issues: In the anti-sweatshop, anti-free trade, and anti-
globalization movements, northern trade unionists have
allied with third world workers to promote tougher labor
standards in free trade agreements and in third world
Vol. 4/No. 1 57
industries. The nature of the interest in itself does not
seem to explain the success of a global movement.
Economic conﬂicts are not uniquely fundamental,
immutable, or even separable from, conﬂicts based on
class, gender, sexuality and the like.
Nor need one take
the status quo as the only frame of reference within which
to establish interests. Because interests can be redeﬁned by
taking a different frame of reference, whether conﬂicts of
interest (economic or otherwise) politically divide a group
depends in part on how those interests are perceived and
If shared interests translated directly into cooperation,
we would expect there to be little lag time between activ-
ists discussing an issue or problem and acting collectively
to address the problem. If (as seems more likely) shared
interests merely enable cooperation (as necessary but not
sufﬁcient), then cooperation might emerge slowly until
activists can devise shared interest frames, often after inclu-
sive deliberations. Sorting out the sequencing of events
would help decide which theoretical account best describes
the causal chain: Did activists perceive their shared inter-
ests prior to achieving success at cooperation, or did the
reframing of interests emerge from more inclusive delib-
erations? I argue it is the latter.
Perceiving one’s interests as those of a woman or worker
depends on one’s self-identiﬁcation as such.
tion or salience of an identity is central to many theories
of political mobilization in social movements. People are
called into action when they identify with (or want to
identify with) a group, role, or value they associate with a
movement. The assertion of a common identity as women
probably has underlain the success of women’s inter-
national organizing, at least in the early period at the turn
of the century.
The development of a common identity
has made cooperation among women possible across bor-
ders, classes, ethnicities, and sexualities.
Although social movement scholars agree that the con-
struction of a common identity is critical for mobilizing a
such scholars do not claim that social move-
ments draw on pre-existing, primordial identities. Such a
claim essentializes social groups, falsely attributing a sim-
ilar underlying essence or fundamental nature to a group
that is actually diverse. Because the social groups around
which movements mobilize (such as “women”, “people of
color”, “the working class”, or “lesbians”) are themselves
riven by social cleavages that mirror society at large, social
movement scholars focus on how groups construct a com-
mon identity as part of the process of mobilization, rather
than simply expressing underlying similarities or shared
But if collective identities are produced in the process of
collective action, then it is harder to argue that these iden-
tities are the basis for political mobilization in the ﬁrst
place. If such identities must be constructed in ways that
suppress difference in order to enhance political mobiliza-
tion, this suggests that cooperation requires sublimating
or obscuring some politically relevant differences. What
motivates those activists from groups whose core afﬁlia-
tions are suppressed to join the movement? The intuitive
appeal of the concept of identity as a mobilizing tool is
greatly diminished if one argues, as most social movement
scholars do, and as I do here, that collective identities are
produced by movements as well as causes of them. Again,
the sequencing of events helps sort out which explanation
best captures social movement dynamics: do activists ﬁrst
forge a common identity and then cooperate, or do com-
mon identities emerge from cooperative contexts?
The framing of issues also affects the mobilization of social
movements. Collective action frames are ways of under-
standing and presenting the world that emphasize the injus-
tice of social conditions that may not otherwise be
recognized as unfair. Through emotional and cognitive
appeals, these frames convince participants that their cause
is pressing and legitimate, and mobilize them to action.
Changing issue-frames facilitates cooperation: “Activ-
ists frame issues by identifying and providing convincing
explanations for powerful symbolic events, which in turn
become catalysts for the growth of [transnational] net-
works. Symbolic interpretation is part of the process of
persuasion by which networks create awareness and expand
If frames cause cooperation, they must precede it. Dis-
putants cannot jointly agree on a shared frame since they
are not yet cooperating. One party to a dispute must thus
invent or adopt the frame and propose it to the other, who
(confronted with a new interpretation of the issue) agrees
to cooperate. But accounts of actual movements suggest
that these new frames are on-going interpretations that
emerge from activists’ interactions.
Thus, they emerge
from cooperation rather than facilitate it. If the frames are
in fact a symptom of cooperation rather than a cause, the
order in which events occur should reveal that relation-
ship; cooperation should precede the emergence of new
Political opportunities, institutions,
and powerful states
In international affairs, the actions of powerful states deter-
mine many outcomes of political signiﬁcance.
ing fortunes of transnational social movements may
therefore only reﬂect changes in the degree of support
they receive from powerful states. Relatedly, Georgia
Duerst-Lahti has argued that the U.S. women’s move-
ment was really a collection of fragmented local and regional
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
58 Perspectives on Politics
movements until President Kennedy stimulated the estab-
lishment of a network of women’s commissions through-
out the United States.
By creating this network, the
government actually helped build the strong, indepen-
dent national women’s movement that is so active today.
Did governments or international organizations play a sim-
ilarly important role in facilitating cooperation among
activists on violence against women?
State institutions and international organizations can
play an important role in strengthening cooperation by
providing the opportunities and resources needed for dia-
logue. Intergovernmental meetings bring activists together
and provide a platform from which they can spread their
message. Governments and international organizations also
provide funding for organizing and research, which par-
ticularly facilitates the mobilization of economically dis-
advantaged groups. State or institutional support also
creates more favorable political opportunities.
movements can arise in response to new openings pro-
vided by political institutions.
However, such opportunities will not usually result in
activists cooperating across deep divisions. Many social
movements have squandered political opportunities by
being disorganized or divided among themselves. Win-
dows of opportunity are open only brieﬂy, and political
actors must be skilled and ready to act.
or opportunities enable activists and amplify their actions,
but do not generate any new solutions or ideas. So strong
state or institutional support may facilitate cooperation
but is not sufﬁcient to produce it.
Many feminist state theorists are skeptical of the eman-
cipatory potential of state support for women’s rights, wor-
rying that any such support co-opts key activists and blunts
the critical edge of feminist analysis.
These scholars would
anticipate that state support for women’s activism on vio-
lence would weaken the movement in the long run.
Does state support undermine, enable, or ensure coop-
eration? The causal story here depends on whether state
support precedes or coincides with the emergence of coop-
eration, or whether state support seems to contribute to
greater division. If state support seems to bring on greater
division or demobilization, we can conclude that feminist
skeptics are correct. If state support is present for a long
period and cooperation does not emerge, we can conclude
that state support is not sufﬁcient to produce cooperation.
Finally, if cooperation emerges soon after institutional sup-
port is put in place, and if key actors report that this
support was important, state support is likely to be a more
important part of the causal story.
The Global Movement against
Which explanation best characterizes the process by which
the participants in the global movement against gender
violence overcame division to coordinate their actions?
Did recognition of common material interests spur activ-
ists to work together? Did activists respond when pre-
sented with a particular collective identity or issue frame?
Did they cooperate when presented with the political
opportunity to do so? Or did the development of inclu-
sivity make the difference?
The timeline of the move-
ment provides clues; violence against women was ﬁrmly
on the agenda of the transnational women’s movement by
the mid-1970s, but did not appear on the intergovern-
mental agenda until nearly a decade later. By then, at least
ﬁfteen national governments were taking measures to
address rape and woman-battering and some (including
powerful states like the U.S.) were pushing for inter-
national attention to violence against women. Yet these
efforts were resisted throughout the late 1980s, and the
most intense period of international policy development
on violence was the mid-1990s. Why did it take nearly
two-decades for governments to agree that wife-battering
should be a criminal act, or that rape was a violation of
women’s human rights? In this era, violence against women
was marginal even to those intergovernmental discussions
that focused on women’s status. Why did governments
ﬁnally agree to take collective measures to address vio-
lence against women in the 1990s? I argue that inter-
national activism against violence did not have a policy
impact earlier because activists could not overcome rela-
tions of inequality within the movement until they devel-
oped norms of inclusivity. The impact of material common
interests, issue-frames, identities, and the support of pow-
erful states all were contingent upon the movement’s devel-
oping these norms.
A sketch of the movement
Although women have long experienced and criticized rape,
wife abuse, and the like, it was not until the mid-1970s
that activists began using the term “violence against women”
in international discussions.
The issue was raised at the
First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in
1975 and at an independent meeting of activists in Brus-
sels the following year focused entirely on “crimes against
In spite of this growing awareness among activ-
ists, however, governments were silent on the issue of vio-
lence against women.
Activists at these early meetings were divided over what
the most important women’s issues were, how to deﬁne
these issues, how and whether activists ought to pursue
policy change, and how discussions ought to be orga-
nized. At the meeting in Mexico, divisions along these
lines partially mirrored the political conﬂicts in the broader
international system—the North-South conﬂict over how
to approach “development,” the cold war, the Israeli-
UN ofﬁcials reportedly worried about
how the disorder at the NGO Tribune in Mexico reﬂected
Vol. 4/No. 1 59
on the UN.
Similarly, in spite of unifying theme of crimes
against women, the meeting in Brussels was also charac-
terized by conﬂict and considerable disarray.
ﬂicts continued to disrupt the second world conference
on women and the parallel NGO forum in Copenhagen.
In the mid-eighties, activists sought to overcome these
divisions. Southern women developed independent fora
for discussing issues as women. The ﬁrst feminist Encuen-
tro in Bogota sparked a series of conferences among Latin
Similarly, African NGOs began to
organize separately, meeting in Senegal and Tanzania to
prepare for the Third World Conference on Women in
Nairobi. At the same time, women of color and Third
World women advanced arguments provoking a shift in
feminist organizational practice away from emphasizing
common experience towards addressing inequalities among
These ideas likely inﬂuenced key activists from
the North and South.
Still, organizing across the North-South division con-
tinued to be a challenge, even at conferences focused on
violence against women or its speciﬁc forms. In 1983,
activists organized a Global Feminist Workshop to Orga-
nize Against Trafﬁc in Women in Rotterdam. But the con-
ference was beset with conﬂicts between North and South,
and plans to develop an international activist network were
derailed because Southern feminists did not want the net-
work based in the North, but did not have the resources
to host it themselves.
The turning point came in 1985 at the Third World
Conference on Women and the parallel NGO Forum in
Nairobi, Kenya, where activists made signiﬁcant headway.
The inclusion of violence against women as a priority in
the ﬁnal intergovernmental document, the Forward Look-
ing Strategies, solidly established the issue on the inter-
After Nairobi, activists were able to use
the Forward Looking Strategies to press the UN’s Commis-
sion on the Status of Women (CSW) to consider violence
In 1991 the UN’s CSW convened an Expert Group
Meeting on Violence Against Women in All its Forms in
At the same time, anti-violence activists were
developing a new global campaign. From 1990 to 1993,
the U.S.-based Campaign for Women’s Global Leadership
(CWGL) convened women from 20 (mostly Southern)
countries in Leadership Institutes.
At these institutes,
activists planned a three-year campaign linking women’s
and human rights, focusing on the UN Conference on
Human Rights in Vienna. Activists circulated a global
petition against gender violence, which was translated into
24 languages, sponsored by over a thousand groups, and
signed by nearly half a million people from 124 countries.
As a result, the issue of violence against women, previ-
ously thought of as a private issue of little relevance for
human rights organizations, dominated the 1993 World
Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.
nized a day-long Global Tribunal on Violations of Women’s
Human Rights, asked delegates to observe a minute of
silence for all women who had died or were badly injured
by domestic violence, and delivered the global petition to
the conference ﬂoor.
The Vienna Conference produced
the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against
Women, the ﬁrst statement by a worldwide organization
that violence against women constituted a violation of
The Declaration stated that
Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and
exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice
and international trafﬁcking, are incompatible with the dignity
and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated.
Further, a Special Rapporteur on violence was appointed,
and work was begun on an optional protocol to Conven-
tion on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women CEDAW.
Gender-based violence continued to be a salient issue
at the NGO Forum accompanying the Fourth World Con-
ference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
In Beijing, gov-
ernments agreed to address violence against women as a
critical area of concern in the Platform for Action.
wards, activists continued to work for improvements in
international agreements on violence against women and
international organizations expanded their response to vio-
Most importantly, in 1999 an Optional Protocol
to CEDAW, intended to give the Convention more pow-
ers of enforcement, was adopted. The Protocol permits
complaints to be made on behalf of individuals who have
exhausted remedies available in their countries. CEDAW
reviews the complaint, and at the end of a consultative
process renders a judgment. This may permit individuals
to obtain redress for human rights violations that their
governments are reluctant to address.
How did a movement initially unable to cooperate on
the issue of violence against women come to have such
tremendous coordination and policy inﬂuence?
at Nairobi that activists were able to overcome division,
agree on recommendations for action, and put violence
against women on the international agenda for the ﬁrst
What was different at Nairobi and afterwards?
Below, I argue that the development of norms of inclusiv-
ity in the global movement on gender violence was critical
for the movement’s success.
The development of norms of inclusivity
After the 1975 and 1980 World Conferences on women,
activists recognized that their divisions had severely weak-
ened them. Thus, women from both the North and the
South resolved to make ﬁnding some common ground a
priority. In addition, a broader shift in feminist organiza-
tional practice (partly inspired by critiques of women’s
movements by women of color and Third World women)
moved towards explicit, formal efforts to ensure effective
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
60 Perspectives on Politics
representation of marginalized groups of women. These
efforts at inclusive deliberation facilitated cooperation
among activists. Speciﬁcally, activists sought to ensure that
Southern women were present, especially among the lead-
ership (descriptive representation), that Southern women
had the opportunity to articulate an independent agenda
(self-organization), and that activists worked to build an
agenda all could support, while expecting disagreement
about priorities (consensus with institutionalized dissent).
Descriptive representation. The Nairobi Forum was the ﬁrst
meeting in which Southern women constituted a major-
ity. The Mexico City and Copenhagen NGO Fora were
dominated by Western women. American women domi-
nated the Mexico City Forum and European women were
more than 70 percent of the attendees at Copenhagen.
Even the independent Tribunal on Crimes Against Women
in Brussels was organized and attended by women who
were mostly from developed countries: The organizers were
Northern women and more than 80 percent of the wit-
nesses giving testimony were from the North (table A1).
Why this change? After Copenhagen, activists began
taking explicit measures to ensure that women from South-
ern organizations were present in signiﬁcant numbers at
meetings to work out strategy and were part of the lead-
ership of the movement against violence. At Rotterdam,
for example, half of the countries represented were devel-
oping countries, although the forum was still lead by North-
ern women. This improved representation of women was
the result of conscious efforts by the organizers: Participa-
tion was by invitation only, and the organizers speciﬁcally
sought to achieve cultural diversity and regional bal-
By the Nairobi Forum two years later, 60 percent
of the participants were Southern women, partly because
of funding and other speciﬁc efforts to ensure such women
had access. The Leadership Institutes organized by CWGL
were explicitly aimed at helping to develop Southern
women’s leadership of the Global Campaign, and the par-
ticipants at these meetings were predominantly Southern.
The presence of Southern women in such large num-
bers among the attendees and as the leadership of the
NGO Forum at Nairobi and during the Global Cam-
paign in the early 1990s helped ensure that the perspec-
tives of Northern women did not dominate the agenda.
Symbolically, the numerical and leadership preponder-
ance of Southerners avoided the appearance of Northern-
ers telling Third World women what to do. Substantively,
the presence of so many Southern women made it possi-
ble for Southern women to organize their own workshops
and highlight issues they thought important.
Autonomous self-organization. During the 1980s, South-
ern women were organizing among themselves to address
violence against women. At the Bogota Encuentro in 1981
and the 1984 preparatory meeting of African NGOs in
Tanzania, women from developing countries themselves
emphasized the importance of violence against women in
their own terms. In addition, the creation of Develop-
ment Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)
gave women in developing countries an organizational
mechanism to address violence against women on their
When issues of sati (the ritual burning of a
widow on her husband’s funeral pyre), dowry deaths, and
female genital mutilation emerged from discussions among
Southern women, they were framed as instances of vio-
lence against women on the same level as domestic vio-
lence or rape, not as exotic practices signifying the primitive
nature of national cultures.
The CWGL leadership institutes used Northern re-
sources to bring Southern activists together to plot strat-
egy for a global campaign on women’s rights. In addition,
the CWGL consulted the grassroots of the women’s move-
ment as to what issues should be discussed at Beijing. The
strategies adopted built on ideas that originated in the
South. For example, the sixteen days of activism against
gender violence, launched in 1991 and observed by
women’s movements around the world to this day, began
with November 25, a day ﬁrst observed by Latin Ameri-
When women from every region of the world spoke of
their own experiences of violence, as they did at the
Tribunal organized by NGOs at Vienna, governments
had a more difﬁcult time denying that violence was a
widespread problem. Northern governments could not
maintain that violence was a problem only in so-called
“less civilized” countries, and Southern and Eastern coun-
tries had greater difﬁculty arguing that concern with vio-
lence was an issue cooked up by ethnocentric Western
feminists. When these issues were raised at regional pre-
paratory meetings entirely comprised of Southern repre-
sentatives, they could not be dismissed so easily.
Building consensus with institutionalized dissent. The Nai-
robi NGO meeting was distinguished from the earlier
meetings in Mexico City and Copenhagen by a “new
respect for diversity”.
Indeed, “a critical mass of women
had decided that they could be feminists and disagree on
Many workshops expected no consensus
but aimed primarily at articulating different views or shar-
ing information. The Peace Tent expressed the approach
to discussion that dominated the conference. Opposing
groups were invited to debate issues publicly, but were
also encouraged to work to ﬁnd common ground. Coop-
erative efforts were not premised on the expectation of a
shared experience or natural agreement among women,
but rather on the idea that with some work, areas of agree-
ment among women could be identiﬁed.
These changed tactics were the result of changing norms
within the women’s movement. Indeed, the organizers of
these meetings speciﬁcally refer to their efforts to ensure
Vol. 4/No. 1 61
descriptive representation for marginalized groups of
women and they intentionally worked to facilitate self-
organization by Southern women. These norms were man-
ifest both in the stated intentions of organizers and in
changes in their actual behavior.
These efforts at inclusivity bore considerable fruit. The
NGO forum at Nairobi was described as an “equalizing
experience.” One newspaper reported that “as everyone
who attended all three non-governmental decade meet-
ings seems to feel, only at Nairobi did Western women
depart from their previously dominating approach to
‘sharing’ information and resources with Third World
As a result of measures to give Southern women
a stronger voice, issues that had previously been very divi-
sive became unifying issues. When Northern women raised
the issue of FGM at earlier meetings, for example, many
Southern women criticized the move as imperialistic. But
at Nairobi, African women themselves organized discus-
sions of FGM and African women’s strategies to address
the issue. After Nairobi, activists were able to include FGM
under the rubric of violence against women with little
Women’s ability to agree on important issues made it
easier for them to coordinate their actions and exert pres-
sure on governments to come to an agreement.
they were able to cooperate on issues such as violence,
movement activists were better positioned to inﬂuence
the 1985 intergovernmental conference. Women’s organi-
zations pressed the U.S. representative to push for a more
difﬁcult but more inclusive decision-making procedure,
agreement by consensus instead of the usual two-thirds
rule (already a high standard). This forced both Northern
and Southern governments to consider each other’s posi-
tion more carefully, and work harder for consensus.
Political opportunities, institutions,
and state support
It seems clear that the broader political context (the end of
the Cold War, the series of UN conferences, etc.) contrib-
uted to the success of the movement against gender vio-
The series of UN Conferences provided a focus
and a forum for women organizing across national bor-
ders. Indeed, the movement against gender violence began
to crystallize after the ﬁrst UN Conference on Women in
Mexico City. Changing political conditions provided a
favorable context within which the movement on gender
violence could mount its claims.
Although this favorable context provided opportunities
for policy inﬂuence, the mere presence of the political
opportunity was not sufﬁcient to ensure that activists would
overcome the differences that divided them. If it were,
activists would have been able to agree on an approach to
the governmental conferences that preceded Nairobi.
Instead, division prevented activists from being more effec-
tive at both the Mexico and Copenhagen conferences. It
took a decade for activists to arrive at an approach to
organizing across borders that allowed them to cooperate
across the many lines of conﬂict inside the movement. So
although these political opportunities probably encour-
aged mobilization, opportunity itself was not sufﬁcient
for overcoming division.
After Nairobi, antiviolence activists were able to take
advantage of arising political opportunities, having suc-
cessfully developed agreement on a particular set of strat-
egies and policy goals. Support from governments and
international organizations was critical in providing
resources for the meetings that developed this unity. The
Canadian government, for example, supported a meeting
of experts that helped to develop the Inter-American Con-
vention on Violence Against Women. The strong support
of the U.S. government, especially after 1992, was impor-
tant in bringing other governments on board on women’s
rights issues more generally. In addition, United Nations
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) underwrote
much of the work of the CWGL leading up to the Vienna
conference. The inclusion of women’s movement activists
in government delegations at the Vienna conference was
also important in the success both of NGO organizing
and intergovernmental negotiations. This provision of
resources and political support facilitated women’s inter-
national organizing and strengthened their efforts to inﬂu-
ence policy decisions.
However, although such support was an enabling fac-
tor, it was not sufﬁcient to produce cooperation and policy
inﬂuence. If government support were sufﬁcient to do so,
policy inﬂuence would have emerged much earlier. The
U.S. and Canadian governments had been ofﬁcially intro-
ducing resolutions on violence at every meeting of the
CSW between 1985 and 1990.
activists had been present on a number of government
delegations at all the international meetings starting with
the 1975 Mexico City Conference. But major policy suc-
cesses in the area of violence against women did not mate-
rialize until 1993. The timing suggests that not until
Nairobi did women learn to communicate across their
differences, thus it was not until the late eighties and early
nineties that women could develop the frameworks and
strategies that they implemented with such success.
Women had been discussing violence against women in
its various forms in international meetings in the ﬁrst half
of the twentieth century, but a global movement on gen-
der violence did not emerge until the late seventies, and
policy action did not emerge until the mid-1990s. A mere
conﬂuence of interests, which would have been constant
over this period, cannot on its own explain this variation
over time. Initially, activists were unable to perceive a shared
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
62 Perspectives on Politics
agenda or common interest because other divisions
appeared more salient; not until the late 1980s and early
1990s did women perceive a common interest in the area
of violence against women.
Some might argue, nevertheless, that the continuing
underlying common interest ultimately permitted cooper-
ation when activists came to perceive their shared interest
in the mid-to-late eighties. But the perception of a com-
mon interest emerged from, rather than preceded, discus-
sions among activists of the North and South. Earlier efforts
to frame violence against women as a common interest
were unsuccessful. When activists sought to address the
issue of violence against women at Copenhagen and Rot-
terdam, they were unable to overcome North-South divi-
sions among women. Yet, after these meetings, norms of
inclusivity helped to defuse these North-South conﬂicts.
Because of these norms, more Southern women attended
and held leadership positions in the activist discussions
from the mid-1980s on. The broader framing of violence
against women that informed activism on violence in the
1990s emerged from these discussions. Only when activ-
ists could meet in a less conﬂictual, more inclusive setting
could they identify common areas of interest.
How important was the development of an identity as
“women” to the success of the international women’s move-
ment? Certainly, a process of developing or constructing a
sense of “we-ness” was an important part of the process of
overcoming differences. Kathleen Barry’s opening com-
ments at the Rotterdam conference stressed that violence
against women must be addressed subject to subject, rather
than subject to object.
This change in orientation among key Northern activ-
ists understandably improved their ability to communi-
cate with third world women. Still, this shift in orientation
on the part of some Northern women was not sufﬁcient,
in itself, to overcome the divisions. At the Rotterdam con-
ference, divisions between North and South continued to
frustrate cooperation even though the subject (trafﬁc in
women) would seem to be one that all women have an
interest in addressing. Moreover, although some partici-
pants were from developing countries, the conference was
led by Northern women.
Not until women from developing countries were able
to organize autonomously from women in the North,
did a spirit of cooperation become possible. At Nairobi,
women from the South led the conference, and raised
violence against women as an issue of interest to women
from both the North and the South. Third world women
described the Nairobi meeting as the ﬁrst time that West-
ern women participated without dominating.
although Northern women may have changed their view
of global feminism at Rotterdam, not until Nairobi did
all parties feel that they were on equal footing. At Nai-
robi, the participants emphasized coordinating action in
spite of fundamental differences: the search for a com-
mon identity or underlying experience was thoroughly
abandoned. Activists also established norms of inclusivity
that facilitated cooperation. This timing suggests that a
commitment to inclusive procedures, rather than the emer-
gence of a shared identity, contributed to success at Nai-
robi. A shared identity, approach, or experience may have
emerged from cooperation, but was not necessary to pro-
Framing violence against women as a human rights issue
permitted activists to insert themselves into the political
process surrounding UN Conferences and to demand that
governments take notice of this important issue. But did
this framing also facilitate cooperation among women?
Keck and Sikkink argue that it did, altering the usual
North-South dynamic by placing all societies equally under
the human rights microscope.
Although the human rights frame may partially account
for the success of women’s movement advocates in the
mid-nineties, the idea of women’s rights as human rights
does not seem in practice to have acted as the basis for
overcoming divisions among women. Northern women’s
groups had pushed the notion of equality and human
rights for women since the beginning of the movement,
but because these rights tended to be viewed narrowly, as
excluding social and economic rights, Southern women
saw “rights-talk” as evading discussion of social and eco-
nomic issues. Indeed, although in 1975 governments urged
“women all over the world to unite to eliminate violations
of human rights,” no such united front of women emerged
for another decade.
Until activists worked to transform the concept in the
early 1990s, the human rights concept actually failed to
capture most of the forms of violence against women with
which activists were concerned.
Under this transforma-
tive work lay a broadened concept of “violence against
women” that included a wide range of problems from
poverty to female genital mutilation to rape. Although the
idea of violence against women as including a continuum
of violations from rape to mental harassment was dis-
cussed in transnational meetings from at least the mid-
1970s, the conclusion that the continuum included
violations of importance to Southern women (dowry
deaths, female genital mutilation, state terrorism) emerged
only from discussions among transnational activists in the
mid-1980s. Before that time, many Northern activists
tended to see these problems as representing particularly
backward or primitive cultures rather than just another
form of violence against women. Southern women argued
for the latter framing.
Vol. 4/No. 1 63
When work on violence against women was ﬁrst
attempted as work on particular issues, such as female
genital mutilation, family violence, or sati, these separate
campaigns had limited success and tended to draw sup-
port mainly from women in the North. In the mid-1980s,
however, transnational activists began grouping diverse
issues under the rubric of violence against women. This
broader concept under-girded the later campaign to frame
violence as a human rights issue. But the broader concept
was the result of cooperation among women, rather than
Norm violation: The example of the campaign
for women’s reproductive rights
Similar norms of inclusivity emerged in various sites of
women’s organizing in the mid-1980s.
But while norms
affect behavior, they do not determine it. Activists choose
whether to adhere to such norms or violate them. Activ-
ists may also adhere to norms for a variety of reasons,
including both the principled (for example, a commit-
ment to justice) and the pragmatic (for example, a realiza-
tion that adhering to norms advances other goals).
transnational movement for women’s reproductive rights,
which did not so consistently adopt norms of inclusivity,
suffered thereby. Initially, the elitist, policy-oriented wing
of the movement simply tried to exclude those who dis-
agreed with them, and they accordingly took no measures
to ensure that Southern women were well represented in
their deliberations. Yet these policy-oriented pragmatists
were unable to unify the movement around a policy pro-
gram. They eventually responded to criticism from South-
ern activists, organizing meetings that tried to be more
inclusive. In Rio de Janeiro in 1993, women’s health activ-
ists met with the goal of uniting women from the North
and South: “Organizers seemed especially sensitive to ensur-
ing diversity of participants and giving women from South-
ern countries an ample voice.”
The effort was successful,
with the Southern women reportedly taking the lead while
Northern women kept a lower proﬁle. At this ﬁve-day
conference, activists drafted a twenty-one point statement
in a process that was “remarkable for its democratic par-
ticipation and for building solidarity among diversity.”
The statement noted differences of opinion where they
existed rather than trying to force a consensus. This con-
ference “helped to produce cohesion in the movement”
and produced a “sense of solidarity” that was “especially
valuable for feminist lobbying efforts at the ﬁnal meet-
ing of the preparatory committee for the conference
At Cairo, however, the pragmatists returned to the strat-
egy of emphasizing their former elements of the agenda at
the expense of the development-related points. It is for this
reason that the ﬁnal Plan of Action is silent on development-
related issues. Divisions among women became increas-
ingly salient after the conference, probably weakening the
Their “pragmatic” moves to accommodate gov-
ernment agendas produced short-term policy success but
weakened the movement in the long term.
This analysis suggests that when mobilizing groups are
riven by relations of domination, inclusive procedures will
facilitate cooperation. When activists choose to ignore such
norms, trust and cooperation are undermined. When activ-
ists adhere to these norms, ensuring that marginalized
groups have a voice, these measures help to overcome sus-
picion, build trust, and ease communication.
sive procedures evolve into broader norms for decision-
making, activists can turn their attention to developing a
shared agenda and strategy rather than ﬁghting for recog-
nition from one another. Financial support from govern-
ments or international organizations can facilitate these
efforts, but is not likely to produce cooperation on its
own. Inclusive deliberations can produce, but do not
require, shared identities or interests. Inclusive delibera-
tions help to develop identities, interests, and issue frames
that a broader, more uniﬁed constituency of activists can
support, strengthening their movements and making them
better able to inﬂuence policy.
It is easy to forget that in the 1980s even mainstream
human rights groups and international law did not con-
sider rape, domestic violence, and other forms of violence
against women to be violations of human rights unless
they were perpetrated by the state. By the end of the 1990s,
many of these human rights groups had made violence
against women a priority area. More than 170 govern-
ments had signed a declaration against violence against
women, and women in more than 20 countries won the
right to seek redress for human rights violations in the
international community (through the Optional Protocol
In addition to formal legal rights, consid-
erable governmental and intergovernmental resources have
been dedicated to ﬁghting violence against women in both
developed and developing countries;
A UNIFEM ini-
tiative has funded anti-violence initiatives in more than
70 countries since 1997.
A strong, united movement on gender violence had a
major impact on bringing about these changes in civil
society and policy. This global movement was able to main-
tain cooperation by developing inclusive procedures for
intra-movement policy deliberations in which marginal-
ized participants had a greater voice. This procedure pro-
duced policy decisions and political strategies that more
members felt they could support. This put the movement
in a position to lobby for and take advantage of the
resources offered by governments and international
institutions—all of which eventually contributed to the
success in organizing and inﬂuencing policy.
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
64 Perspectives on Politics
Previous studies have suggested that strategic issue-
framing and the political opportunity structure accounted
for the success of the movement against gender violence.
But the opportunity structure, while important, pro-
vides an incomplete account of the development of the
movement. The successful framing of violence against
women as a human rights issue, which did contribute
to the movement’s success in inﬂuencing policy, resulted
from cooperation among women rather than caused
it. The emergence of norms of inclusivity among activ-
ists plays a major causal role in this process, allowing
bitterly divided activists to come together to forge an
inﬂuential transnational movement. Those seeking to
develop cooperation probably can further this goal by
adopting more inclusive decision-making procedures with-
out worrying that movement adherents share no com-
More generally, this study suggests that our understand-
ing of these phenomena is improved by attending to the
context of structural inequality in which social move-
ments operate. In this case, attending to power dynamics
illuminates a previously overlooked path to cooperation.
Norms of inclusivity proved important by helping to mit-
igate the divisions arising from relations of domination,
divisions that challenge, even paralyze, many contempo-
rary social movements.
Social movements comprise critical avenues of policy
inﬂuence for women and other marginalized groups.
When movements are weak and fragmented, those groups
lose their most effective means of inﬂuencing the public
policy process. When inclusive norms allow movements
to maintain solidarity and policy inﬂuence, those move-
ments can articulate and advocate better for marginalized
and politically excluded interests.
Norms of Inclusivity, Movement Actions, and Policy Outcomes 1970–1998
of Southern Women
Event Leadership Participants
from US and Mexico
No measures to
No separate organi-
zation of Southern
(C-R) model for other
No specific actions. A few individual
violence; VAW is not
Northern 2000 women; Mostly
(12%) of those giving
No separate organi-
zation of Southern
form (after first day).
focused on gender
Support from some
Northern 8,000; 68% European No separate organi-
zation of Southern
C-R model (e.g.,
Sessions on sex
slavery, traffic in
women, and sex
Discussion of domestic
abuse, and FGM
Ratification of CEDAW
(includes no mention
of violence); FGM on
First explicit mention of
Southern organizers. More than 200; about
Final plenary session
hears reports from
VAW not on official
Resolution to end
VAW, declare Day
provides input from
third world women
Concrete efforts to
No separate self-
shop aimed at
able knowledge,” not
Publication of report
on female sexual
Plans to work at
organizing groups at
local and regional
level and to review
progress at Nairobi
and paper givers; one
workshop on racism.
VAW subject of one of
Vol. 4/No. 1 65
1 Weldon 2002, chap. 3.
2 Gitlin 1995; Tarrow 1998; Snow and McAdam
2000; Echols 1989; Beckwith 2000.
3 The past ﬁve years in the United States have seen
an erosion of women’s reproductive rights, govern-
ment response to violence against women, and
women’s ability to combat poverty. Speciﬁcally, the cur-
rent administration has presided over the closure
of the Violence Against Women Ofﬁce, the reinstate-
ment of the Mexico City rule (also known as the
Global Gag rule), the so-called Partial Birth Abor-
tion ban, and the weakening of Title IX, to name
just a few of the initiatives. Current proposals aim to
Table A1 Continued
of Southern Women
Event Leadership Participants
Southern Regionally comprised Independent,
of Southern women
No information Arusha statement
South ern (60% of
(includ ing funding) to
ensure presence of
Southern women at
workshops on FGM
and other topics
Focus on action in
context of dissent
VAW is the subject of
nearly a third of the
100 NGO workshops
women’s rights net
Inclusion of the issue
in the final document
VAW as an issue on
More than 5,000
More than 5,000
les bian, working
class, and women of
C-R form overwhelmed
by large, diverse
group; chaos prevails
Ber tioga and Taxco
over accessibility for
poor, working class
Founding of Latin
Carib bean Network
against Sexual and
5,000 women march
through Buenos Aires
on final day (Nov. 25)
to protest VAW
CWGL Center staff
23; 65% Southern
20; 85% Southern
Outreach focuses on
South; Center staff
Institutes aimed at
facilitat ing and
self- organization of
Focus on developing
strategies for action
Private and public
Areas of agreement
Launching of 16 Days
of Activism; Petition
Planning for Vienna
Discussion of VAW;
broadening of idea of
CSW convenes Expert
Group Meeting on
Women in All Its
VAW raised in
conferences in North
and South (as part of
strategy devel oped at
Southern delegation to
Geneva Prep. Comm.
Southern) selects 33
speakers for Tribunal
83% of testimonials
are by Southern
Region, race, ethnicity,
orienta tion and ability
confer ences in North
and South and
organiza tion of
Mama wa Afrika; La
NGO Forum works
on producing one
focused on particular
Women’s caucus at
Geneva and Vienna
included women from
North and South
Prior to conference,
activists held global
all over the world
Women presented a
united front at
Delivery of Petition;
South ern delegation
1993 Declaration on
the Elimination of
Special Rapporteur on
Work is begun on an
optional protocol to
— 25,000 to 30,000;
Scholarships for poor
and working class
women wanting to
Regional tents and
NGO caucuses for
regions, topics and
groups of women
(women of color,
lesbians, youth, etc.)
cau cus (umbrella
caucus linking all the
derived from regional
VAW identified as a
critical area for
20 events per day
Demand for Optional
to include VAW as a
critical area of
con cern in the
Platform for Action
Optional Protocol to
CEDAW was adopted
*VAW is an abbreviation for Violence against Women.
**Consciousness-raising (C-R) model refers to measures such as confidentiality, emphasis on testimonials of first-hand experiences of women, emphasis on spontaneity as
opposed to a planned program or agenda.
Sources: Bunch and Reilly 1994; Barry, Bunch, and Castley 1984; Fraser 1987; Joachim 1999, 2003; Riddell-Dixon 2001; Russell and VandeVen 1976; Sternbach et al. 1992;
Thompson 2002; Tripp 2003, 2004.
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
66 Perspectives on Politics
increase work requirements on welfare recipients, tie
social security beneﬁts to gender and to eliminate
some important government data gathering on
women’s employment. Some of these measures
have signiﬁcant international ramiﬁcations (e.g, the
global gag rule); Center for Reproductive Rights
2003, Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) 2004. In addi-
tion, a recent effort to get the U.S. government to
ratify CEDAW failed. Poverty is also a current and
growing concern for women around the world
(United Nations 1995 and 2003).
4 Gitlin 1995.
5 Rupp and Taylor 1999.
6 Other examples include the transnational social
movements against sweatshops and globalization. In
addition, Davis 1998 cites the example of women of
color in the United States working across differences
to form a women’s health alliance. Blofeld 2003
argues that women in Spain were able to overcome
class equality to a greater degree than were women
activists in Chile.
7 Note that this comparison over time means that this
study involves many observations (more than 25
years’ worth) and so is not based on a single ob-
servation (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994,
8 Like most cases (Ragin and Becker 1992), the “case”
of women’s transnational organizing on violence is
embedded in larger entities (transnational women’s
organizing, global civil society, women’s organizing
in general). Delineating boundaries can at times be
tricky. When is an event part of the story of the
movement against violence, part of the women’s
movement more generally, or part of the story of the
development of global civil society? Although these
boundaries are fuzzy, the networks of activists and
key events that are important for the issue of vio-
lence against women can for the most part be distin-
guished from the activists and events that worked on
other issues, such as reproductive rights or global
labor justice. So while there is some overlap, we can
discern a distinct grouping of events and activists
related to this policy issue.
9 Keck and Sikkink 1998; Joachim 1999; Joachim
2003. It should be noted that although the issue of
overcoming division in the movement is dealt with
in these accounts, it is not in itself the central ques-
tion they address.
10 Here I trace the process by which cooperation un-
folds to see which theoretical account best captures
the dynamics I see, using traditional case study
techniques of “process-tracing” and “pattern match-
ing.” Process-tracing, or identifying causal chains of
events, is particularly well-suited to “ﬁnding plausi-
ble hypotheses about causal mechanisms” (King,
Keohane and Verba 1994, 228, 226–27; see also
Collier and Mahoney 1996, 73–74; George 1979;
George and McKeown 1985; for further discussion
of the “plausibility probe” function of case studies,
see Eckstein, 1975; Peters 1998, 150). Pattern
matching is a procedure whereby counterfactuals
implied by rival theories are compared and
contrasted with actually occurring events (Yin 1994
106–10; compare King, Keohane, and Verba 1994,
78). Applying multiple theories to a single case is
rarely sufﬁciently convincing in itself to result in the
rejection of an accepted theory, but where it can
provide evidence that a theoretical innovation offers
a concrete payoff, it can offer powerful support for
efforts to build new theories.
11 In deﬁning relations of domination, I follow Young
(2000, 32): “Persons live within structures of domi-
nation if other persons or groups can determine
without reciprocation the conditions of their
12 Habermas 1987; Young 2000.
13 I follow Williams (1998) here in deﬁning marginal-
ized groups as those groups for which social and
political inequality is structured along the lines of
group membership, for which group membership is
not experienced as voluntary or mutable, and for
which negative meanings are assigned to group
identity (p. 16).
14 On the relationship between group inequality, mis-
trust, and deliberation, see Williams 1998 and
Mansbridge 1999. On social movement fragmenta-
tion and decline see Gitlin 1995; Tarrow 1998;
Taylor and Whittier 1999; Echols 1989; Snow and
15 Young 2000 deﬁnes inclusion as “the degree to
which those affected by [a decision] have been in-
cluded in the decision making processes and have
had the opportunity to inﬂuence the outcomes” and
argues that “systems of representation are most
inclusive . . . when they encourage the particular
perspectives of relatively marginalized or disadvan-
taged social groups to receive speciﬁc expression.”
(5–6, 8). Also see Habermas 1987.
16 Hoffman 2005, especially chap. 3.
17 Elman 1996; Molyneux 1998; Weldon 2002.
18 Fraser 1992; Fraser 1995; Young 2000.
19 Fraser 1992, 123–24
20 Williams 1998; Young 2000; Mansbridge 1999.
21 Mansbridge 1980; Young 1990, 2002; Williams
22 Young 2000, 44.
23 Krasner 1983, 2; Finnemore and Sikkink 1998, 891.
See also Klotz 1995.
24 Clark 2001, 30.
25 O’Brien et al. 2000, 40.
Vol. 4/No. 1 67
26 O’Brien et al. 2000, 40. In this paper I follow the
convention of employing the term “North” or
“Global North” to refer to advanced industrial states
(especially those in Western Europe and North
America), while “South” or “Global South” is used
to refer to developing countries.
27 Butler 1990; Epstein and Straub 1995; Hooks 1981;
Hooks 2000; Nicholson 1990; Spelman 1988.
28 Practically, the difference between actual interests
and the perceptions or construction of interests may
seem slight, since it is a group’s understanding of
these interests in a particular case that matters for
explaining behavior. But theoretically, this issue is a
critical one since it reﬂects the difference between a
fundamentally materialist approach (material factors
are the most fundamental) and a fundamentally
idealist approach (ideas or norms are the most fun-
damental) to analyzing politics. This is a major
theoretical debate that has been particularly salient
in discussions of international politics. Constructiv-
ists have argued that interests must be understood as
constructed, that is, as largely constituted by the
norms and linguistic and cultural practices that
comprise the social context. Wendt 1999. See also
29 Rupp and Taylor 1999.
30 Marx 1998; Rupp and Taylor 1999; Tarrow 1998.
31 Rupp and Taylor 1999, 365.
32 Tarrow 1998.
33 Keck and Sikkink 1998, 22.
34 For an excellent review and discussion of the litera-
ture on collective action frames, see Benford and
35 Waltz 1979; Krasner, 1976; Morgenthau 1967.
36 Duerst-Lahti 1989.
37 MacAdam et al. 1996. External threats can change
the salience of different issues or afﬁliations. Marx
1998 argues that the establishment of Jim Crow
laws in the American south made race more salient
there, and facilitated mobilization among African
Americans although there were many differences
among them. But such external events are not neces-
sary to overcome these internal divisions, and may
not be sufﬁcient for doing so.
38 Kingdon 1984.
39 Many feminist scholars see the state or bureaucracy
in general as inimical to feminist concerns. See
Brown 1979; Brown 1992; Busch 1992; Daniels
1997; Ferguson 1984; Fraser 1989; MacKinnon
1989; Abramovitz 1988; Borchorst and Siim 1987;
Elshtain 1981; Stivers 1993; Walker 1990. For
critiques of this view see Gordon 1990; Skocpol
1992; Brush 1994.
40 O’Brien et al. (2000) deﬁne a global social move-
ment as “groups of people around the world work-
ing on the transworld plane pursuing far reaching
social change” (13; see also 12–16).
41 Brownmiller 1975; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Weldon
2002. Discussions of sexual violence in the inter-
national women’s movementdate to early 1900s; indeed,
rape in war and in peacetime was presented by fem-
inist activists as one of the reasons women should orga-
nize internationally (Rupp and Taylor 1999, 378).
42 On the Mexico City meeting see Statement by Ms.
Elizabeth Reid, Leader of the Australian Delegation
(excerpts) Women’s International Network News 1 (1)
October 1975 p. 5. On the Brussels conference see
Russell and Van de Ven 1976. In 1974, ISIS, an
international feminist network focusing on violence
against women, was formed (Fraser 1987). In 1975,
Fran Hoskin presented an argument in Women’s
International News (WIN) that domestic violence
was a pressing international issue. See also Joachim
43 Fraser 1987.
44 Fraser 1987.
45 Russell and Van de Ven 1976.
46 Keck and Sikkink 1998.
47 Sternbach et al. 1992.
48 Burnham 2001; Crenshaw 1994; Davis 1998;
Hooks 1981; Hooks 2000.
49 See Burnham 2001 and Nguyen 2001. Early reports
on transnational organizing by anti-violence activists
use the term “double” oppression to refer to the
situation of women in marginalized sub-groups
(immigrant women, third world women, women of
religious minority groups. See, for example, Russell
and Van de Ven 1984 , while later reports
emphasize “intersectionality” and “diversity” in
discussing the differences among women (CWGL
1991). This use of language drawn directly from
feminist theories advanced by women of color sug-
gests that key organizers like Charlotte Bunch were
inﬂuenced by the work of women of color. It should
be noted that concern about representativeness and
divisions among women was not only occurring in
Northern feminism. As Sternbach et al. report, Latin
American feminists were also wrestling with divi-
sions of class, race, and the like in their independent
50 Keck and Sikkink 1998. Barry, Bunch, and Castley
1984 do not mention any serious conﬂicts between
Northern and Southern women in their report on
the conference, mentioning only that there was a
straightforward discussion of the issues that have
divided First and Third world women.
51 In the ﬁnal document, governments are exhorted to
pay special attention to abused women, among
others (paragraph 41), and gender-speciﬁc violence
is identiﬁed as a priority (United Nations 1985,
Inclusion, Solidarity, and Social Movements
68 Perspectives on Politics
paragraph 288). Speciﬁc measures to address vio-
lence are also recommended as actions to be taken in
the area of social services (paragraph 231).
52 Joachim 1999; Keck and Sikkink 1998.
53 Center for Women’s Global Leadership 1991; Cen-
ter for Women’s Global Leadership 1992–93; Bunch
and Reilly 1994; Joachim 1999; Keck and Sikkink
54 Keck and Sikkink 1998; Joachim 1999; Cooper
1999; Friedman 1995. Prevailing human rights
discourse restricted human rights work to violations
by state agencies, and did not include actions by
private individuals or actions taken in private. Also,
there was the perception that violence against
women occurred in isolated and discrete occur-
rences, and was not a phenomenon of sufﬁcient
signiﬁcance, persistence and prevalence to require
human rights work (Keck and Sikkink 1998).
55 Friedman 1995; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Joachim
1999; Tinker 1999; Bunch and Reilly 1994.
56 Although international conventions (such as the
Geneva Convention) recognized wartime rape as a
crime, these documents characterized rape as an
attack against honor or dignity and not as torture or
inhumane treatment causing great suffering or as
causing serious injury to body or health (UN Agent
57 The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,
adopted at the World Conference on Human
Rights, held at Vienna from June 14–25, 1993.
58 There were typically about 20 events each day focus-
ing on violence against women, and protests against
violence attracted hundreds of participants (Thomp-
son 2002, 111).
59 Cooper 1999; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Joachim
60 In 1998 UNIFEM launched campaigns against
gender violence in Latin America and the Carib-
bean, Africa and Asia; UNDP claimed that it had
allocated 20 percent of its resources for anti-violence
campaigns; and the UN’s Social, Humanitarian and
Cultural Committee adopted a resolution designat-
ing November 25 as International Day for the Elim-
ination of Violence (UNIFEM 1999; Fong 1999;
Nzwili 1998; Xinhua News Agency). In 1999
UNIFEM held a global videoconference on violence
against women, including domestic violence, rape,
and female genital mutilation (Nzwili 1998; Deen
1999; UNIFEM 1999).
61 United Nations 1999. The global movement against
gender violence continues. In 1999, the Coalition
Against Trafﬁcking in Women, organized a three-day
conference on Sexual Exploitation in Bangladesh.
The World March for Women 2000, involving
5,000 organizations in 157 countries, demanded
that the UN and world governments focus on both
poverty and violence (Toronto Star, October 7, 2000;
Ottawa Sun, October 16, 2000).
62 This is not to suggest that there are no longer any
serious conﬂicts between women in the movement.
Rather, the point is that cooperation and solidarity
have been maintained in the face of such conﬂicts.
Moreover, building solidarity is an on-going process
that is never “ﬁnished” from the perspective of the
63 Keck and Sikkink 1998; Joachim 1999; Friedman
64 Barry et al. 1984, 11.
65 It is worth noting that this shift cannot be entirely
attributed to changing alignments in the UN that
produced greater representation of Southern women.
First, activists made explicit efforts to ensure repre-
sentativeness on more grounds than just the North-
South division (including sexuality, sexual
orientation, region, and so forth). This broader
concern with representativeness reﬂects a more
general trend in women’s organizing that is evident
in other contexts around the same time. Second,
these changes were evident in meetings unconnected
to the UN, such as the Rotterdam meeting in the
early 1980s. Third, the timing and impact of chang-
ing alignments does not map well onto the patterns
of changing representation for Southern women.
The two big shifts in alignment that might have
affected general norms about Southern representa-
tion were (1) the formation of the Group of 77 and
efforts to organize developing countries into a voting
bloc in 1973 lasting until 1988 or so and (2) the
shift from a cold war (East-West) alignment to more
of a North-South alignment in the early 1990s after
the fall of the Berlin Wall. But as table A-1 suggests,
the big change in women’s representation began in
the mid-1980s (leading up to and including Nai-
robi) and continued into the early 1990s (with the
CWGL Leadership Institutes). This is too early for
the end of the cold war to make a difference, and
too late for the formation of the Group of 77 to
have had a clear impact. (The impact of the Group
of 77 was waning by the late 1980s.) See also Voeten
2000], who argues, based on analysis of voting
patterns in the UN, that the shift away from east-
west divisions did not actually occur.
66 Tinker 1999.
67 Ngara 1985; Kishwar and Vanita 1984; Narayan
68 Fraser 1987, 210.
69 Fraser 1987, 210.
70 Fraser 1987, 210, 213–15.
71 Chew 1985.
72 Ngara 1985.
Vol. 4/No. 1 69
73 Chew 1985; Joachim 1999.
74 Sharma 1985a; Faul 1985, July 24; Gray 1985a. The
United States made some important concessions in
its opening speech as a signal that the administration
was serious about building consensus. These conces-
sions, especially the speciﬁc recognition of the Pales-
tinian issue, may have been part of the reason that
the Palestinian delegation agreed to the solution
proposed by the Kenyan delegation, to substitute the
wording regarding all forms of racism for wording
that speciﬁcally singled out Zionism. It was also
important that the host Kenyan delegation, a South-
ern country and one of the Group of 77, proposed
the solution (Chew 1985).
75 Joachim 1999.
77 Kathleen Barry in Keck and Sikkink 1998.
78 Chew 1985; Ngara 1985.
79 Hooks (2000, 31) makes a similar point when she
argues that one way of addressing the problems
posed by women’s differing deﬁnitions, experiences,
and relationships to the concept of feminism is to
avoid using the phrase “I am a feminist” and to say
instead “I advocate feminism.” Thanks to Anna
Nelson for reminding me of this point.
80 Keck and Sikkink 1998.
81 United Nations 1975b, paragraph 28.
82 Bunch’s inﬂuential article arguing that women’s
rights are human rights appeared in Human Rights
Quarterly in 1990, and Carrillo’s article arguing that
Violence Against Women was an obstacle to devel-
opment was published by UNIFEM in 1992.
83 See, for example, Kishwar and Vanita 1984 and
84 Accounts of women’s organizing in Canada, the
United States, Australia, and Latin America note the
emergence of organizations and caucuses devoted to
particular sub-groups of women (such as women of
color), concern with ensuring access and representa-
tion by these groups, as well as solidarity among
women in spite of differences and inequalities
among them (Burnham 2001; Combahee River
Collective Statement 1977; Davis 1998; Weldon
2002; Matthews 1993; Minkoff 1997; Sternbach
et al. 1992; Sawer 1995).
85 Keck and Sikkink 1998 point out that it is possible
for activists to be both principled and strategic.
Adherence to norms need not be naïve or purely
86 Higer 1999, 134.
87 Higer 1999, 134.
88 Ibid., 135.
90 Ibid., 139.
91 Hoffman 2005; Williams 1998.
92 Joachim 1999; for the text of the Optional Protocol
to CEDAW see United Nations (1999), or see the
extensive webpage provided by the Division for the
Advancement of Women (DAW) at the UN, which
includes the text of the protocol and other helpful
information (United Nations 2004).
93 Weldon 2002.
94 Heyzer 2003.
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