Women in Activism vs. Women’s Activism

For the 2020/2021 academic year the W&P society is restructuring their way of doing events. Each month will have a distinct focus around which events, posts and resources will focus. This month’s theme is Women in Activism

[Picture is from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, showing thousands of women marching for women´s rights, with the White House featured in the distance]

The 2019/2020 academic year was marked by activism. In every single corner of the globe mass protests were taking place – Free Hong Kong protests, the Yellow Wests in France, inequality protests in Chile, Fridays for Future worldwide, Extinction Rebellion in London – just to mention a few of events primarily covered by my news sources. On a more local level we experienced the University strike actions, which picketed our campus and halted our teachings in February. As summer approached, the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, US, sparked worldwide anti-racism, defund the police and Black Lives Matters protests. Thus, it is only appropriate that the KCL Women & Politics 2020/2021 Society kicks off their year by focusing on Women in Activism. 

Here, the most important distinction to make is that between women in activism and women’s activism. While the former refers to women who participate in activism, regardless of the topic or cause, the latter refers activism focusing on, and benefitting women, and the struggles they may face. However, when you google “women in activism”, or “female activists”, most results focus on women in women’s activism. Search results come up with titles like “famous feminists” or “women’s rights activists”. Yet, women do not solely participate in women’s activism. Women participate in all kinds of activism. From toppling regimes to changing laws, women are – more often than not – front and center. Regardless, women are primarily considered to only be women´s activists

This link, although it appears harmless, is incredibly offensive and problematic. While women’s activism is important, it is not the only form of activism, in which women participate. Yet, (and stay with me here), the constant association between women in activism and women’s activism is – ironically – one of the exact reasons why we need women’s activism.

Throughout history, women have been considered to only think about, only care about, and only be qualified to talk about, women’s issues. Issues which are often considered “lesser issues”. Issues not worthy of the more reasonable and important man. By constantly keeping women in the women’s issues box, we maintain the idea that women are only qualified to talk about women. Yet, women have so much more to say. So much more to fight for. Women are everywhere. Not just in women’s issues. 

Don’t get me wrong, women in women’s activism are forceful and powerful. It is because of women in women’s activism that I can dress how I do. That I can go to the university I do (or any university at all). That I can marry who I want, when I want. Or not marry at all if I choose so. Women in women´s activism has ensured that I can earn my own money and own my own property. That I can vote. That I can have sex and not be burned at the stake (both literally and figuratively). They are the reason I am protected from harassment when I go to work. Something my own mother wasn’t even ensured when she started her professional life. I owe everything, and so much more, of what my life is today, to women who do, and did, women’s activism. As do most women. 

However, let’s not forget that it was the women of Russia who took to the streets in 1917 to protests “Bread & Peace”. Four days later the Czar abdicated and one of the biggest political events of the 20th century had taken place. That it was the Mirabal sisters who led the resistance against the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, prompting Trujillo to declare that his two biggest issues were “the church and the Mirabal sisters”. That in 1992 the short peace between Somalia and Somaliland was made possible largely due to women´s involvement and their ties to both their birth tribes and their husbands’ tribes. Women have also pioneered many, if not most, of the civil and human rights movements of the West in the 20th century. Pauli Murray labelled the intersectionality between race and gender as “Jane Crow” and took the center of the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Meanwhile, Christine Jorgensen became one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery and spent the remainder of her life fighting for the trans rights. 

Women are strong, and capable. We are passionate about everything in world. From reproductive rights (often labelled a feminist issue) to gun control, police brutality and the stock market (heavily male dominated areas). There are as many women out there, with as many diverse passions, as there are issues in the world. Women of all walks of life, in all corners of the world are creating real change through their activism. Both inside and outside of women´s activism.

As 2020 moves into its second half – amidst a pandemic, worldwide protests, and abuses of power everywhere – we need women fighting for women. But we also need to recognize that women do not only care about fighting for women. Until we do, you can be sure that there will be women everywhere fighting for a woman´s right, to fight for things that have nothing to do with women´s rights.

Article is written by incoming Editor-in-Chief, Sarina Bastrup

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