Ten ways 2017 put feminism to the test
The end of the year is a time for reflection, for looking back and taking stock of the changes in our lives, of all that we’ve experienced and achieved. It’s also a moment to think forward, plan and make new commitments. We often do this individually, but as individuals we are all part of collectives, too – and we achieve even more together. We want to take this chance to recognize all that feminist movements around the world have accomplished, especially in such an intense and turbulent year. Thanks to the work of women, girls, trans people and intersex people, here are 10 key (though far from the only) ways in which 2017 will leave the world a better place. In chronological order:
- The Women’s March
Prompted by Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election in January, millions of women around the world took to the streets to make it loud and clear that they were ready to resist, feminist-style. (More recently, in U.S. state elections, women, people of color and LGBTQ candidates made historical gains in political representation). Here in the Netherlands we even held a second Women’s March prior to our elections in March.
- #SheDecides established in response to Global Gag Rule
By February, Trump had reinstated the Global Gag Rule, cutting of U.S. funding from any organisations providing information on or access to abortion – a move with severe consequences around the world. Former Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and former Executive Director of Mama Cash Lilianne Ploumen responded swiftly by establishing She Decides, an international initiative to raise funds and political support for the organisations impacted by the Global Gag Rule. Soon after, the Dutch government announced a donation of 29 million euro.
- First sex workers’ demonstration in Russia
On May 1st, International Workers’ Day, Russian sex workers marched openly for the first time. The demonstration in St. Petersburg included trade unions, LGBTQ activists, queer feminist groups, and sex workers rights groups like our grantee-partner Silver Rose.
- Workers’ rights for garment workers
Do you know who made your clothes? How long their shift was that day, and how much they were paid? These critical questions, directed at Western consumers large fashion corporations, gained more attention than ever this past year in mainstream media. In May, we invited Zehra Khan, General Secretary of our grantee-partners the Home-Based Womens Workers Federation in Pakistan, to come talk about her organisation’s recent victory as part of our campaign Women Power Fashion in collaboration with the Clean Clothes Campaign. Policy developed by Zehra and the HBWWF was accepted in their region of Sindh, recognizing home-based workers (80% of which are women) as workers with the same rights as their peers. Similar legislation passed in Qatar – and in India, thanks to the work of groups like our grantee-partners Tamilnadu Textile and Common Labour Union, a 56-year-old law which allowed trainee workers in India’s garment manufacturing industry to be trapped in apprenticeships for years was amended.
- More marriage equality
In May, same-sex marriage was legalized in Bermuda. July saw the legalization of same sex marriage in Malta, and later in the year, the majority of respondents to a national survey in Australia voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
- Justice is served for rape survivors
Thanks to lengthy campaigns by feminist activists, the summer saw the parliaments of Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia scrap laws which allowed rapists to be exempt from punishment if they married the survivors.
- Gates Foundation investment in gender equality
In September, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that they would invest $80 million in gender equality over the next three years. The investment will be used to fill critical gender data gaps, equip decision makers with more evidence about what’s working and what’s not for gender equality, and support civil society in holding leaders accountable – and $20 million will go to grassroots feminist groups.
- Women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia
Later that month, after two decades of campaigning and protests by women’s rights activists, the ban on women driving was lifted in Saudi Arabia. And earlier in July, a series of reforms led to the announcement that girls would be allowed to participate in sports education in school, and that women’s gyms and fitness centers could be established.
- The #MeToo movement
In the wake of a wave of sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, in October #MeToo resurfaced and went viral, with the hashtag being used 5 million times in the first 24 hours. Tens of thousands of women (and some men) across all continents shared their experiences of sexual assault and harassment: in France, women used #BalanceTonPorc (#DenounceYourPig) to name their assaulters; in Italy, women used #QuellaVoltaChe (#TheTimeThat). The campaign led to consequences for many men publicly accused of assault and harassment in industries from education to government to entertainment. But perhaps more importantly, it marks a shift in public consciousness that will hopefully impact behavior and have lasting impact on the way we understand and deal with sexual harassment and assault.
- Steps forward in intersex rights
In November, Germany became the first European country to allow parents to register children as a third gender, joining Australia, India, New Zealand, and Nepal (and possibly Canada, where a baby received a healthcard with ‘U’ as its gender marker this year). Earlier this year, the European Parliament condemned genital surgery on intersex infants, citing our grantee-partners NNID’s advocacy work. According to the UN approximately 1.7% of babies are born with a mix of ‘female’ and ‘male’ sex characteristics (which is not limited to genitals, but includes hormone levels and chromosomes). Often babies are given unnecessary, painful and irreversible surgery to make their genitals conform visually to the norm, which not only enforces a binary gender on them but also sometimes renders sexual pleasure difficult or impossible later in life.
But it’s precisely these gains of feminist movements in the last few years that have caused a backlash against gender equality (discredited altogether in some countries, like Poland, as “gender ideology”). Like the wave of anti-LGBTQ violence – and possibly policy – in Egypt. Like the increased femicide throughout Central and South America, with no accountability for perpetrators or transparency from the government’s side. Like the ethnic cleaning of the Rohingya and the sexual assault that female refugees are made vulnerable to. Like the rise of nationalism, white supremacy and far-right conservativism are on the rise in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the US.
Overcoming this backlash, and emerging on the other side in a safer, more equal and more just world for everyone “will take a lot of work by many people,” as our Executive Director Zohra Moosa put it. But this doesn’t need to mean revolutionizing your life: maybe it’s joining (or beginning!) a local feminist collective. Maybe it’s finding a buddy to go to more protests and rallies with. Or maybe it’s showing your solidarity by making a donation to support feminist activists you believe in.
Our years of experience funding women’s, girl’s, trans and intersex people’s movements has shown that one thing remains true: feminist activism works. So seek it out. Support it. Be a part of it. Make a New Year’s Resolution that will make a difference not just in your life, but in our world.
BECAUSE FEMINIST ACTIVISM WORKS.
In order for Mama Cash to be eligible for a 'consultative status' with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), some countries require use of the officially agreed UN language for their designations. Mama Cash uses these country designations so that we will not be excluded from UN spaces for decision-making and debate as a civil society actor.