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Bringing Southern Voices into the International Domain: UNRISD Researchers Share Expertise on Women’s Claims Making

22 Jul 2015



After the success of the side-event Women's Mobilization for Gender-Egalitarian Policy Change in the 20 Years since Beijing at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the team of the UNRISD project When and Why Do States Respond to Women’s Claims? returned with two more events, this time bringing the researchers from the country teams to international fora, at the University of East Anglia in the UK and at the International Labour Office in Geneva, to present and discuss their findings.

Panel on Feminist Mobilization and Policy Change at the University of East Anglia, UK


The research teams first traveled to Norwich, UK, to participate in the International Gender Conference: Gender Relations and Rising Inequalities organized by the University of East Anglia on 6-8 July 2015. The panel Feminist Mobilization and Policy Change explored the processes and negotiations through which some claims make it into the policy arena, but others are neglected. Such negotiations on the contents of new legal frameworks and policies involve state actors—parties, politicians, ministers, femocrats, government officers—as well as non-state actors such as women's movements and other civil society organizations. Since little is known about such processes of claims-making, the speakers addressed questions such as: how are claims articulated? Why are certain issues left out of the policy agenda of movements and states, while others become priorities? What are the factors and conditions under which non-state actors, including the influence of mass media, can effectively trigger and influence policy change?

UNRISD Project Coordinator Nitya Rao chaired and moderated the discussion after the following presentations:
  • Shraddha Chigateri and Mubashira Zaidi: From Mathura to Nirbhaya –Anti-Rape Mobilizations and Claims-Making in India
        Mubashira Zaidi described the negotiations between the Indian women’s movement and the state to amend the laws related to sexual offences, first in 1978-1983 and more recently in 2012-13. Women activists have influenced the state’s discourse on rape—often associated with shame, stigma and honour—and strongly negotiated the content of the amendments approved in 1983 and in 2013. They raised claims such as amending and expanding the definition of rape, the exclusion of victims’ sexual history from the judicial evidence, the acknowledgement of the power relations behind rape (especially when the perpetrators are police and military), and the criminalization of marital rape. Although the state has adopted some of these claims, it still takes a position against those demands that question the patriarchal system within the household (such as marital rape) and the power of the state (for example, the abolition of the immunity granted to the military and to special forces of the Indian army).
  • Sri Wiyanti Eddyono, Estu Fanani and Dini Sahbaniah: Women’s Claim-Making Process in Indonesia—A Reflection from Inside
        Sri Wiyanti Eddoyono and Estu Fanani reflected on the alliances among women’s organizations and their fragility. Often women’s organizations are united and allied towards a common goal and therefore able to generate support from politicians, religious leaders and organizations, and civil society, as was in the case with the Domestic Violence Law (no. 23), 2004. However, different ideologies on gender equality and women’s rights may undermine such unity and cause clashes and fractures among women activists. This was the case with the Law against Pornography and Porno Acts (no.44), 2008, seen by religious organizations, politicians and religious women advocates as a legal tool to protect women and children from sexual exploitation, but condemned by non-religious feminist groups and human rights organizations as a way to legitimize a regressive understanding of women’s sexuality and morality. These cases demonstrate that despite the importance of the women’s presence as activists and as politicians, which can be crucial for gender-egalitarian policy change, different ideologies on women’s rights may nevertheless lead to the approval of regressive laws and unsuccessful mobilization.
  • Govind Kelkar: Women’s Mobilization to Claim their Rights to Agricultural Land in Rural China and India
        Govind Kelkar adopted an historical perspective on policy change for women’s land rights in China and India. The policy change was mainly driven by international discourses on women’s rights to lands and property and by women’s mobilization at grassroots level and in rural areas. Although there are laws that guarantee women access to land, they still encounter great resistance from state actors and from civil society more broadly. Implementation of these laws is challenged by social and cultural norms embedded in the patriarchal system. In this system, men are seen as household head and sole owner of the household property, while women are considered as dependents. However, Govind showed that women’s mobilization is continuing at grassroots level, especially in India, where women currently mobilize around their identity of farmers and household heads.
  • Ana Laura Rodríguez Gustà: The Gender Economic Agenda in Latin America: Alliances and Topics. An Organizational Perspective
        Ana Laura Rodríguez Gustà explored the variety of actors mobilizing on women’s economic claims and their strategies in Latin America. A plethora of actors raise such claims: feminist organizations, peasant movements, women in trade unions, indigenous organizations. The range of claims raised concern women’s economic and social rights (from a redistributive and welfarist perspective), gender mainstreaming in economic policies (reviewing the tax structure and national budget), and the mode of production (associated with claims for social justice and transformation of the economic system). These different actors and discourses all together push for an emancipatory economic agenda through alliances and networks at national and at regional levels.

The panel took place at 14.15-16.00 on Monday 6 July at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. For further information on the conference programme and room, please check here.

Exploring Domestic Workers’ Claims for a Better Future at Work


The research teams then traveled to Geneva to take part in the Fourth Conference of the Regulating for Decent Work Network hosted by the ILO on 8-10 July 2015. During the special session Domestic Workers: Claiming Labour Rights, researchers focused on how women’s movements and other non-state actors mobilize to achieve the recognition and regulation of domestic work and their strategies to influence policy change: What are the factors and the conditions influencing processes of policy change? How do women domestic workers’ movements and organizations articulate their claims in order to channel them effectively into the policy arena? What is the role of international organizations in promoting the reform of national labour legislation?

The session was chaired by the UNRISD Gender and Development Research Coordinator Valeria Esquivel and included the following presentations:
  • Paola Cagna: Claiming Labour Rights: Women’s Mobilization for Domestic Workers' Rights
        Paola Cagna introduced the UNRISD Research Project When and Why do States Respond to Women’s Claims? by presenting its theoretical framework. It is evident that in spite of greater awareness around gender equality and women’s rights, progress has been uneven across countries and across policy areas. The research is based on the assumption that the content of new policy and/or law is negotiated among a wide range of non-state and state actors, who make efforts to legitimize their claims within a contested policy space. The project therefore aims to understand the factors and the conditions that trigger policy change starting from the analysis of these processes of negotiation and contestation. Within this framework, the demand for domestic workers’ labour rights is particular interesting for three reasons: i) only recently have domestic workers, especially women, increasingly begun to mobilize to gain recognition as workers and ensure the inclusion of their rights within national labour legislation; ii) domestic workers face multiple vulnerabilities both related to their gender status and to class inequalities, allowing us to analyse how the intersection between class and gender influences the process of mobilization and policy change; iii) the peculiarity of the workplace—private houses—is an obstacle to mobilization and to domestic work being recognized as work.
  • Shraddha Chigateri and Anweshaa Ghosh: Unravelling Domestic Work: Understanding Mobilization, Claims-Making and Policy Change for Domestic Workers In India
        Anweshaa Ghosh argued that domestic workers’ mobilization in India is still sporadic across the country, except for those Indian states with a larger concentration of workers (for example, Kerala and Tamil Nadu). There are Catholic affiliated organizations, Dalits women’s groups, trade unions at national level, and NGOs working in city slums, where most of these workers live. These organizations are mostly animated by a rights-based discourse demanding recognition of domestic work as work, the regulation of the working conditions, the eradication of caste-based discrimination and of sexual harassment, and access to social protection. On the other hand, a new type of organization with a different discourse is emerging across India: more organizations, often operating as placement agencies, are adopting an entrepreneurial model of domestic work, demanding skills and training sessions for workers. In this case, professionalization is seen as the key to domestic work being recognized as work. Although all these diverse organizations have been able to mobilize workers at subnational and at local levels through negotiations with employers and local state governments, their impact on policy change at the national level is still minimal. This is mainly due to the lack of national cohesion, the short history of mobilization (since the 1980s) and the fact that domestic workers’ labour rights fall in the cracks between the women’s movement (although many women work as domestic workers, their voice is not strong enough within this movement) and the labour movement (where women as workers are still at the margins).
  • Sri Wiyanti Eddyono and Estu Fanani: Mobilizing Voices for the Protection of Domestic Workers In Indonesia
        Sri Wiyanti Eddyono and Estu Fanani argued that the lack of recognition and regulation of domestic work as in Indonesia is due to the fact that domestic workers challenge both class hierarchies and gender norms. Many of the domestic workers are employed by middle and upper class households, whose voice is stronger within the policy arena. Especially female policy-makers are found to be reluctant to regulate this sector. On the other hand, domestic work is seen as part of the unpaid tasks of women within the household. Therefore, the recognition of domestic work questions women’s role within society.
  • Naila Kabeer: Women Workers and the Politics of Claims-Making in a Globalized Economy
        Naila Kabeer presented her working paper Women Workers and the Politics of Claims-Making in a Globalized Economy exploring the type of organizing and the strategies employed by three groups of workers: migrant workers, workers within global value chains (for example garment workers), and domestic workers. She argued that i) the level of workers’ participation in the global economy shapes the type of organization and the strategies they adopt; ii) workers who participate less in the global economy (such as domestic workers) are more likely to put their demands (for rights both to work and at work) to the state and consequently their struggle is often more political; iii) the political context is very important, for instance vibrant social movements are more frequently found in democratic contexts; iv) at national level, the state is still the only institution to which workers direct their claims; v) strong states require effective citizens: supporting and building local capacities is more effective than having third party advocates attempting to voice claims on workers’ behalf.

The session took place at 13.30-15.00 on Thursday 9 July at the International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland. For further information on the conference programme and room, please click here.

Photo: "Megaphon" by Floeschie (CC BY 2.0 via Flickr)