1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Gender Equality: Striving for Justice in an Unequal World (Chinese edition)

From the Concluding remarks

Women’s agency is today increasingly visible and impressive in women's movements around the world, in organizations of civil society, in the state and political society, and in the international development establishment. Processes of democratization, to which women’s movements contributed, have altered the terms under which women’s groups engage in political activity. Despite some initial setbacks and loss of momentum, strategies have been adapted and revised to help women gain political power under the democratic rules of the game. The entry of more women into national legislatures as well as municipal councils and other locally administered bodies has contributed to the deepening of democracy around the world, while providing valuable openings for women representatives and councillors to articulate different priorities in national and local decision making.

Dovetailing with the vociferous demands of women’s movements, “femocrats” from within the state have worked hard to make national laws responsive to women’s reproductive health and rights, and to prohibit violence and discrimination against women, no matter where these violations occur and who their perpetrators are. Landmark international prosecutions against sexual assault in war as a crime against humanity now mean that public actors responsible for sexual violence are beginning to be held accountable not just to the citizens of their own countries, but to global society.

These explicit policy and legislative moves have combined with long-term processes of social change in families and cultural practices to bring more women into the public domain. A decade on from Beijing there is indeed much to celebrate.

But there is also much at risk. On the tenth anniversary of the Beijing Conference women’s movements will be pondering not only the continued dominance of neoliberalism in some important arenas of policy making, but the challenges thrown up by the recent shifts in geopolitics and new forms of religious-identity politics played out at the global, national and subnational levels. Women’s ambitions for social change risk taking a back seat to concerns with security. Unilateralism is eroding the multilateral framework within which transnational feminist networks have painstakingly nurtured a global women’s rights regime over the years. In a polarized ideological climate where security concerns loom large and internal dissent is discouraged, sustaining autonomous spaces where women’s groups and movements can address critical and controversial issues of gender equality and liberal freedoms will require political agility and alliance building with other social movements, political parties and states.

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