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New research shows the power of feminist movements around the world

March 6, 2020 GMT

BURNABY, British Columbia, March 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Over the last 50 years, feminist movements have become a powerful force in advocating for gender equality. But how powerful? New research released today measuring the impact of movements around the globe shows that these movements advance important issues for women — such as increased economic empowerment, more equitable land rights, and protection from sexual harassment — and are key for advancing democracy.

In a series of three working papers, Dr. Laurel Weldon — a political science professor at Simon Fraser University and an expert on feminist movements — provides a new way to measure feminist mobilization efforts and effectively demonstrate the impact of these movements on women’s economic livelihoods and democracy.


“Feminist movements not only contribute to closing the gap for gender inequality, but are also a part of expanding democracy,” said Dr. Weldon. “Our research shows that feminist movements over the last 50 years are a powerful force for promoting women’s economic empowerment.”

“Moreover, feminist mobilization is associated with reduced child marriage, changed attitudes towards women in politics and violence against women, expanded numbers of women in elected office, and a strengthening of democracy more broadly.”

The research was developed with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with Global Fund for Women, American Jewish World Service and Mama Cash.

Weldon’s research centers on a new measure of movement activity—the Feminist Mobilization Index—which calculates feminist movements’ existence, strength, and autonomy. The index provides a more complete picture than ever before of activist trends over time and across 126 countries, including showing how activism takes place in waves around the world and how activism includes activities apart from established women’s organizations.

The first paper in the series analyzes feminist mobilization from 1975 to 2015 across global regions and presents the findings from each country in the Feminist Mobilization Index. The second paper looks more closely at the role of this activism in driving women’s economic empowerment, which is an effective channel for enhancing gender equality more broadly. The third paper uses the index, as well as broader measures of feminist mobilization across borders, to show how domestic and transnational feminism work to strengthen each other.


Weldon’s findings show that feminist mobilization has had a profound effect on advancing policies that can strengthen women’s economic opportunities, including:

  • More equal opportunities in the workplace. A combination of a strong women’s movement and the UN’s 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) are particularly strongly associated with more equal rights for women at work. Stronger, autonomous women’s movements increase the likelihood of governments to adopt more egalitarian laws, though it likely takes some time — about a decade — to adopt these changes.
  • Laws expanding women’s access to financial accounts. Data from 88 countries over several decades shows that women’s mobilization has driven legal reforms to allow women and girls to have their own bank accounts.
  • Laws supporting women’s inheritance rights, which are associated with greater agricultural landholding.
  • Laws protecting women against sexual harassment.

Weldon’s research indicates that today we are in the midst of another resurgence of feminist organizing, bolstered by the explosion of online activism and global activities associated with #MeToo and the Women’s March. While the growth of brick-and-mortar women’s organizations may be slowing, online grassroots activism is proving to be an effective platform for connecting activists and organizations —through chatrooms, mailing lists, and social media — and building solidarity.

“We’ve now put pen to paper on what feminist activists have been witnessing on the ground in their local communities for the last 50 years,” says PeiYao Chen, vice president of Impact & Effectiveness at Global Fund of Women. “With the rise of online activism, these movements are getting more organized and louder than ever, and they warrant further investment from policymakers and stakeholders who are determined to close the gap on gender inequality and further democracy worldwide.”

Weldon’s paper series finds that through feminist activism, women and girls can effectively drive societal and policy changes that reflect the needs and realities of their lives. Furthermore, grassroots women’s movements are an important and still growing mechanism for ensuring policymakers and decision-makers are held accountable for reforms that can close the gap on women’s equality, especially when it comes to economic empowerment and protection from violence and discrimination.

Visit this website to learn more about the paper series and download all three working papers.

About Simon Fraser University
As Canada’s engaged university, Simon Fraser University (SFU) works with communities, organizations and partners to create, share and embrace knowledge that improves life and generates real change. The university delivers a world-class education with lifelong value that shapes change-makers, visionaries and problem-solvers. SFU connects research and innovation to entrepreneurship and industry to deliver sustainable, relevant solutions to today’s problems. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities — Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey — SFU has eight faculties that deliver 193 undergraduate degree programs and 127 graduate degree programs to more than 35,000 students. The university now boasts more than 160,000 alumni residing in 143 countries.

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SOURCE Simon Fraser University