A New Feminist Vision, Mobilizing the Women's Movement for 2015 and Beyond


During the opening session of WLP’s October 2014 Transnational Partners Convening (TPC) meeting held in Potomac, Maryland, WLP Board Member and former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Yakın Ertürk made this statement. Dr. Ertürk’s statement was meant to frame some of the issues facing the WLP’s work and to guide discussions throughout the TPC. To read more on WLP’s 2014 TPC, please click here.

A new feminist vision?

So far the women’s movement has been preoccupied with demystifying the existing patriarchal order that has for centuries subordinated and oppressed women. In doing so, the primary task has been to understand ourselves as women, how we are positioned within this order, and how to change the terms of engagement to achieve an equal status. This has entailed largely a liberal agenda calling for an equal representation in public institutions and equal opportunity. This meant using basically a male yardstick in identifying goals and making wrongs right.

In the process, women have mobilized from the local to the global around common goals and effectively used the multilateral diplomacy and mechanisms of the UN. The engagement of women with the UN resulted in a comprehensive international regime for gender equality and women’s human rights. The UN provided women with a platform to voice their concerns, and women’s activism helped to widen the scope of UN mechanisms and instruments to become more inclusive.

The formation of the international gender agenda, starting with the demand for formal equality, has undergone paradigm shifts from WID/GAD (women in development/gender and development), to empowerment, to human rights, to peace and security, reflecting the demands of diverse women’s groups, women’s activism, and feminist scholarship. The gender equality standards adopted at the international level empowered women to push for change in their respective countries in all parts of the world. As a result, considerable legislative and institutional reforms have taken place in individual countries, which have had a positive impact on many women’s lives.

However, the progress achieved towards greater gender equality has also provoked violent backlash, which is embedded within the wider trends towards conservative governance, increased militarization, the emergence of extremist non-state actors, and the overall normalization of violence. These trends endanger universal human rights norms and undermine the legitimacy of multilateral dialogue in responding to common global problems. 

In the struggle for equality, while a global women’s movement emerged as an important transnational force, it also encountered the limits of progress within a patriarchal gender order and changing political dynamics locally and globally. Given the state of the world today it is clear that ending patriarchy is not going to happen tomorrow. But what can—and is—happening is the lessening of the patriarchal nature of societies as patriarchal privileges are challenged, weakened, and ruptured. It is time to reflect on a new feminist vision beyond a liberal agenda, one that builds on lessons learned and forges alliances with other progressive movements in imagining a post-patriarchal society.

A number of questions need to be asked to stimulate a debate towards a new feminist vision:

  • Is there a feminist vision of a new world order? What does such a vision entail?
  • What kind of a social order do we want to transform towards, without being utopian?
  • Does this vision require “rupturing” the patriarchal system only, or does it also require a vision of how to humanize all relationships based on human rights?
  • How can a post-patriarchal gender contract effectively reconcile the universality of rights and the diversity of women’s realities?
  • Given the current panorama of strong growth of patriarchalism in societies/states that claim that only certain particular values/religions are legitimate, is it still possible to claim the universality and indivisibility of international human rights? How does diversity play in this new context?
  • The transnational women’s movement was particularly strong because it was rooted in women’s diversity and their capability of creating consensus around common goals, many of which were included in the UN Declarations and Plans of Actions of the 1990s. However, what we see in the world scenario today is a backlash against the achievements of the last century. Are those ideals from the 1990s again to form a feminist platform?
  • How can the universality of such standards be interpreted through existing community institutions which can make them “localized”? In other words, how can we transform universalized values to localized practices?
  • Are there legitimate cultural divergences from international human rights norms? If so, how can such legitimacy be established given the differences in power?
  • Can local practices be induced to take on the international human rights norms with a process of contesting the existing ones and reaching agreement on what is needed for the best life for all—women and men, young and old?
  • How can universal norms be made relevant to women’s concrete life experiences? That is, how can the gap between international human rights values and concrete life experiences be bridged?
  • What are the limits and possibilities of creating alliances, networking with the Internet, and quickly mobilizing, and where do our efforts towards medium- and long-term advocacy stand?
S:SSO to Sakai