Building inclusive women’s movements

Women human rights defenders (WHRD) and activists are the primary actors building the universality of women’s rights in the Horn countries and political entities. However, recently there is a growing realization that mounting tensions between the affirmation of the universality of rights and the need to create space for cultural differences and diversity is influencing the debate and limiting the effectiveness of WHRD. It is critical for women’s rights movements to embrace politics of inclusion and collective activism in resisting violations against women’s rights. SIHA sees potential for a huge reformist movement to emerge from the Horn of Africa with the right coordination and approaches, but the space of activism needs to open wider to reach and include the margins. This means ethnic, tribal, religious, class, and other marginalized women and girls whose voices are frequently excluded from what the Horn calls its women’s movement. SIHA’s research has revealed that in many countries around the Horn ethnic, clan, or tribal elites lead the women’s movement. The problem is that a movement that is dominated by women elites typically fails to connect with and mobilize broader constituencies of women around its agendas, even when those agendas are to their benefit, resulting in isolated and often polarized women’s groups. It is important to name this tension between women’s organizations and grassroots movements, and to observe the slow cooperation, ownership, or ‘buy-in’ of the local community into women’s rights agendas.

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