Feeling fired up after the Women’s March? Join the Feminist Alert Network to remain involved in the movement—and to keep marching on with us toward equality!
The Women’s Marches on January 21, 2017 will go down in history as one of the largest simultaneous global protests ever—over five million people participated and many others followed the events in cities around the world. It was a day of empowerment, solidarity, hope and affirmation of our collective belief in the decency of ordinary people. It was also a day where women’s presence, voice and potential power was visible.
The protests were also extensive enough and timed so precisely that they captured the attention and imagination of commentators around the world. “Dissidents! We are Legion,” wrote Charles Blow in the New York Times. While reflecting on the size and breadth of the Washington march, Anders Aslund of the Atlantic Council tweeted about the emergence of a “New Force.”
Despite all this, the million dollar question now is: what’s next? How do we sustain and build on the momentum of the millions who marched to bring about real changes? As a woman who started out 20 years ago as an advocate for peace and security and became a strategist and practitioner in the field of women, peace and security, working in countries around the world and globally, here are the first ten steps, I recommend to the ‘legions’ who are pumped up and ready to continue:
1. Acknowledge that this is not an entirely new phenomenon—and remind people of that.
The marches were a turbo-charged version of existing women’s activism, because women have been at the frontlines of challenging the rise of extremis—in all its forms—for decades globally. The “newness” arises from the fact that women in the United States and Europe are experiencing extremism on their own doorsteps from their own leaders, and thus mobilizing against it.
2. Don’t let women’s leadership of this movement be erased, sidelined or minimalized.
The protests welcomed everyone, including men, because the marches were not just women protesting for women. They were a clear demonstration of women collectively offering a world vision based on equal rights, peace and pluralism. Too often in the past—from Northern Ireland to Israel and Palestine—women have led such movements but have then been sidelined or erased out of history, once they showed their power and potential. We must not let it happen again.
3. Celebrate and value the peacefulness of women’s collective action.
As many as five million people marched in the U.S. alone, yet there was not a single arrest or violent incident. People took their kids to the protests. If there were nearly five million men protesting would the results have been the same? Would people have felt safe enough to take their children along?
This is not to criticize men—but to acknowledge that when women organize and mobilize collectively, they are peaceful and often joyful despite the anger, fear and frustration that motivated them to protest. In all my years of work, I have witnessed this globally. Yet too often, women’s peaceful actions are either taken for granted or denigrated. It is time to celebrate and lift up this model for non-violent civic action. It is also important to remember that violence against extremists is futile because they will always be willing to become more violent. Our power comes from non-violence.
4. Remember: Knowledge is not action. Action is not impact.
To turn the momentum into impact, develop a clear and focused strategy of division of labor based on comparative advantages. There are too many issues under attack and there is a risk that we will all feel compelled to either address everything or focus on matters closest at hand. But engaging in everything can become overwhelming and result in very little progress—and similarly, focusing on matters close at hand can mean larger and seemingly more complex issues are left unattended.
It is essential to be aware that conservative and extremist forces everywhere have a similar approach when it comes to women: They target women, forcing us to literally limit our horizons to our own bodies. This distracts us from engaging in other socio-political or economic issues on which they hone in. It also creates a division among men and women by framing things as “women’s issues.” (As if reproductive health care or domestic violence is not a matter for men, or that climate change or military expenditure is not a matter for women.)
But we can each avoid this by articulating the issues and determining where our passion and interests lie—be they reproductive rights, equal pay, violence against women or peace and security—and then identifying the organizations and networks already active in these spheres. Learn from them about the issues and how Congress or the administration may act—and then support them by volunteering, spreading their messages or funding them.
For example: The U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace and Security comprises over thirty organizations working on issues ranging from refugee protection and violence against women in wars to women as peacemakers and women in the military. Their expertise is unmatched. But they need support across the country to ensure that policies such as the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security are not abolished.
5. Articulate specific demands, frame them clearly, and monitor your achievements when reaching out.
Laundry lists and general ideas are easily ignored, co-opted or warped to fit an alternative political agenda. So it is first imperative to prioritize the critical “asks,” around which you can advocate to political representatives and mobilize publicly. It’s also essential to frame them in ways that prompt action.
Ask local law enforcement and politicians to sign a pledge stating that they will prevent and protect women and girls from sexual and gender based violence—and then hold them accountable for their actions. If they refuse to sign, then it implies that they condone such violence.
(And don’t use jargon!)
6. Use multiple tactics for every issue–from cajoling, informing and guiding the powers that be to naming, shaming or mockery if needed.
Sometimes, the nastiness of a possible public “outing”—especially when couched in humor—prompts action. The mockery of all male panels, or ‘manels,’ has jolted many men and organizations to ensure they include women as experts.
7. Become active at the local level—through grassroots work and directly with political representatives.
Research shows that politicians in Congress are most responsive to visits, calls and letters from members of their own constituency. The large lobby groups in the U.S. such as the NRA have long-established local networks that can be prompted into making the calls, writing in or visiting their representatives with the critical “asks” at the right time.
Get to know your representatives, keep abreast of campaigns that articulate the “asks” and at the right time, make the calls and visits to your local representatives and echo those “asks.” Some issues may be in more immediate danger, such as reproductive health and rights, in which case more people are needed to act. Other foreign policy issues—such as support to Saudi Arabia in bombing Yemen or increases in military spending versus cuts in education or healthcare—are those in which an increase in citizen voices and demand for accountability can counter the outsized influence of the corporate sector and boutique lobbyists.
8. Connect globally, because you are not alone or isolated.
The world watched and cheered American women on Saturday. From Syria to Colombia, women with fewer resources and much greater insecurity have been standing up and speaking out for decades—and American women should learn about their histories and their strategies. Moreover, as U.S. citizens and taxpayers we have a responsibility to others in the world because of the weight and might of the U.S. globally. We cannot forget that policies made in Washington impact the lives of women and their families far away. As my partners in the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) say: When the U.S. catches the flu, the world catches pneumonia.
On January 23, Donald Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule to prevent the funding of reproductive health care for women and girls in developing countries. “Reinstating this policy directly targets the world’s women and girls,” Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, wrote, “and rolls back reproductive health and rights around the world.”
We must act—on our own behalf and on behalf of the women of the world who are impacted by our nation’s policies. Connecting globally is easy these days. WASL, a network, I’ve helped to develop, joins women’s organizations and individuals connected across 27 countries—working at the grassroots and nationally to prevent the spread of extremism and to promote equality, peace and pluralism. The Global Fund for Women, Urgent Action Fund and many other organizations are also just a click away.
9. Remain engaged and active.
Participation in one protest does not a movement make. Activism has moments of high adrenaline, but to be effective engagement on an ongoing basis is required. There are many ways to support this movement—from funding non-governmental organizations to volunteering to political advocacy and beyond.
To avoid burnout, it is best to determine how much time and energy can be devoted to a cause. While for many people, donating to a cause is the easiest route. We live in times where ‘putting our mouth where our money is” will have greater impact.
Stand up and speak out for your values. Democracy is about advanced citizenship. If you don’t speak for yourself, someone else will fill that void.
10. Inspire and be inspired.
Remember that each of us has the power to be a source of empowerment and inspiration for others. When we see and hear each other, it generates a positive reinforcing cycle. Our strength comes from embracing and celebrating our extreme pluralism. Our power comes from our belief in the goodness and decency of the majority.
We are many. We are on the right side of history. We will win.
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the International Civil Society Action Network. Previously, she served as Director of the Women Waging Peace Policy Commission and provided strategic guidance and training to key UN agencies, the UK government and NGOs. She is the recipient of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area Perdita Huston Award for human rights and is the Greeley Peace Scholar at the University of Massachussetts.