Transnational Feminist Development Networks

Feminist action aims to change the gender hierarchy and women’s social status.[i] “Another world is possible and women are building it!,” declared the women’s caucus at a 2002 conference in Monterey, Mexico. International feminism developed in the early 20th century, as when European and US suffragettes exchanged ideas and socialist women’s groups organized in various countries. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom formed during World War I, headed by Jane Addams, is still active. Second Wave feminist ideas spread around the world in the 1960s and 70s as the number of educated women increased. Transnational feminist networks with a global perspective rather than national orientation multiplied after 1985, interacting with international organizations like the United Nations, as well as local organizations. They were formed by educated, middle-class, employed women, often dissatisfied with sexism they experienced in left-wing movements.[ii]

Since the early 1980s in the Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher era, some feminist networks oppose neoliberal economic policies such as sweatshop labor in favor a Keynesian welfare state. For example, a network for women workers in North America, the Caribbean and Mexico was formed in 1984 called Mujer a Mujer (woman to woman) and organized against NAFTA and other such economic policies. Some oppose patriarchal fundamentalism and promote Muslim women’s rights like Women Living Under Muslim Laws founded in 1984.[iii]

Most transnational women’s networks (unlike national organizations like the National Organization for Women) have a loose organizational framework following feminist processes of democratic, inclusive, participatory, informal, decentralized and nonhierarchical structures and processes, according to Valentine Moghadam.[iv] She observes that women’s social movements are more radical and transformative than many of the social movements often studied by sociologists, but were not anti-state anarchists. She speculates an alliance of feminists and labor would be powerful.[v] The UN Decade for Women (1976 to 1985) facilitated conversations and sometimes clashes between feminists in the Global North and South. The UN continued sponsoring women’s conferences and formed UN Women in 2010 (United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.) A major theme is “women’s rights are human rights,” despite cultural traditions like female circumcision. AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) advocates, “No tradition, cultural practice or religious tenet can justify the violation of a fundament human right . . .not subject to a religious veto.”[vi]

WID (women-in-development) researchers in developing countries began using feminist approaches and developed a new transnational feminism, aided by Internet communication since the 1990s. Jamaican Peggy Antrobus, a founder of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) contrasts the male view of power to dominate with female concept of power to empower others.


Feminism offers the only politics which can transform our world into a more human place and deal with issues like equality, development, and peace, because it asks the right questions: about power, about the links between the personal and the political; and because it cuts through race and class. Feminism implies consciousness of all the sources of oppression: race, class, gender, homophobia, and it resists them all. Feminism is a call for action.


WIDE (Women in Development in Europe) is composed of European feminists who lobby their governments’ development polices to include women’s well-being, similar to WEDO in the US, Sisterhood is Global Institute in Canada calls itself the “Think Tank of International Feminism,” interacting with many other similar groups.

[i] Valentine Moghadam. Globalizing Women: Transnational Feminist Networks. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, p. 79.

[ii] Moghadam, p. 86.


[iv] Moghadam, p. 82.

[v] Moghadam, pp. 192, 197.

[vi] Moghadam, p. 200.


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