ABSTRACT

When the United Nations (UN) declared 1975 International Women’s Year and subsequently proclaimed a Decade for Women (1976-85), feminist movements were energized worldwide and hopes were high for ending gender discrimination and women’s subordination around the globe. Decades of work of women’s rights advocates within the UN to create international recognition of the importance of gender equality finally seemed to bear fruit. Almost 40 years later, inequality is still pervasive, yet considerations of gender have entered the mainstream of policy-making to a degree previously unimagined. Governments around the world feel compelled to declare their commitment to gender equalityeven if their actual practices often do not seem to be consistent with that goal. National and international bureaucracies in issue areas ranging from development to security proclaim their adherence to gender mainstreaming. Political parties and sometimes even private sector businesses are adopting quotas geared towards achieving gender balance. In July 2010, the UN General Assembly created UN Women, the UN agency tasked to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, which can be considered the much-delayed culmination of international feminist activism. Such activism has taken many forms and reaches back at least into the nineteenth century.1 Since the second half of the twentieth century, it has gravitated around influencing the policy-making of international organizations with a particular focus on the UN and its sub-entities. From the vantage point of early twentieth-century feminist activists

many present-day achievements-among them, women’s suffrage, the

rights of working women, reproductive rights and freedom from colonial oppression-would no doubt be astonishing. How has this trend to recognize gender equality as a global goal become possible? And, those critical feminists no doubt would ask, is it really all that meets the eye? Has feminism really “broken out” around the world, and how profound are the transformations it has triggered? In this book we approach these questions through a reflection on the

concept of feminist strategies. We explore these strategies in the context of the work of intergovernmental organizations, in particular the UN and its affiliated agencies. These organizations have played a catalytic role in focusing feminist strategizing internationally, and they have been instrumental in advancing the status of women worldwide. In turn, feminist strategizing was crucial to bringing the issue of gender equality to the UN. We suggest that, together, the UN and feminist activists have formed a unique apparatus of international governance that has made possible remarkable changes in gender regimes since the mid-twentieth century. We intend for our analysis to inform the work of UN Women to help push these changes futher. As will be laid out in more detail below, we consider international

governance a realm not only entailing intergovernmental arenas, but also social and political change in domestic contexts influenced by international discourses and policies. Accordingly, the essays in this book center around feminist strategies that have aimed at influencing the inner workings of international organizations as well as their policy creation and output. Such strategies have been manifold, and we do not claim to present them all; instead, we focus on what we consider the most important contemporary multilateral feminist strategies. These can be roughly divided into two categories, namely legal or normative strategies and gender mainstreaming. Both follow an integrationist rationale: Legal or normative strategies have tried to make women’s rights and gender equality norms persuasive in purportedly gender-neutral international discourses, that is, in discourses framed as technical and issue oriented, and therefore presumably not relevant to advancing gender equality. Gender mainstreaming builds on this strategy: it is a policy management tool for organizations to ensure that all its activities affect men and women equally-or put differently, that gender equality norms become operative. Thus, the objective is to include a gender perspective by systematically analyzing and assessing the gendered effects of policies, projects and programs.2 In terms of implementing gender equality norms, gender mainstreaming is both far reaching and at risk of being co-opted within organizations where feminist knowledge or gender expertise is not widespread. The contributions in this book focus on empirical analysis, that

is, they introduce concrete cases of feminist strategy creation and application in the issue areas of human rights, security and economic governance, and they evaluate the degree to which these interventions have produced change or become diluted vis-à-vis other normative or organizational claims.3