Communities are contested spaces, and women continue to struggle to claim their places within them. Equality for all women in every sphere of life has yet to be achieved in any country. However, this is not a statement for despair because much has been achieved in the decades since CEDAW was endorsed by the UN. Women are playing more important roles in their communities, whether these are located at the local, national, international or virtual level(s). Forming alliances across the many social divisions and physical boundaries that divide diverse groups of women becomes crucial in further progressing the goal of eliminating gendered inequalities (Mohanty, 2003). This chapter concludes by arguing for recognising and strengthening women’s engagement in public relational space alongside that occurring in private relational space in the home and community; encouraging women’s full participation in decision making at the local, national and international levels on all matters that affect their lives; creating the social resources to facilitate such involvement, such as childcare provisions; and engaging men in doing housework and caring work. Thus, I conclude the book by calling for women’s work in communities to become more visible, celebrated and valued and to involve men in delivering what has been traditionally considered ‘women’s work’.
Communities, however defined, specify women’s location and the spaces wherein they lead their lives, caring for and supporting others, while also seeking to realise their full potential as women wanting to engage with and contribute to wider society in their own right. Women are grounded in the locations wherein they reside among people with whom they have relationships.
Communities as contested spaces are conceived as either warm, feel-good locations admired by politicians regardless of political hue, or conflict-ridden territories that defy rationality. For example, men in societies of armed conflict dominate women through patriarchal relations of control that suppress women’s autonomous action alongside controlling entire populations. Gender relations configure the categories of men and women in relationships revolving within a patriarchal binary dyad of superiority and inferiority. These relations are enacted within community spaces that favour men over women by propagating a deficit model of gendered relations to define patriarchal gendered spaces and suggest that women lack the attributes ascribed to men. Some of the spaces that perform gender (Butler, 1990) are defined as men-only or women-only. Women are not passive in performing gender. They exercise agency in multidimensional, fluid communities that undergo processes of affirmation, resistance and change as relations (re)form through complex negotiations involving diverse intersecting social divisions including age, ability, sexual orientation, class and ethnicity (Crenshaw, 2012). Through performance, patriarchal gender relations can be affirmed even as women resist the hierarchies of oppression that feature in their lives (Butler, 1990).
Gendered relations in Britain assume a white, middle-class heteronormativity that privileges white middle-class men who subscribe to a hegemonic or ‘straight’ masculinity accompanied by a subjugated femininity and non-hegemonic masculinities. Men who are different – for example black men, gay men, disabled men – are configured as having subjugated masculinities (Connell, 1995). But they rank above women within wider social groupings (Whitehead, 2002). This arrangement between men and women is assumed to be natural, immutable and unlikely to be challenged by the majority population.
Tackling inequality in the workplace remains an important arena for feminist interventions that encourage social and economic developments for women in both waged labour and unpaid caring work. In undertaking this, they tackled both public relational spaces and domestic relational spaces respectively. Feminist social action has exposed the monotony and drudgery characterising housework (Oakley, 1974); highlighted damage to women’s emotional development and careers caused by the gendered division of labour in both domestic (Gavron, 1966) and waged employment (Armstrong, 1984; Coyle and Skinner, 1988); and exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in workplaces and violence in the home (Benn and Sedley, 1982). Feminists also identified the compulsion for men to persist in emotionally and physically numbing work to act as economic providers for their families (Dominelli, 1986a).
Feminist action in the workplace has revealed the connections and contradictions between a woman’s experience of herself as a nurturer in the community and employee in paid employment. Feminists have organised within equal opportunities initiatives to promote egalitarian relations at work, in political parties, autonomous feminist groups, trade union movements and boardrooms to secure social justice for women through both male-dominated and women-only groups.
In this chapter, I examine feminist action in creating working environments more conducive to women’s workplace rights and consider the patchy nature of feminist achievements on this front. I highlight the importance of dealing with equal pay, sexual harassment and promotion prospects. I also look at the relationship between waged work, unpaid domestic labour and their impact upon men’s and women’s lives in the home, including the division of domestic caring for children and older dependants.
Women’s inequality is evident throughout society and needs fundamental changes to occur in governance and decision-making structures for an egalitarian world to emerge. Around 52% of women in intimate relationships such as marriage still do not make their own decisions about consensual sex, contraceptives and health services. Moreover, 19% of women aged between 19 and 49 claim to have endured physical and/or sexual violence within the past year. Intimate partners were the perpetrators of almost half of the murders of women. In the UK, on average two women are being murdered per week (ONS, 2016). Violence in intimate relationships is also an issue of representation and governance, reflecting women’s disempowerment in both domestic and public relational spaces. Globally, child marriages affect 700 million or one in four young girls, and female genital mutilation (FGM) occurs to 200 million or one in three of them (Kelleher, 2014). The global figure varies according to region and country, being higher in some and lower in others, depending on cultural factors. Other types of inequalities also abound. For example, in the USA, women undertake 2.8 hours of unpaid domestic work daily compared to1.7 hours for men. Women earn 80 cents for every dollar (100 cents) men make. This figure declines to 60 cents for black women in America. Such data makes the case for addressing gender equality on a holistic basis involving leadership, economic empowerment, freedom from violence and quality education for women ever more urgent. In this context, tackling the political representation deficit becomes a key step in the struggle for equality.
Women have focused on changing policy in different countries through local, national and international initiatives, the latter endorsed by the United Nations since the 1970s. The first world summit on women occurred in Mexico in 1975 and gave rise to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. Further summits and many actions later, full equality for women remains a goal to be achieved globally. Key milestones have included the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, which shifted discourses to define women’s rights as human rights and tempt men into supporting equality for women, especially in ending domestic violence.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) depicted a major undertaking intended to have a significant impact on women’s lives. Of the eight MDGs which were to be implemented between 2000 and 2015, MDG3 was particularly aimed at promoting gender equality and empowering women. Others, including those which sought to reduce poverty among women, improve maternal health and increase girl children’s chances to receive education, also sought to improve the position of women (OASGI, 2008; Wilkinson and Hulme, 2012). The UN had limited success in achieving the MDG goals, and in 2015 the MDGs were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This action expanded the eight MDG goals to 17 SDGs. These are to be implemented by 2030 and have human rights and sustainability at their centre (SDGs, 2015). SDG5 specifically seeks to enhance women’s lives by promoting gender equality and empowering women. Those SDGs that attempt to eliminate poverty and improve health and education emphasise that they are ‘for all’ without prioritising women.
Women have been involved in sustained action in their communities for centuries as they have sought to improve conditions for their children, wider family networks and communities and acquire gender equality. Women and men continue to occupy different spaces in their communities: women in the home in domestic relational space and men in the public sphere or public relational space (Mitchell, 2009). Domestic relational space may be an unsafe space for women because violence in intimate relationships bedevils social relations in all countries. UNWomen claims that, globally, one woman in three experiences violence from intimate partners, a ratio that rises to 70% in some countries. Moreover, 700 million women alive today were married when under the age of 18 (UNDESA, 2015). Feminist social action has challenged the assignation of women to an often unsafe private sphere and exclusion from the public arena, especially those elements involving paid employment, political representation and leadership in key global corporations and public institutions. Some progress has been made after centuries of feminist organising in all three of these domains. Gains have been uneven, with different countries holding pride of place in various arenas. For example, Rwanda scores high in parliamentary political representation but this is coupled with widespread levels of poverty. Women constitute 70% of poor people globally without this being reflected in political institutions. In the West, women continue to press for higher levels of political representation, and only a few have broken the corporate ‘glass ceiling’. Much remains to be accomplished everywhere.
Gender is fractured along and interacts with various social divisions, through intersectionality.
Collective action is a crucial aspect of feminist activities aimed at securing transformational social change including campaigns and mass mobilisations to achieve specific goals that can cover housing issues, social problems including poverty, transportation and the formulation and implementation of community development, sustainability and resilience strategies. This chapter draws on case studies to consider how communities enhance their capacities to form alliances and develop strategies for mass actions and community resilience, such as the development of hurricane action plans for Charleston, South Carolina in the USA; or anti-poverty projects promoting entrepreneurialism and enterprises run by women in South Africa. Women have achieved considerable success in local community-based projects founded upon their local knowledge, skills, networks and community mobilisation capacities. Some initiatives have floundered against men’s opposition. Lessons can be learnt from the fragmentation of the women’s movement and its failure to sustain the creativity, vision and ambition of the 1960s and 1970s. Mainstream feminists’ neglect of marginalised women’s voices, particularly those of black and minority ethnic women, queer women and diverse sexual orientations, fractured and fragmented a movement that remains in that mode. In contemporary society, the securitisation of the state and legitimacy of Islamophobia have increased schisms within feminist groups and communities. This leaves the concern of how to enable women to form alliances that promote unity of purpose while recognising their differences.
In this chapter, I scrutinise feminist campaigns around childcare, domestic violence against women and children, child sexual abuse, and peace. I show that feminist community activists use ‘the personal is political’ as a central organising principle to redefine matters that society relegates to the private realm outside the scope of social concerns that are public and affect everyone.
Traditional forms of community engagement ignored sustainability unless they were directly concerned with environmental matters. Fortunately, community sustainability in the twenty-first century is becoming a central part of community development discourses given current concerns with environmental issues, (hu)man-made and natural disasters including climate change, environmental justice and the promotion of green social work (Dominelli, 2012b). Sustainability was defined in the Brundtland Report (1987) as having the capacity to meet today’s needs without jeopardising the capacity of future generations to meet theirs. This definition implies using resources wisely for current and future generations of people and is now supported by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are 17 SDGs, all having to meet worthy aims such as ending poverty, hunger, gender discrimination and developing sustainable cities and environments. I have expanded the definition of sustainability to include all living things – animals and plants – and the physical environment in a holistic approach to social justice, structural inequalities, interdependency and connectedness in caring for and protecting planet earth indefinitely (Dominelli, 2012b). This chapter explores women’s actions in developing sustainable communities, the challenges they encounter in doing so, and women’s incorporation into traditional gender relations through social development initiatives. I examine instances of sustainable development that have attracted both intellectual and activist interest, such as the Sierra Nevada Alliance which seeks to protect communities, water, land, wildlife through conservation projects.
The 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment and 1980 World Conservation Strategy of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature separated development from the environment in taking these issues forward and gave rise to the Brundtland Commission on Sustainable Development (a term it coined) to unify the conservation of nature and the environment with intergenerational equity, gender equity and poverty alleviation.
Historically, women and men have been assigned to different spaces in their communities. Although several decades of feminist social action have made significant progress to the social, economic and political condition of many women, change has been uneven and there remain considerable advancements to be made globally.
This valuable third edition considers women’s changing position in the world today, updating some of the perennial challenges that women face and examining new and emerging issues including digital exclusion, sustainable community development and environmental justice.
Published in association with the British Association of Social Workers, this book is an invaluable resource for students and practitioners of social work, community work, sociology and social policy.
Traditional community action has failed to deal adequately with individual need and respond appropriately to individual circumstances and personal expectations due to its commitment to collective action. Arguing that structural arrangements have a direct bearing on personal experiences, feminist community workers have addressed this problem by linking personal woes to structural relationships and theorising individual predicaments as reflective of specific constellations of social relations as stipulated in public relational space which impacts upon domestic relational space. This chapter examines feminist action on the personal level. It considers feminist ways of working that tap into the dynamics of identity formation, building confidence and self-esteem, raising consciousness, advocacy and counselling. It also explores services that women have developed to engage with these issues, including those involving feminist counselling and other therapeutic interventions.
Each individual woman has a very personal experience of oppression, albeit one given meaning by engaging with social situations, institutions and structures. Feminists have developed theories and practices to reduce individual women’s suffering and eliminate collective hardship. Feminist therapy, including counselling, feminist social work and practice in feminist health collectives, has been central in developing feminist responses to individual women while at the same time locating their emotional distress within the structural constraints that impact upon their personal lives, lending credence to the slogan ‘the personal is political’ in linking individual concerns with structural considerations.
Feminists have used consciousness-raising in individual work and small groups to highlight the connections between individual women’s plights and their social subordination (Howell and Bayes, 1981; Bondi and Burman, 2001).