Professor S. Laurel Weldon has analyzed a half-century worth of regional and global feminist mobilization trends.

FASS News, Faculty, Research, Political Science

New research reveals power of women’s movements over the past 50 years

March 06, 2020

Over the last 50 years, women’s movements have become a powerful force in advocating for gender equality. But how powerful? SFU political science professor S. Laurel Weldon has studied the impact of women’s movements around the globe and finds they have advanced women’s economic empowerment. They have led to more egalitarian workplace regulations, more equitable land rights, better access to financial institutions, expanded legal protections for domestic workers and protection from sexual harassment.

Weldon and her research team developed a new measure called the Feminist Mobilization Index that gives a more complete picture than ever before of feminist activism trends from 1975 to 2015 and across 126 countries. This research effectively demonstrates that women’s movements do contribute to closing the gap for gender inequality by improving women’s economic livelihoods.

“Our research shows that women’s movements over the last 50 years have become a guiding force for women’s economic empowerment, and strengthen democracies more broadly,” says Weldon. “Feminist mobilization is associated with reduced child marriage and changed attitudes about women in politics and violence against women.”

The project, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, analyzed social media from key campaigns related to women’s economic empowerment. Fieldwork in seven countries and traditional measures of transnational feminism gave the social media analysis context and nuance.

Feminist Mobilization Index 1975

Feminist Mobilization Index 2015

In the maps above, the numbers and colours correspond to the ranking of each country on the Feminist Mobilization Index. The nations with higher numbers and darker colours have strong, autonomous feminist movements.

Weldon’s research indicates that today we are in the midst of another resurgence of feminist organizing, bolstered by the explosion of online activism and global activities associated with #MeToo and the Women’s March. While the growth of brick-and-mortar women’s organizations may be slowing, online grassroots activism is proving to be an effective platform for connecting activists and organizations—and building solidarity.

The research is presented in a series of three working papers [link] that show how, through feminist activism, women and girls can effectively demand social and policy changes that reflect the needs and realities of their lives. Grassroots women’s movements are an important and still growing mechanism for ensuring policymakers and decision-makers are held accountable for reforms that can close the gap on women’s equality, especially when it comes to economic empowerment and protection from violence and discrimination.