On April 11, 12 and 13, 2019, join us for the conference “From Protest to Politics: Women’s Movements and Strengthening Democracies.” Globally, there is rising concern over the future of liberal democracies. For the last sixty-years, there was a consistent pattern of the expansion of democratic governments. These advances were often the result of engaged citizens working collectively through social movements. Engaged citizens have won the expansion of civil rights, participation, policies and new laws to ensure equality. However, we now face a widespread loss of faith in democracy and the rise of populist parties and authoritarian leaders. Our conference brings together scholars to analyze the current moment.
Gwynn Thomas, Associate Professor
Chair, Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
The conference is free and open to the public with advance registration via the link (above).
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Friday, April 12, 2019
105 Harriman Hall, South Campus
Saturday, April 13, 2019
509 O'Brian Hall, North Campus
Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies
The Baldy Center for Law & Social Policy
Panel One, From the Second Wave to Pink Pussy Hats: Lessons from Previous Women’s Movements.
Panel Two, Women’s Movements and Protesting Populist and Authoritarian Governments: Lessons from a Global Perspective.
Panel Three, Election 2018: Lessons from Women’s Engagement with Electoral Politics.
Panel Four, Radical Coalitions and New Models of Politics: Lessons from Intersectional Movements Panel Five: Recap and next steps.
(Panel titles are preliminary and subject to change)
Globally, there is rising concern over the future of liberal democracies. For the last sixty- years, there was a consistent pattern of the expansion of democratic governments and the strengthening of democratic norms. These advances were often the result of engaged citizens working collectively through social movements. Social movements based in the political identities of women, racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and indigenous populations have won the expansion of civil rights, democratic participation, and policies and laws promoting equality. However, we are now facing a widespread loss of faith in democracy and democratic institutions and the rise of populist parties and authoritarian leaders.
In 2017, the United States, for the second time, was ranked as a “flawed democracy” in the Democracy Index complied by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have sounded the alarm about what they see as a troubling pattern of polarization and norm violation in the United States, patterns that in other countries have lead to a rise of authoritarian politics and a weakening of democracy (How Democracies Die, 2017). In addition, many of the rights, legal protections, and economic protections won by women, sexual minorities and racial and ethnic minorities are in danger of being chipped away. Rising to meet the current threats has been an unprecedented groundswell of organizing, particularly by a diversity of women. Women are organizing and leading this renewed moment of political activism. The Women’s Marches, called in protest over the election of Donald Trump, became the single largest day of political protest in U.S. history, with millions taking to the streets.
The Women’s Marches joined already existing movements at the intersections of racial, gender, environmental and economic justice, including movements such as Black Lives Matter, #SayHerName, the Standing Rock and DAPL protests, the Fight for 15, and the DREAMers, among many others. In 2018, the MeToo# movement burst onto the scene, leading to a renewed national discussion about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. The women’s marches were also the first sign of a renewed interest by women in elected political office. Over 26,000 women have contacted Emily’s List for information and training to run for public office. Recent state elections in Virginia and New Jersey showed that this energy is translating into electoral gains for a diversity of women and sexual minorities.
These tensions in our current political context are the focus of the conference. “From Protest to Politics: Women’s Movements and Strengthening Democracies” will bring together renowned scholars of women’s movements and women’s political participation to analyze the current moment. In particular, the conference will provide an opportunity for scholars that have focused on earlier women’s movements, and those who have focused on women’s movements comparatively to discuss what lessons might inform the current moment of social movement activism.
The guiding questions for the conference include: how do we analyze the current context that combines renewed social movement activism and political engagement on the part of diverse women with an erosion of democratic norms? What lessons can we learn from the past women’s movements in terms of promoting political change? What lessons can we learn from women’s movement in other countries that have engaged with and contested authoritarian politics? How are current women’s movements navigating issues of difference, including race, class and sexual identity?
The conference will draw on both UB and non-UB scholars. UB scholars include Isabel Marcus, Martha McCluskey, Gwynn Thomas, and Susan Cahn. There are also a number of current excellent graduate students who are working on women’s movements that could participate, including Karolina Kulicka (GGS), Elif Ege and Hilary Vandenbark. The conference will be the first major event sponsored by the UB College of Arts & Sciences Department of Global Gender and Sexuality Studies (previously the program of Global Gender Studies in the Department of Transnational Studies).
The conference will begin with a keynote speaker focused on discussing the 2018 election and what happened in terms of the expectations of a huge gain in the numbers of women and sexual minorities elected, and the connections between the 2018 elections and social movements. The next days acitivities will consist of a series of interrelated panels. Given the timeliness of the topic and the high public interest in these issues, it is expected that the conference papers will result in either the publication of an edited collection or a special journal issue.