Movement within the Movement: Kurdish and Zapatista Women's Struggle for Gender Equality

Anna Rebrii, Binghamton SUNY

Scholars of women in social movements have documented a consistent pattern in which women are given organizing space within a movement but asked to wait with their demands as women until after the common cause is achieved. The experiences of the women in the Zapatista movement in Mexico and the Kurdish movement in Turkey may be considered exceptions. Within both movements, women have been encouraged by the movement leadership to challenge gender inequality within their communities while furthering the common cause of the movement. Nevertheless, the ideological commitment to women’s liberation has been accompanied in both movements by male members’ contestation of the full implementation of the principle of gender equality in practice. Women thus have had to pressure their movements to live up to the prefigurative commitment and gender egalitarian discourse. This paper looks at the challenges that Zapatista and Kurdish women have faced within their movements and the mechanisms they have developed to overcome those challenges. It attempts to evaluate the extent to which these mechanisms have enabled women to expand the organizing space initially provided by the movements’ leadership and to institutionalize women’s rights despite the internal contestation. I use a feminist intersectional lens to theorize women’s organizing against gender inequality within movements for a broader cause, following Crenshow’s conceptualization of social movements as coalitions of individuals subject to different kinds of inequalities, who formulate particular interests that may diverge from the primary common cause adopted by the movement. I also look at the ways in which a prefigurative lens, following Sitrin, overlaps and may complement intersectional analysis in examining internal transformation of social movements in regards to gender equality and beyond. The paper is based primarily on secondary research and original documents produced by the movements, as well as interviews with the participants of both movements.

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 Presented in Session 45. Women's Movement