CFP: Gender and Democracy: Women’s Activism in a Long-Term Political Perspective


Call for papers for the Yearbook of Women’s History (2015) – Jaarboek voor Vrouwengeschiedenis

In the year of the Arab Spring, UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon remarked in his opening address to a UN Roundtable on Gender Equality and Democracy: “It is no coincidence that the revolutionary fervor sweeping North Africa and the Middle East began in Tunisia – and that women played such a role. Tunisia was among the first Arab countries to grant women the right to vote, in the late 1950s. Tunisian women have also made important gains in the professions and parliament. Girls growing up with such role models quite naturally expect to follow suit.” He went on to conclude: “While women’s political participation improves democracy, the reverse is also true: democracy is an incubator for gender equality” (UN Roundtable, 4 May 2011). Such a strong public statement suggesting a self-evident connection between women’s empowerment and democratic politics may be read as an auspicious indication of ways in which feminist aspirations have become acknowledged in high places. However, it also raises questions. Most importantly: does every kind of women’s activism really automatically improve democracy? The 2015 Yearbook of Women’s History will devote itself to this issue.

Of the many conceptual issues meriting exploration in depth, there are two we want to foreground. First, there is the issue of how to evaluate the tensions in the democratic content of women’s activism. The growing literature on the entanglement of gender with other forms of social inequality, and the rise of concepts such as “intersectionality”, have given us many insightful studies on the contradictions complicating women’s participation in anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles. While the older literature on women’s activism inside labor organizations and left-wing politics had already introduced awareness of the historical tensions between feminism and socialism, political developments in Europe after 1989 produced renewed interest in this topic (e.g. Kolinsky and Nickel 2003). Despite all this, the historiography of women’s activism as it stands still shows a certain bias – in focusing mainly on “progressive” movements and assuming a positive connection between feminism and left-wing politics, or between women’s activism and democracy. But as the heated debates on women in Nazi Germany after Claudia Koonz’s Mothers in the Fatherland (1988) have made clear, the possibility of women being “rebels against democracy” should also be considered seriously. For this Yearbook we therefore welcome not only studies of women in labour unions and suffrage struggles, but also research on right-wing women activists, the complex political message of fundamentalist women, or groups like Femen and Pussy Riot.

The second issue concerns the democratic forms of women’s activism. While much has been written about early women’s activism in Europe and the United States (e.g. Scott 1996, Applewhite and Levy 1990, Everard 2001, Zagarri 2007), as well as the organizing of women in the widely-studied nineteenth and twentieth centuries (e.g. Offen 2000, 2010, Yearbook 1984, 1985, 1991, 2000, 2009), we know far less about the actual practice of organizing. In this respect most studies of women’s organizing have remained too close to the traditional concerns of political history, which have tended to favor the “why” over the “how”. As a possible exception the recent work of Linda Gordon (2012) on feminism and leadership in participatory democracy comes to mind. We would like to see contributions in the same vein, which would pay careful attention to the ways in which various organizational practices invent and recreate certain forms of the political, possibly also excluding or opposing other such forms, or even presenting themselves as anti- or a-political. We are particularly interested in approaches that try to move beyond dichotomous interpretative frames, such as male versus female styles, utopian versus realistic politics, expressive versus instrumental politics, or top-down versus bottom-up leadership styles. By tackling such issues, the study of women activists and their organizing practices could contribute not only to a more precise understanding of what is often very loosely termed the “empowerment of women”, but also to a broader and more historically grounded understanding of “democracy”.

For more information please send an email to Mieke Aerts (guest editor):

Please send your paper abstract (maximum 300 words) before 10 February 2015 to Evelien Walhout (editorial secretary):

Proposed time schedule:

Deadline abstracts: 10 Feb. 2015

Deadline first version papers: 1 Apr. 2015

Peer review: 15 May 2015

Deadline second version: 15 June 2015

Final editing: 1 Sept. 2015

Publication: December 2015