ou may never know their names. They work beneath the headlines and far from the spotlight. When they receive formal recognition from bodies like the Nobel Committee, it is the exception, not the norm. But the fact remains: under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world.
The year 2017 has been a painful reminder that when men hold most of the power it’s all too easy for them to abuse it. But the moment of reckoning prompted by the “Me Too” conversation has also proven that by coming together and speaking in one voice, women can tip the balance. Thanks to these brave women, men are being held accountable for their actions as never before. It’s easy to dismiss the whispers of one woman. It’s much harder to ignore a movement.
This is a story that repeats itself all over the world. Women’s movements have successfully campaigned for workers’ rights in Pakistan, widows’ rights in Ethiopia and disability rights in Indonesia. They successfully pushed for an end to Liberia’s brutal civil war in 2003 and won suffrage in the U.S. back in 1920. In fact, a 2012 study, published in the American Political Science Review, looking at 70 countries over four decades found that women’s movements were more effective at advancing policy change–particularly on violence against women–than most other factors, including a country’s wealth and the number of women lawmakers in a legislative body. Simply put, women get things done.
Why? For one, women’s movements tend to be driven by people who share a deep, personal stake in the future of their communities. When I talked to Leymah Gbowee, who helped lead the movement that brought peace to Liberia, she told me that part of their success stemmed from the fact that the women she organized weren’t motivated by power or politics in the abstract–it was personal. “It was about our livelihood,” Leymah says.