New feminist activism, waves, and generations

Over the last decade, young women have taken the lead in a new wave of feminist and democratic protests in a wide range of countries, North and South. These movements raise a range of political and analytic questions:

  • To what extent is it useful to identify the recent wave of activism in terms of a new generation of activists?
  • How different are these new feminist movements to earlier forms, and what differences and continuities divide and unite the generations?
  • How useful is the idea of feminist “waves” as a way of periodizing the history of feminism?

These questions are explored first through examining the characteristics common to past and contemporary feminisms and dissecting the issues associated with periodizing feminism in terms of “waves”.

In the second part of the paper, the focus is on understanding the most recent wave of feminist activism by considering its antecedents and main characteristics.

Part three presents three case studies of movements in the Global South; the cases of Brazil, India, and Malawi illustrate some of the ideas, campaigns, and organizational forms of “new feminists”. They focus on three prominent themes in feminist activism:

  • Campaigns to defend democratic rights (Brazil);
  • Gender-based violence (India); and
  • Sexual and identity rights (Malawi).

This paper is part of the “UN Women discussion paper series”.

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UN Women office publishing: UN Women Headquarters
Number of pages
iv + 50