Transnational social movement; principal achievements of the USA women´s rights movement


Human right constitutes a fundamental issue in every society. The United States is one of the countries that have recognised the value of observing human rights. Prior to the 1990s, the US was characterised by extensive violation of human rights (Rosen & Yoon 2009). During the 19th century, the US was largely concerned with advocacy of human rights in the international arena. However, Rosen and Yoon (2009) assert that ‘the US has experienced an increase in calls to bring human rights home’ (p.507). The calls were largely facilitated by different non-governmental organisations. One of the notable organisations relates to the efforts of women’s rights activist groups, who have played a major role in establishing a link between international and domestic calls for human rights.

Women’s rights groups are notable transnational social movements whose impact and purpose transcends national borders. The efforts by women’s rights activists led to the establishment of a transnational social movement that gained momentum during the 19th century. The rationale of the transnational social movement organisations is to change some elements in society.  During the 1960s, women’s movements were established with the purpose of advocating for different aspects such as social justice and reproduction amongst other aspects (McBride, Mazur & Lovenduski, 2010). Rupp (2011) asserts that the first wave of the women’s movement was characterised by women missionaries, migrants, and travellers across the Atlantic region hence making it’s a transnational movement. The women were focused on promoting women’s cause. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the principal achievement of the US women’s rights movement and how it became a transnational movement. The analysis focuses on the integration of opportunity and mobilising perspectives within the women’s rights movement in the US and how the structures enhanced the movements’ success. The analysis focuses on key achievements with reference to eliminating violence against women and discrimination against women with reference to voting, property ownership, and equality in the workplace.       

 Transnational social movement; Women’s rights movement

Opportunity structures

Establishment of women’s rights movement is founded on the open structure approach because of the unity of purpose amongst the different women’s groups. In establishing the transnational social movement organisations, the women groups ensured that all women across the globe have an opportunity to unite in pursuing the common goal (McAdam 1999). Hutchison (2012) asserts that ‘transnational social movements are established due to prevalence of oppression in different facets of the society’ (p. 315). Thus, women’s rights movement organisations were comprised of women groups who had developed common feminist ideologies. Additionally, the women groups were comprised of women drawn from different social backgrounds such as individual women advocates on equal lights, adherents of different religions, and women advocates on occupational aspects (Joannou & Purvis, 1998). The women established a coalition by formalising contacts with the objective of pursuing a common cause. Nevertheless, Rupp (2011) asserts that ‘despite the grand pronouncement of universality, obstacles to the equal participation of all groups of women belied the global ambitions of the organisations, creating a movement of predominantly European-origin, Christian, order women’ (p.16). Under the concept of openness, women’s rights movement undertook a collective action in pursuing women’s rights. As a result of the collective action, the women’s rights movement organisations were able to resist the unfair treatment against women with reference to different spheres of life such as involvement in politics.



Mobilising structure

The success of the transnational women’s rights movement was also fostered by establishment of effective mobilising structures. Hutchison (2012) underlines the need for establishing effective advocacy organisations in order to succeed transnational social movements to achieve the intended goal. Conversely, Debenham (2014) asserts that mobilising structures relate to the pre-existing networks and groups.  The mobilising structures may either relate to establishment of formal or informal structures.  The rationale of establishing formal or informal structures is based on the resource mobilisation theory, which proposes that effective coordination and organisation of activities within social movement organisations is critical (Hutchison, 2012). To strengthen their efficacy in advocating for women’s rights, the women’s rights movement organisations focused on establishing effective organisations as evaluated herein.

First, the women’s rights activists established the International Council of Women (ICW) in 1888, which was one of the most successful transnational women’s movements.  The conference that led to establishment of the ICW drew women from different backgrounds such as temperance societies, professional groups, moral purity organisations, labour groups, and peace organisations (Rupp, 2011). The rationale of establishing the ICW was to enhance coalition of amongst women groups. This approach enabled different countries to establish National Councils. Amongst the countries that have benefited from establishment of National Councils include the United States, Australia, Sweden, the UK, and Denmark amongst other countries (Rupp, 2011).  The ICW advocated for different women’s rights issues such as public health, public health, immigration, trades, and profession. The ICW was characterised by aristocratic leadership, which ensured that the course of action adopted in the pursuit for women’s rights was acceptable by all women.

The challenges associated with operations of the ICW led to the formation of the International Alliance of Women (IAW). The IAW focused on solidifying global support by recognising variation in the global needs of women. For example, IAW undertook annual conferences in different countries in order to gain support from different women’s activists. The IAW focused on different women’s issues such as equal pay, slavery, prostitution, and nationality of married women (United Nations Human Rights, 2015). Additionally, mobilisation of the women’s movement is also underlined by the establishment of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The purpose of this organisation was to foster peace as one of the central issues in society. Thus, the organisation was founded on the rationale that international disputes in society should be resolved peacefully. The WILPF established a functional international structure which ensured that the organisation operated efficiently. The League’s core function was to promote the full liberation of women (McAdam, 1999).

The operation of the three transnational women groups was also supported by establishment of transnational coalitions. Thus, women groups which were formed by women from different national backgrounds and who advocated for different aspects of women’s rights undertook constant meetings in an effort to discuss the issues affected by women. The coalition played a fundamental role in promoting women’s rights.

Case study; Women’s rights movement in the USA

 The importance of establishing effective opportunity structures and mobilising structures in the success of transnational social movement is underlined by the achievements of women’s right movement in the United States. First, the women’s right movement organisations established a clear opportunity structure by focusing on promoting women’s rights in the society. Additionally, operations of the social movement organisations in the US were facilitated by the integration of the network model. According to Hutchison (2012), the network model proposes that ‘everyday ties between people in grassroots settings are the basic structure for communication and social solidarity necessary for mobilisation’ (p.317).  Therefore, development of formal and informal structures is critical in achieving the success with which social movement organisations achieve the intended goal.

The United States ranks amongst the countries characterised by remarkable success in promoting women’s rights. According to Goel and Goodmark (2015), the US considers violence as a form of discrimination against women.  Subsequently, different initiatives have been established in an effort to promote different issues affecting women in society.  For example, during the 1970s, different women groups joined forces in the quest to eliminate violence against women by providing shelter to battered women (Larsen, 2016). The initiative gained momentum as more women who had experienced violence emerged. This led to establishment of different women’s programs across the US, whose core objective was to eliminate violence as one of the human rights issues faced by women. Thus, the women’s movement organisations ensured that clear goals were articulated prior to commencement of their social activism activities. Through coalition, the women established a movement that was recognised by courts and law enforcement agencies.

As a result of coalition, the battered women movement exchanged ideas on how to integrate an effective reformist approach in overcoming violence against women. Through their concerted effort, women’s rights movement groups in the US have succeeded in pressuring the US legislature to formulate and enact the Violence Against Women Act (1994) (Larsen, 2016).  This aspect underlines the fact that social movements in the US have succeeded in integrating cultural framing, which entails a ‘conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared understanding of the world and of themselves that motivate people to undertake a legitimate action’ (p. 319).  This achievement is underlined by identification of the most appropriate pathway for action.

The enactment of VAWA 1994 has played a fundamental role in enhancing women’s rights in the US. This arises from the fact that the government has established effective structures to support investigation and prosecution of crimes involving violence against women. For example, Larsen (2016) affirms that ‘the US government has established the Federal Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice and delivered $1.6 billion for investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women’ (p.63).  Through this approach, the activities of women’s rights movements in the US have led to significant reduction in violence against women.

Women’s rights movements in the US have also established coalitions with renowned transnational social movements in the quest to promote women’s access to social justice. This assertion is underlined by the establishment of the New York City Human Rights Initiative, which is comprised of a coalition of different community-based organisations, advocates and service providers (Rosen & Yoon, 2009). The initiative has played a critical role in enhancing the efficacy with which women in the US access social justice. One of the factors that have fostered the initiative’s success entails establishment of coalitions with different transnational movements such as the Voices of Women (VOW), Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (Rosen & Yoon, 2009).  The coalition between the New York City Human Rights and CEDAW underlines the fact that women’s movement organisations in the US are focused on achieving success in promoting women’s rights despite the fact that the US is yet to ratify CEDAW.

The establishment of the above initiatives has played a fundamental role in strengthening women’s position in the society and access to justice in the US. Additionally, establishing coalition with international women’s right organisations such as CERD and CEDAW indicates that women’s movement organisations in the US have managed to achieve transnational status. Through such coalitions, the women’s rights movement in the US is able to promote the rights of different women in the US irrespective of their demographic, social, economic, or political status. Thus, the coalitions have played a fundamental role in improving the efficacy with which women access domestic social justice. In an effort to promote women’s rights, the women’s movement organisations in the US have increased pressure on the US government to ratify CEDAW, which is a global treaty aimed at promoting women’s rights across the world (CEDAW, 2014).

 To increase the likelihood of achieving this end, the initiatives have established coalitions with other initiatives such as the International Amnesty USA Women’s Program, Women of Colour Policy Network, and the Urban Justice Centre Human Rights Project (Rosen & Yoon 2009). Through such coalition, the women’s movement organisations are able to access social justice because of the availability of cooperation with international human rights advocates.

In addition to addressing violence against women, the women’s rights movement in the United States has also played an essential role in eliminating discrimination against women with reference to political rights. Traditionally, women in the United States did not have the right to vote.  According to Geer et al. (2015), the US Constitution did not recognise the importance of providing women equal rights with reference t different aspects such as property ownership, the right to vote, or enter into a contract.  Different states in the USA established distinct rules with reference to women’s right to vote. For example, women’s right to vote in New Jersey was limited to the extent to which women met the stipulated requirements. However, efforts by women suffrage movement organisations have significantly led to the reformation of the US constitution hence providing women the right to vote (Critchlow & VanderMeer, 2012).  One of the women’s suffrage movements that contributed to the achievement of women’s right to vote entails the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), which conducted state-by-state campaign for suffrage rights (Geer et al., 2015).

The women’s rights movement organisations adopted different methodologies in an effort to attain suffrage. Amongst the methodologies adopted include civil disobedience, mass demonstrations, picketing, and parades (Gilmore, 2008). To achieve the intended goal, the American suffragists’ movement organisations restructured itself into the League of Women Voters (Harrison 2016). In addition to voting rights, the feminist movement organisations sought to enhance honest election practices, child welfare, and elimination of discriminative practices against women. The effort by the women’s rights movement organisation led to Nineteenth Amendment of the US constitution. According to Harrison (2016), the amendment entailed elimination of discrimination with reference to voting on the basis of gender.  This achievement is underlined by the enactment of the Civil Rights Act 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination with reference to promotion, salary and wage level, and access to employment opportunities.  Thus, the women’s rights movement in the US have contributed towards attainment of equality between the male and female genders (Egnal, 2015). Women’s rights movement efforts further contributed to elimination of discriminative practices against women with reference to different aspects such as property ownership. 


Women’s rights movement organisations in the United States of America have achieved attained remarkable success with reference to promotion of women’s rights in the society. Through their activities, the organisations have been able to promote attainment of social justice amongst women.  Amongst the principle achievements entail elimination of violence against women, voting rights, and property ownership.  Efforts of the US women’s rights movement organisations have therefore led to notable constitutional reforms as evidenced by the enactment of different legislations and Acts.  The women’s rights movement’s success in achieving this end has largely been enhanced by the integration of effective opportunity and mobilising structures. First, the women’s rights movement organisations were focused on achieving a specific goal. Thus, the women’s rights movement organisations were intended at eliminating different aspects that hinder women’s rights. Operations of the women’s rights movement were based on the concept of openness. The analysis of women’s right movement further affirms that the success of the women’s right movement has been necessitated by integration of effective mobilising structures. This aspect is underlined by integration of formal and informal structures in the operation of the social movements. Amongst the notable formal structures entail establishment of different institutions’ such as ICW, WILPF, and IAW. Through establishment of formal and informal structures and coalition with international women’s rights movement organisation, women’s right movement in the US has been able to position themselves as transnational social movement. For example, the organisations have established effective coalition with different transnational social movement organisations such as CEDAW, the United Nations, and CERD. Additionally, the US women’s rights movement has fostered attainment of women’s rights amongst all women irrespective of their origin, nationality, or social status.



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