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Changing shape, shaping change: The women’s movement, ‘NGO-isation’ and state institutions

Open Panel

Abstract

The creation of state mechanisms for gender equality and the development of autonomous women''s groups are often seen as processes at odds with one another. For example, in the Australian context it is sometimes claimed that the early success of the ‘femocrats’ in creating state institutions for gender equality reduced the energy available for the broader grass-roots movement outside the state. At the same time, the ‘NGO-isation’ of the women’s movement has fundamentally altered the shape of grass-roots activity. Yet both women’s policy agencies inside the state and professionalised women’s services and advocacy outside can be seen as different forms of social movement institutionalisation. This paper presents some early findings of a longitudinal analysis of Australian feminist institution-building. It draws on the first database of its kind, which tracks the emergence over time – and in some cases the disappearance – of national and sub-national state institutions such as women’s policy agencies, equal opportunity bureaux and consultative committees, alongside non-government organisations such as refuges and shelters, women’s health centres and women’s legal services. These data give us, for the first time, a quantitative basis for analysing the diverse organisational forms produced by a women’s movement, in terms of their timing and prevalence.