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Most women’s activism has historically been nonviolent direct action, which has helped develop the technique of civil resistance. Movements for abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage made common cause in the nineteenth century. Women’s activism has been the galvanizing force in several civil-resistance movements, for example, the Montgomery bus boycott (1955–1956) that launched the U.S. civil rights movement was sparked by JoAnne Robinson and the city’s black women’s political council.
Women can sometimes exploit traditional political space as wives, mothers and nurturers, as did German gentile women married to Jewish men, who in 1943 saved their husbands through street protests in Berlin. Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo dared to march weekly in Argentina’s capital, 1977–1983, seeking acknowledgment that their children had been “disappeared” by the military generals. Their audacious demonstrations created the dynamic that would lead to the fall of the regime. Women have sometimes been able to accomplish what their male peers could not, as with the Palestinian women who led popular committees in the 1987 intifada. Israeli women’s activism in the Israeli “Four Mothers Movement” exerted such pressure on the Israeli government that the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.
The significance of women’s leadership, decision-making, strategy, organization, communications, networking, and tactics needs to be more systemically surveyed and acknowledged, as their role is critical in the success of any movement of civil resistance.