Women’s Social and Political Action (part of the A4EA programme)

Action for Empowerment and Accountability (A4EA) is an international research programme which explores how social and political action can contribute to empowerment and accountability in fragile, conflict, and violent settings, with a particular focus on Egypt, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nigeria and Pakistan.

ring Back Our Girls marcher with megaphone
Bring Back Our Girls protesters, still marching for justice in 2018. Credit: Wole Oladapo & Abayomi Kolapo (reproduced with permission)

The programme incorporates 15 international research projects, managed by its seven consortium partners, which have been organised under four themes:

  1. Meanings and Expressions
  2. Pathways to Accountability Bargains
  3. Women’s Social and Political Action
  4. Role of External Actors

The Women’s Social and Political Action research theme is concerned with the meanings of empowerment and accountability from the point of view of the people’s experiences and perceptions, and this in turn means for collective action.

In a sense, we are ground-truthing our concepts by exploring the lived perceptions and realities of those on the ground, this theme will link projects which use innovative methods to examine how citizens relate to institutions in daily life, explore the uses of popular culture as forms of expression, examine what is behind unruly and unpredictable ruptures of engagement, and explore religious meanings for women’s empowerment in Muslim majority contexts.

Theme convenors:

There are four projects under this theme.

1. Institutional Action for Countering Norms (Egypt)

A few years ago, a video captured on mobile of a female university student being sexually harassed by a group of male students in open daylight on campus went viral, generating calls upon the President of Cairo University to respond to the occurrence of harassment on campus. Feminist academics within the university collectively organised to secure the President’s approval to form an anti-sexual harassment unit that would press for accountability on campus where violations occur. In 2014, he  endorsed an anti-sexual harassment policy making Cairo University the first national university to commit to raising awareness about the problem and enforcing disciplinary measures against offenders. However, by 2016 the policy was not yet  institutionalised, and a change of leadership (as of October 2017) could potentially lead to a change of heart, making accountability short lived.

About the research project

This initiative will explore the coalitional work within Cairo University and across universities for institutionalising anti-sexual harassment policy with broad-based buy-in and “teeth”. The initiative will contribute to understandings of norms and values, women’s action, digital activism and vertical expansion.

Research team

Cairo University

Maha el Said

Jasmin Fouad

Amal Hamada


Mariz Tadros

2. New Forms of Social and Political Action: A Study of #BringBackOurGirls (Nigeria)

The #BringBackOurGirls (#BBOG) campaign which began in 2014 following the abduction of 300 girls by Boko Haram, became a global social media and substantial political phenomenon. Despite the deep schisms in Nigerian society, the campaign cut across generations, gender, ethnicity and religions. It is also important to note that despite its reliance on social media, the campaign organised monthly protest meetings across multiple sites in different cities such as Lagos and Abuja and on other occasions such as days that constitute milestones in the abduction of the girls, carry out public protests and demonstrations in Abuja and Lagos.

About the research

This study seeks to examine what it is about this critical juncture that allowed this social media-led campaign to flourish while other similar efforts did not generate the same impact.

Research team

Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) West Africa

Idayat Balogun


Tade Aina

Martin Atela

Femi Balogun

University of Ibadan

Ayo Ojebode

Remi Aiyede

Ifeoma Amobi 

University of Ilorin

Fatai Aremu

3. Strengthening CSO Legitimacy for the Women’s Forum (Fórum Mulher) in Mozambique

Studies of CSO governance in Mozambique have frequently identified issues with downward accountability, including accountability to member organisations in the case of the platforms, federations or networks that are increasingly used to try to promote collective action by CSOs in a highly competitive funding environment. This is significant given that most CSOs lack mechanisms to involve their target groups meaningfully in decision-making, even though their theories of change attach great importance to social mobilisation, particularly the need for citizen support for their initiatives.  Some of the most important CSOs – including the National Union of Peasants (UNAC) and the Women’s Forum (Fórum Mulher) increasingly see themselves as social movements and are engaging in new and more contestatory forms of social and political action, which makes the issue of their representativeness, legitimacy and accountability to constituencies even more critical.

About research

This study focuses on a key issue for understanding the dynamics of empowerment and accountability: the role of civil society organisations in mediating between states and citizens, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings, and the extent to which such mediation may constitute an effective and inclusive form of political representation for marginalised groups, rather than an extension of existing processes of elite capture and clientelism. It responds to the ongoing debate in Mozambique on the legitimacy of civil society organisations, particularly on the extent to which an organisation needs to have a constituency in order to engage in lobbying and advocacy, and its sources of legitimacy to intervene in policy processes.

Research team

Gender at Work 

Solange Rocha (Associate, Gender at Work)


Alex Shankland

Katia Taela

4. Women’s Collective Action for Political Expression in Pakistan: Advocacy, Voting and Representation

The context of collective action to increase women’s political representation is broadly shaped by these features endemic to the political conflict in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and tribal areas of Pakistan, and the weakened role of state institutions.

About research

The study will examine the history of the women’s rights movement’s successful campaign for the restoration of reserved seats for women in elected bodies and legislatures; the obstacles [political, social and institutional] faced by women who seek to exercise their right to vote, and collective action to overcome them; the formation and effectiveness of the Women’s Caucus at the provincial and national legislatures to enhance women’s political participation and further women’s rights;  and, women’s collective action for reform in election laws to require political parties to increase allocation of tickets on general seats to women and increase women’s voice and decision-making power within parties.  

Research team:

Collective for Social Science Research (CSSR)

Ayesha Khan

Sana Naqvi

Noor Masood

Recent work


Three lessons on research dissemination in fragile settings: healing, learning and more

Research dissemination in settings of conflict and hurt is more than a well-rehearsed flash talk; it can become a forum for healing and learning. That is what we learnt from a research dissemination experience we had in Abuja earlier this year. For about two years, a team of Nigerian...

Oluwabusolami Oluwajulugbe

15 October 2018