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Last Updated: 06/01/2012
Nonviolent Resistance and the Rise of the Feminine
Rebecca Reeves

Rebecca Reeves reflects on the Great Shift of 2012, the balance of masculine and feminine qualities in social and political struggle, and the potential for meaningful transformation in the way peace is conceived of and practiced.

There are many theorists, historians and psychics around the world that are speaking of the Great Shift of 2012. Many are calling it The Awakening. The end of the Mayan calendar, among other diverse cultural legends, speaks of the end of things as we know it and a great rise of consciousness of all beings. So what does this have to do with strategic nonviolent resistance? The shift, as I understand it, is not a light switch that will just go on (or off) one day, but rather a quickening that we have all been experiencing over time, and which will continue past the predicted end of the Mayan calendar date of December 21, 2012. I have read a lot, as well as personally experienced many of the predicted and discussed aspects of this great shift. As such, I am very interested in looking at how the great shift of our times has influenced our history, is affecting our present moment and how it will help to shape the future. The tremendous historical accounts provided in the class, from both the strategic nonviolence resistance movements as a whole, as well as the history of the Arab world, provided me with an opportunity to see some of the predictions of the Great Shift coming true. While there were many that are intriguing, mysterious and synchronistic, the one theory that stuck out the most for me is the predicted shifts of the poles, and the move away from a masculine dominate world, to one that is finally balanced with the qualities of the feminine. To the new age extreme, it is the return of the Goddess, both of Mother Earth and of the Universe. In more practical terms, it is a paradigm shift away from our patriarchal, male dominated structures, institutions and ways of interacting with each other, to one that has far more feminine aspects within it. This shift is most evident with the emergence of the feminist movement in the last 100 years, as well as a softening of masculine qualities in some men. For example, between my parents and my generation alone, I have seen great changes in not only my rights as a woman (as compared to my mother’s life) but also young men being far more in touch with their emotions, empathy and compassion, in other words their feminine qualities, than men of my father’s generation. The role of women in the strategic nonviolent movements, specifically in Egypt, was also of interest to me. Beyond their shear presence in the streets, there seemed to be a growing role of feminine qualities in the tactics used. It is with this lens that I will look at how our readings support the theory of the emerging feminine in aspects of the civil resistance movements that are challenging male dominated institutions and governance systems.

In the last 70 years, there has been an overall trend that non-violent resistance movements are on the rise, while generally violent ones decreasing (Stephan and Chenoweth 2011). As the academic understanding of these movements is still quite new, this study by Stephan and Chenoweth was able to demonstrate these trends but were unable to provide an explanation as to why this is occurring. When Professor Bartkowski presented this in class, he asked us to explain why we thought that this might be happening overtime. My first thought was that this time period was similar to that of the feminist movement. While this is likely not the only factor, I argue that the presence of both women, and perhaps a subconscious paradigm shift occurring towards more feminine qualities has played a role in this dramatic historical trend in how conflicts, institutional challenges and massive uprising are playing out.

While there are many definitions of nonviolent actions, the general basis is that the tactics do not involve “killing or otherwise causing direct physical injury to opponents or their agents” (Ackerman and Kruegler 1994). By nature, masculine qualities are associated with physical violence, whereas feminine aspects are far less physically violent.

Strategic nonviolent tactics are by no means passive from a “behavioral phenomena”, as Ackerman and Kruegler (1994) explain. It is rather a force that can be powerful enough to “brin(g) pressure to bear against even the most ruthless opponents” and is pragmatic at its roots, as it is often chosen situations where no “viable military option is…available (Ackerman and Kruegler 1994). Similar to the power of women, rarely are women physically strong enough to win a violent struggle with a man. Thus the feminine movement has had to be far more strategic and non-violent. The differences between these two powers is explained eloquently by Ferdig:

Masculine power is about dominance, conquering, and about proving yourself worthy by doing so. Feminine power is the appreciation, expression, and glorification of life and the life experience, and the ambition to see it prosper (2011).

Strategic nonviolent resistance is complex, holistic and as such works on “mobilizing social, economic and political power” (Ackerman and Kruegler 1994), and additionally applies “psychological…weapons” (Sharp 2010). Strategies require planning, understanding the complex and “will be most effective if they fit together as parts of a comprehensive whole” (Sharp 1973). Effective tactics tend to be creative, expressive and artistic (Sharp 2010). These qualities are predominately feminine, as anyone who has experienced working with or being in conflict with women can attest to.

The emergence of social movements is also strengthening the minority feminine voice. Strategic nonviolent movements have “positive democratizing effects” such as encouraging the “practice of democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free press, independent organizations, and free assembly, in face of repressive controls” (Sharp 2010). These in turn have and can assist in the creating greater equality for women, while also strengthening the movement in numbers, resources, strategy and effectiveness (Helvey 2004).

Looking closely at the civil resistance movement in Egypt reveals the growing participation of women, as well as emerging feminine qualities and feminists’ rights debates. It all began with the first female martyr. In 1919, Hamidah Khalil, known as “a woman of the people” was killed by a British bullet in Cairo, Egypt (Badran 1995, Abdalla and Arafa ip). Just days later an estimated 150 to 300 upper-class women marched in the city, protesting the violence and oppression of the British occupation (Badran 1995). This began the involvement of women in the revolution of the early 1900s, which made a significant contribution. They organized protests, wrote letters to foreign embassies, did street theater, coordinated boycotts and supported others in the movement. The shear presence of women in the streets had a profound emotional effect on the British soldiers (Badran 1995) and potentially aided in awakening their own feminine qualities of compassion and empathy.

Similarly, yet on a much larger scale, women played a significant role in the 2011 Arab revolutions. Feminine tactics were also key the movements and embodied creativity, cooperation, peaceful relations, empathy and networking. For example, this was demonstrated by the chanting of ‘selmia’ (peaceful) by the protestors when tensions between protestors and police began to rise (Abdalla 2011).

The role of women, and to a greater extent the feminine qualities of the new Islamic political leaders in Egypt will be interesting to watch as democracy is birthed in Egypt. Questions over these rights have already begun to emerge (Friedman 2012).

I do share Professor Abdalla’s optimism (2011) however from a different viewpoint. I am trusting that this energetic shift will allow for our attachment to the old ways to be transformed into a new paradigm. There will be a reawakening of a world that existed and was lost long before the rise and fall of the Arab empire: one that worshiped the Goddess, Mother Earth and the feminine qualities that they embody. Predictions are clear thought that this is also the end of duality. That a new time is upon us where there will be balance of feminine and masculine qualities on earth, and that these will help to transform the old ways and bring us the peace that we are all longing for.


Abdalla, Amr. 2011. The Arab Revolutions of 2011 Roots and Prospects. Briefing in Africa Peace and Conflict Journal. Volume 4, N 1, Pp 89-94. Addis Ababa. June 2011

Abdalla, Amr and Yasmine Arafa. In print. Nonviolent Resistance in the Rise of Egypt as a Nation and a State (1805-1922). In Rediscovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles and Nation-Making. Bartkowski, Maciej (Ed).

Ackerman, Peter and Christopher Kruegler. 1994. Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. Praeger Westport, CT. Pp 1-21.

Ferdig, Brandon. 2011. From Rome to WWII: The shift from masculine to feminine power. Article. The Good Man Project. November 8, 2011.

Helvey, Robert. 2004. On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution. Chapter 2 (Pillars of Support) Pp. 9-18.

Sharp, Gene. 1973. The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

Sharp, Gene. 2010. From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. Fourth US Edition. East Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution. Chapter 6 and 7 Pp 47-66.

Stephan and Chenoweth. 2011. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Resistance.

Thomas L. Friedman - Political Islam Without Oil. The New York Times. January 10, 2012.

Rebecca Reeves is an MA candidate at the University for Peace.