Women and Non-Violent Resistance: The Missing Narrative in Our Evolving Histories

History has been replete with conflict and resistance to oppressive powers. Our memories are inundated with images of burning vehicles, people on the streets throwing Molotov cocktails and gunfire to control such resistance. It is true that violent images are more gripping, hence they are more newsworthy and are covered by the media. They are sensational, striking and such images are usually more easily seared into the minds of the collective psyche.

However, this is only one part of our evolving histories. The other, more ubiquitous and, non-violent versions of such struggles are often overlooked. Despite the less glamorous nature of the non-violent struggles, studies have proven that the percentage of success achieved by non-violent campaigns have historically been, and even currently are, higher than violent struggles. In a study aggregating and comparing the percentage of success of non-violent and violent resistance movements from 1900 to 2015, it is seen that non-violent campaigns had 51% higher chance of being successful as opposed to the violent movements.[1]

According to researcher and Professor, Erica Chenoweth, there are several reasons why non-violent resistance movements are more successful, and one of those reasons is “not because they melt the hearts of”[2] the oppressors. Some of the reasons why they are more successful are shared below.

  • They attract eleven times more participation than violent struggles, thus including marginal groups in the society. In terms of the Third-Side culture, the non-violent struggles are more likely to foster Bridge-Building activities and people from different groups are more likely to build bonds across artificially identified divisions.
  • These Bridge-Building activities are not only restricted to the fellow-oppressed, but also gets extended to the oppressive opponents. Non-violent resistance movements are more likely to pull support from the leadership of the oppressive regimes. In fact, the oppressive regime’s leaders, economic elites, civilian bureaucrats and security forces find it easier to shift loyalties towards the oppressed, when the resistance is non-violent, as there is lesser fear of a bloody retribution.[3]
  • The initiators of non-violent campaigns often battle severely adverse conditions in such creative ways, that it is often difficult to predict the origin and outcome of non-violent campaigns.[4] It is difficult to determine what actions of the oppressor is likely to trigger mass non-violent dissent. Non-violent campaigns are often initiated by very unlikely proponents. The creativity that it takes to effectively and non-violently campaign for oppressed rights also makes it difficult to predict their outcomes.


Women have traditionally been the more oppressed of the sexes in almost all of our societies. As the Brazilian documentarian, Julia Bacha puts it, because women experience power differently, they have also needed to use indirect ways of achieving their rights, as opposed to direct confrontation from more powerful actors.[5] When nonviolent struggles are initiated in a society, they are more often than not spearheaded by women; at the very least, non-violent campaigns have the active participation of women. Interestingly enough, studies have also determined that a society is more likely to adopt a non-violent resistance movement when it has a more inclusive attitude toward women’s role in society.[6] In short, when more women are at the helm of a resistance movement, it tends to be less violent and more inclusive of all marginalized sections in the society.


In today’s day and age, it becomes particularly crucial to pay attention to the non-violent struggles lead by women for multiple reasons. First, by paying attention to such movements, we’re offering up more leaders and role models to play active roles in a society’s public life, who may have very creative, innovative and less destructive ways of achieving their goals. Second, as Julia Bacha puts it, these stories that we share and spread will determine how we choose to wage conflict. And it is possible that when more people are aware of the non-violent struggles lead by women, that they may choose to wage their conflicts in more peaceful, democratic and effective ways.


Please watch the powerful TED talk by Julia Bacha on this topic here: https://www.ted.com/talks/julia_bacha_how_women_wage_conflict_without_violence/footnotes#t-729441






[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/01/18/how-the-world-is-proving-mlk-right-about-nonviolence/?utm_term=.76a2833d0413

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] https://www.ted.com/talks/julia_bacha_how_women_wage_conflict_without_violence/footnotes#t-366320

[6] https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/rock_images/faculty/asal/ted/Gender%20Ideologies%20and%20Forms%20of%20Contentious%20Mobilization%20submission.pdf

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