International Activism in the 20th Century: Advocacy Networks, Movements, and Beyond

The 20th Century was a turbulent time for peace internationally. However, it was a time where leaders, civil rights leaders, activists, and humanitarians soared and succeeded in creating networks around the world through strikes, protests, and other types of advocacy. Throughout this century, we saw a rise of social movements that tried to connect internationally.

It’s hard to think about international movements with gender without thinking about women’s suffrage. According to Keck and Sikkink, there has been a major mutual influence and international cooperation among women suffrage movements around the world.  In 1904, the Women Suffrage Association Suffrage Association was founded which then spurred other international gender campaigns. Why was this movement important for international women? First, the campaign relied on symbolic and pressure politics rather than on information politics. Women, for the most part, did not find powerful foreign organizations or governments that were willing to use leverage or devote resources to promote woman suffrage. Thus, women saw this as an opportunity and used symbolic tactics and civil disobedience to spread their message.

For example, the World Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was a politically aggressive organization that fought for a variety of issues gained votes in Australia and New Zealand, then stretched to the United States. Next, the Second Socialist International passed the first woman suffrage resolution in 1990. Then, there were the militant suffragettes, which essentially distinguished themselves from the moderate suffragists. The International Council of Women was also founded, but focused more on issues other than suffrage such as equal pay and equal work, access to professions, maternity benefits, suppression of trafficking in women and children, peace, women workers, and development of modern households. (Keck and Sinnick)

Human rights advocacy networks are emerging everywhere In Latin America. Currently, these advocacy networks include parts of intergovernmental organizations, international NGOs, domestic NGOs, private foundations, and parts of some governments. Prominent organizations in Latin America started after 1961 when NGOs addressed the idea of human rights as an international concern. In the 1960s, Amnesty International was formed, which focused on specific individuals whose rights were violated instead of ideas. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, human rights organizations began to form coalitions and networks and reached out to domestic organizations that were also experiencing human rights violations. Even environmental advocacy networks formed, which were different than international networks because there are fewer principles. They care about secure land use rights for forest dwellers and other agendas for the environment. They focused on placing blame on, and influencing behavior of, particular actors. They focused more on testimonies of experience than on scientists and had roles for local people and NGOs.

International movements are still on the rise today, particularly on the web. However, the 20th century was a prominent time for the growth and fruition of international movements. 


Keck, Margaret E. and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists Beyond Boarders. Cornell University:


Keck and Sikkink discuss advocacy networks and movements abroad. They also discuss the influence of women’s movements, and when groups in one country start a movement, those movements will influence other countries.  

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