Minority women, activism and austerity


Challenging received notions about the impacts of economic crisis and austerity, this research highlights the effects on, and activism of, minority women in Britain and France.

What was the problem? 

In response to the 2008 economic crisis, Britain and France have introduced a range of austerity measures to drastically cut public spending. These cuts have disproportionately disadvantaged minority women, many of whom were already in precarious social and economic circumstances.

Many minority women are undertaking innovative forms of activism to advocate for social justice in contexts of austerity. However, we have found that their multi-layered - or intersectional - experiences of inequality are too often misunderstood by both fellow activists and policymakers. Consequently, many have been excluded from anti-austerity movements and, further, their particular interests appear to be misrepresented by a number of third sector organisations.

What did we do? 

Research by Dr Akwugo Emejulu, Co-director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES) at the University of Edinburgh, has examined minority women’s experiences of, and activism against, austerity in Scotland, England and France.

Working with colleagues, including Dr Leah Bassel (University of Leicester), and Dr Filip Sosenko and Dr Gina Netto (Heriot-Watt University), she has explored how minority women understand and name their inequalities, how they undertake their activism with, alongside and against allies in the third sector and social movements, and how they seek to influence policymakers.

Funded by the British Academy, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, and CERES, the research has examined the opportunities and dilemmas presented to minority women activists by shifting relationships between the state, the market and civil society.

Through in-depth interviews and focus groups, the work has exposed the difficulty, sometimes the impossibility, of building solidarity across race, class, gender, sexuality and other categories of difference in protest movements.

The project "Minority Women's Activism in Tough Times" is a valuable project as it not only gives voice to minority women but positions minority women within the realities we live based on the intersections of our race, gender and class.
Kalwinder Sandhu, activist and researcher in Coventry, England
What happened next? 

The findings from this research have had particular political impact in Scotland, where the Government is currently developing a new 15-year framework for social justice and racial equality.

Akwugo Emejulu was invited to join the Race Equality Action Forum and is helping to shape the policy framework within Scottish Government, wherein she has sought to highlight the importance of taking intersectionality - the complexity of different minority women’s experiences - seriously in policymaking.

Akwugo has been invited to write a briefing paper for the Poverty Alliance, a national anti-poverty network in Scotland, about intersectionality and poverty and the implications for policy and grassroots practice.

In June 2015, she was invited to speak to the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee on removing employment barriers related to race and ethnicity. The Committee subsequently recommended that "the Scottish Government reflects on the links between disability, poverty and ethnicity as part of its race equality framework" and Akwugo was invited onto BBC Radio Scotland to discuss the issues raised in its report.

Building on such strong relationships with the public and third sectors, Akwugo Emejulu and Leah Bassel have now held three knowledge exchange events about their emerging findings: one in Edinburgh in June 2013; one in London in February 2014; and one in Leeds in June 2014.

Discussions are currently underway with the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum about examining the impact of its Women on the Move Awards, which recognise outstanding migrant and refugee women activists across the UK. This would involve exploring the effects of this high-profile awards scheme on the recipients and their networks.

About the researcher(s)

Senior Lecturer

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES)


  • The University of Edinburgh
  • The British Academy
  • Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights

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