What is Abolitionist Feminism, and why does it matter? (2022)

An insight into why we might privilege social justice, over criminal justice

Prison does not only impact and harm those who are directly locked up; prisons affect all of us. Yet many of us don’t really consider the wider harms of prison. By relying on prisons, we are effectively abandoning our most vulnerable and challenged people, people who we struggle to include, and people who struggle to belong. But we cannot solve problems of connection by placing people behind walls, away from our communities. By continuing to rely unthinkingly on prison and punishment as responses to social problems, we are missing vital opportunities and resources - time, energy, money and attention - to build stronger communities of connection, to heal the harms caused by imprisonment, and to address the issues that led to it in the first place.

(Video) Abolition. Feminism. Now.

Prison is rarely the beginning of the harm, neglect and failures prisoners have experienced. For most of them, sadly this neglect and abandonment began early in their lives, in their homes, by their families, by their schools, by the care system, by the mental health system, by the state. Long before prison. So while prisons are ineffective, harmful institutions that cause considerable suffering for those held there, their families and friends and even the people who work there, prisons can also be a place of safety and support. For some, whose lives were so harsh and whose experiences so damaging, being held within concrete walls in some ways felt safer, felt more normal, felt containing. It might have been the first place they were listened to, or offered support. Prisons are complex places, where power and security are balanced with support and sometimes if people are lucky, therapy. That prisons can be places of relative safety for some, however, does not mean we should rely on them. People shouldn’t have to go to prison to get their basic needs met.

Abolitionist Feminism invites us to consider the world we want, and how to organise to build it. Seeking a world beyond prisons, Abolitionist Feminism focuses our attention on developing stronger communities and bringing about gender, race and economic justice. It encourages us to consider our approach to problems from a social justice rather than criminal justice perspective; systemically rather than individually. When tackling gender based violence, for example, more conventional approaches focus energy and attention towards finding solutions within the criminal justice system or the carceral state. Yet we need to consider the wider harms this approach causes for marginalised communities especially, who are already over-criminalised. Abolitionist Feminism asks us to consider the violence and harm caused by the state, as well as inter-personally, and seek alternative strategies for addressing these harms.

I came to Abolitionist Feminism through working directly with women who were in and leaving prison while I was a staff member of Women in Prison. This charity was founded as an abolitionist organisation in 1983 by Chris Tchaikovsky, former prisoner of HMP Holloway, and Pat Carlen, Critical Criminologist. It supports women directly, and campaigns for the radical downsizing of the women’s prison population. Through this work, I experienced the difficulties of trying to change or reform the system. Designing and running projects providing ‘change innovation’ from the voluntary sector in relation to the state, I began to realise that on a fundamental level, the current system is resistant to change and will consciously or unconsciously continuously place barrier upon barrier to defend itself against change. I now advocate we move away from ‘reform’ of the problem and towards building solutions outside of it.

(Video) Abolition. Feminism. Now. A Conversation About the Politics and Practice of Abolition Feminism

Speaking about prison abolition to women who have been in prison requires empathy and understanding of the levels of trauma and pain they experienced in their lives prior to prison. It is not about simply shouting ‘shut down prisons’. I had been entrusted with story after story from women about how they came to be imprisoned, their experiences of incarceration and their struggles to find stability and connection in the community. Feminist abolitionists validate the nuanced role prison has held in their lives, while reassuring people that it is about building solutions not tearing down walls and leaving nothing in its place.

Abolitionist Feminism might seem like a pie in the sky thought exercise; however, it is put into action in many different community projects. In London, with the closure of Holloway, there is a real opportunity to practically implement Feminist Abolitionist principles. The government took a decision in November 2015 to close the prison and disperse the 500 + women held there to prisons further out of London. The Ministry of Justice is now selling the 8-10 acres of public land -- land that has held a connection to women and resistance for over 100 years -- to fund the building of more prisons, further away from their families, and leading to worse outcomes. We know prisons do not make our communities safer, or ‘rehabilitate’ people. In fact, building a new prison has already been tried at Holloway. Since it was re-built in the late 70’s – early 80’s, the populations of prisons for women has quadrupled.

Following the privatisation of part of the probation service, and the introduction of new supervision orders, the number of women recalled to custody whilst under supervision after their release has doubled since the end of 2014. Since the closure of Holloway, the number of deaths in prisons for women is at record levels, which Her Majesties Inspectorate of Prisons has connected to the closure. A new report by Inquest also highlights the lack of progress made on women’s prison deaths, and calls for the abolition of prisons for women.

(Video) The Women's Movement and Abolitionism

What we have now is an opportunity to use the land where Holloway Prison stood, and the resources to build solutions, support, and housing that would mean less women are sent to prison.

Reclaim Holloway, a grassroots campaign run on feminist-abolitionist principles, is calling for a Women’s Building on the Holloway land, that both honours the women held there through history and inspires change. A beacon of hope, the plan offers a place for all women but particularly centres those people who have been previously held in Holloway. Working towards inclusion, connection and belonging as our primary goal, we seek to build solutions that are not reliant on our current systems of criminal justice funding and support. We build other ways of caring for each other. We imagine a world without prison, we work towards that as our goal, and one day we will get there.

Maureen Mansfield has worked in the women’s voluntary sector supporting those in the mental health and criminal justice system for over a decade and is a campaigner with Reclaim Holloway. She is part of the organising committee for Abolitionist Futures: International Conference on Penal Abolition. She tweets @carceralcollapz

(Video) The radical potentiality of abolition feminism and mutual aid | Jordan Blanco | TEDxYouth@LakeWingra


To find out more about Abolitionist Feminism and Reclaim Holloway, attend an event or get involved online:

(Video) CRG Distinguished Guest Lecture "Abolition Feminism"


What is Abolitionist Feminism, and why does it matter? ›

Abolitionist Feminism invites us to consider the world we want, and how to organise to build it. Seeking a world beyond prisons, Abolitionist Feminism focuses our attention on developing stronger communities and bringing about gender, race and economic justice.

What do abolitionists do? ›

An abolitionist, as the name implies, is a person who sought to abolish slavery during the 19th century. More specifically, these individuals sought the immediate and full emancipation of all enslaved people.

What is the purpose of feminist? ›

Feminism is descried as a movement that aims to establish equal rights and legal protection for women. Feminism advocates for women's rights and gender equality.

What are the benefits of being a feminist? ›

Gender equitable societies are healthier for everyone. As feminism challenges restrictive gender norms, improvements in women's access to health care, reproductive rights, and protection from violence have positive effects on everyone's life expectancy and well-being, especially children.

What is anti Carceral feminism? ›

The anti-carceral feminist movement pushes towards solving this issue and fighting the criminalization and incarceration of women who are victims of sexual and domestic violence. An initiative created to help illuminate and help these injustices is the Survived and Punished Organization which began in 2015.

What does an abolitionist believe? ›

Abolitionists believed that slavery was a national sin, and that it was the moral obligation of every American to help eradicate it from the American landscape by gradually freeing the slaves and returning them to Africa.. Not all Americans agreed.

What abolitionist means? ›

: a person who wants to stop or abolish slavery : an advocate of abolition Before going to England I had had no proper conception of the deep interest displayed by the abolitionists of England in the cause of freedom, nor did I realize the amount of substantial help given by them.—

Why is feminism important in society? ›

Feminism benefits everyone

And one of the main aims of feminism is to take the gender roles that have been around for many years and deconstruct these to allow people to live free and empowered lives, without being tied down to 'traditional' restrictions. This will benefit both men and women.

How does feminism affect society? ›

The feminist movement has effected change in Western society, including women's suffrage; greater access to education; more equitable pay with men; the right to initiate divorce proceedings; the right of women to make individual decisions regarding pregnancy (including access to contraceptives and abortion); and the ...

What are the biggest issues in feminism? ›

Six women's issues explained with emojis
  • 1) Violence against women and girls. ...
  • 2) Gender pay gap. ...
  • 3) Digital gender divide. ...
  • 4) Informal work and instability. ...
  • 5) Period poverty and stigma. ...
  • 6) Underrepresentation as leaders in health.
Jul 17, 2020

What does feminism fight for? ›


At its core, feminism is the belief that women are entitled to political, economic, and social equality. Feminism is committed to ensuring women can fully enjoy their rights on an equal footing with men.

What are the pros and cons of feminism? ›

Top 10 Feminism Pros & Cons – Summary List
Feminism ProsFeminism Cons
Women may be treated betterEven some women do not like feminism
Feminism may help to increase toleranceNot senseful from historical perspective
Better chance for leading roles for womenFewer children
7 more rows

What is the disadvantage of feminism? ›

It is a biased view against men. Some men do not exploit women and see themselves as feminists. Hypocritical.

What is girly feminism? ›

Feminism F.A.Q.s: What is Girlie Feminism? - YouTube

Who is associated with Marxist feminism? ›

A few women that contributed to the development of Marxist Feminism as a theory were Chizuko Ueno, Anuradha Ghandy, Claudia Jones, and Angela Davis.

What is a carceral approach? ›

Read More. “Carceral Feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women. This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence.

How did the abolitionist movement impact society? ›

Fighting in the name of justice, the abolitionists had a powerful sway. By championing civil rights, they changed the political climate of the country. Both white and black people joined the movement, though they had different goals and ideas. Not all white abolitionists believed that blacks were equal to whites.

What led to the abolitionist movement? ›

In 1807 the Slave Trade Act abolished the transport of slaves from Africa and the work of religiously inspired abolitionists such as the Quakers and Baptist parliamentarian William Wilberforce led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

What is an example of abolition? ›

An example of abolition is a law that has been repealed. Abolition is defined as the ending of slavery. An example of abolition is the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865 which made enslaving another person illegal. The act of abolishing.

What is a modern abolitionist? ›

Modern abolitionists see it as our mission to provide the models of community safety, security, mutual aid, and harm reduction that are needed, and to do the political education, relationship-building, and movement work to bring others into demanding transformative economic and social change for abolition.

What is a sentence for abolitionist? ›

Her husband used to say that she first made him an abolitionist. After coming to Alton his anti-slavery views soon became more radical, and in a few months he was an avowed abolitionist.

What is feminism in your own words? ›

Quite simply, feminism is about all genders having equal rights and opportunities. It's about respecting diverse women's experiences, identities, knowledge and strengths, and striving to empower all women to realise their full rights.

What are the 4 types of feminism? ›

Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously. There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

Do girls have it harder than boys? ›

Overall women have it harder than men. Women go through many different changes with their bodies that impact them on a daily basis. Although there may be arguments that men have it hard, women definitely have it harder.

Is feminism still relevant today? ›

Today's feminist movement is more diverse than ever before. Feminism has become more attentive to the wider range of experiences of those oppressed by gender norms and stereotypes, including men, non-binary and trans people.

Why is feminism important in the 21st century? ›

Even men and women should work together to fight for equality on both sides. It's relevant even in the 21st century, we need feminism not to overpower men but to provide women with equality and the same respect in the society as a man gets.

Can men be feminist? ›

Significantly, there is no mention of any gender. This opens up possibilities for both benefits and responsibilities of such work to achieve these goals as being shared by female, male and non-binary individuals equally across society. According to this model men, indeed anyone, can be a feminist.

What are feminist issues? ›

Feminist political activists campaign in areas such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, fairness, social justice, and workplace issues such as family medical leave, equal pay, and sexual harassment and discrimination.

Who was the very first feminist? ›

In late 14th- and early 15th-century France, the first feminist philosopher, Christine de Pisan, challenged prevailing attitudes toward women with a bold call for female education.

What is the conclusion of feminism? ›

Conclusion. True feminism—feminism that seeks to liberate all women—leads inexorably to solidarity politics, solidarity economics, and r/evolution—a global citizens movement, as described by the Great Transition Initiative.

What does feminism say about education? ›

Feminists believe that education is an agent of secondary socialisation that helps to enforce patriarchy. They look at society on a MACRO scale. They want to generalise their ideas about males and females to the whole of society.

What is the strength of feminist theory? ›

On the other hand the biggest strength of feminism is that in many ways it is self-critiquing. Feminist theory is pliable and accommodating when it comes to an oppressed group that feels unrepresented within another oppressed group. Feminism is not static but fluid in many ways.

What are the characteristics of feminism? ›

As a social movement, the main characteristics and demands of feminism include:
  • Equal pay in the workplace.
  • Reproductive rights.
  • Women's suffrage.
  • The right to an education.
  • Fighting against gender stereotypes and performative behaviors.
  • Protection against sexual harassment and assault.
  • The right to own property.
Jul 13, 2021

What is super girly? ›

If you're super girly, that simply means that you like things that have randomly been deemed "for girls" in the most patronizing, belittling sense, but it in no way means that you're a lacking feminist who is furthering the goals of misogynists the world over by liking these things.

When did lipstick feminism start? ›

Lipstick feminism is a subset of the third wave of feminism, following the second wave feminism. The second wave of feminism emerged in the US around 1960. This wave challenged America's beauty industry and it's standards by protesting in a boycott of items considered to be feminine.

What makes someone a girly girl? ›

A girly girl is someone who wholeheartedly embraces her femininity, without sacrificing her personality or strength. She cares about her behavior, style and appearance, but is never self-centered or mean and is always herself. She is someone other girls look up to and want to be friends with.

What is radical feminist called? ›

Radical feminism is a type of feminism. Radical feminists are sometimes called 'radfems'. Famous radical feminists include Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Valerie Solanas,and Alice Walker. Radical feminists say that society is a patriarchy. In patriarchy, men have more social power than women.

What does Karl Marx say about feminism? ›

Along with his close friend and compatriot, Frederick Engels, Marx argued that women were systemically oppressed by the ruling class, treated merely as second-class citizens, arguing in his Communist Manifesto, for the elevation of women's status both in the domestic sphere, as well as in the broader social environment ...

What is the difference between Marxist and socialist feminism? ›

Marxist feminism in anticolonial movements centered imperialism and its mobilization of feudal relations of gender oppression to capture populations, land, and markets. Socialist feminism developed from these precepts in a range of ways around the world.

What is Carcerated? ›

/ɪnˈkɑː.sər.eɪt/ formal. to put or keep someone in prison or in a place used as a prison: Thousands of dissidents have been interrogated or incarcerated.

What does transformative justice look like? ›

There is no singular model of transformative justice. Transformative justice processes can include sexual violence prevention work, political education around where we learn sexist, racist, ableist, and other oppressive behaviors and thoughts, victim-offender dialogues, and healing circles, among others.

What is a carceral citizen? ›

Carceral citizenship is a distinct form of political membership experienced by and enacted upon people convicted of a crime.

What are 3 methods that abolitionists used to achieve their goal? ›

What were 3 ways abolitionists sought to achieve their goals? Moral arguments, assisting slaves to escape, and violence.

What are examples of abolitionists? ›

Sojourner Truth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, David Walker and other men and women devoted to the abolitionist movement awakened the conscience of the American people to the evils of the enslaved people trade.

What methods did abolitionists use to end slavery? ›

Non-violent tactics (freedom suits, literary protest, antislavery speeches and petitions) allowed black abolitionists to claim the moral high ground in both word and deed, and in no small way defined African American protest between the Revolution and Civil War.

How did the abolitionists spread their message? ›

Using books, newspapers, pamphlets, poetry, published sermons, and other forms of literature, abolitionists spread their message. David Walker's Appeal, William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator, and Frederick Douglass' The North Star were among the most important abolitionist writings.

How did the abolitionist movement impact society? ›

Fighting in the name of justice, the abolitionists had a powerful sway. By championing civil rights, they changed the political climate of the country. Both white and black people joined the movement, though they had different goals and ideas. Not all white abolitionists believed that blacks were equal to whites.

Who was the most important abolitionist? ›

William Lloyd Garrison

Through the paper, which would become one of the most influential publications of the movement, Garrison propagated his view that "moral suasion" and nonviolence would be effective methods to promote abolition. He was one of the founding members of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.

What challenges did abolitionists face? ›

Obstacles to abolition included:
  • Slave rebellion in St Domingue.
  • The effects of the French Revolution.
  • Importance of the trade to the British economy.
  • Fears over national security.
  • The power of vested interests.
  • Anti-abolition propoganda.
  • Attitudes of British governments.

What is another word for abolitionists? ›

Abolitionist synonyms

In this page you can discover 8 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for abolitionist, like: , abolitionism, , antislavery, , anti-apartheid, pamphleteer and emancipationist.

What are the two types of abolitionists? ›

Terms in this set (4)
  • Integrationists. moral suasion, want full class citiszenship for blacks, and intergration.
  • Emigrationists. no hopes for blacks in Africa, in charge of own destiny, and send blacks to Africa Canada and Mexico.
  • Compensated Emancipationists. ...
  • Territorial Separationalists.

What were the most important influences on the abolitionist movement? ›

The movement evolved from religious roots to become a political effort that at times erupted into violence. Though most abolitionists were white, devoutly religious men and women, some of the most powerful and influential members of the movement were African American women and men who escaped from bondage.


1. Freedom for Women Requires Abolition Feminism: Suzanne Pharr & Beth Richie
(The Laura Flanders Show)
2. Revolution 12/13 | Abolition Feminism
(Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought)
3. Abolition. Feminism. Now #Shorts
(Marguerite Casey Foundation)
4. Abolition. Feminism. Now #Shorts
(Marguerite Casey Foundation)
5. Feminism and Abolition - A discussion
(LA Social Science)
6. Scholars Angela Davis, Gina Dent & Beth Richie on Why the World Needs “Abolition. Feminism. Now.”
(Democracy Now!)

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