Feminist Futures
After COVID-19

A pink, green, blue and purple illustration of different hands out flat, positioned around the globe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of life. 

But more than just the day-to-day disruptions, it quickly became clear to feminist movements that the pandemic had the potential to undermine decades of progress on women’s rights and gender equality. 

It could accelerate trends of nationalism and self-interest, and deepen the economic, social and environmental injustices created and maintained by capitalism. 

But with crisis comes opportunity.

Through these very disruptions, COVID-19 has highlighted the flaws in our global systems: the patriarchal, capitalist, and racist foundations of everyday life as well as the staggering inequalities that exist within and between countries. 

Rather than allowing things to simply go back to normal, this moment in time presents us with a potential turning point – and a potential site for radical change. 

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”


About the project

Imagining Feminist Futures After COVID-19aims to enable feminist movements to think through the ways in which the COVID-19 crisis is changing possible ways forward into the year 2030 and beyond. 

Through a new workshop methodology combining  futures thinking and intersectional feminist analysis, people across feminist movements have been exploring how COVID-19 is impacting trends we are already seeing take hold – and how we can shape them to create more feminist futures. 

A vibrant purple, orange, yellow and blue illustration of different hands arranging puzzle pieces and post-it notes into a group. Another hand is writing and jotting notes.

Sixteen workshops were held over 18 months during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Over 200 people participated in sessions from all around the world, including students, women human rights defenders, futurists, climate activists, feminist thinkers and activists.  

A vibrant pink, green, yellow and teal illustration of a dark brown hand holding open a symbolic kaleidoscope of hopeful visions. The light ray / kaleidoscope is full of flowers, leaves, stars and love hearts surrounding the earth.

Together, we generated 48 different possible feminist futures!

This zine presents a few of these possible futures, and explores what feminist movements need to do differently today to bring these futures into reality.

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A dynamic and colourful illustration depicting feminist movements in the Global South have the resources, solidarity and strength in diversity to self-determine their priorities and actions. Decision makers and institutions put wellbeing at the centre of their frameworks. Global North organisations work collaboratively, in solidarity with Global South feminist actors as co-conspirators in the fight.





Trend 1 - Support Services Dry Up

Funding sources for social justice work have always been under threat, and the pandemic has only made this worse. While more limited access to resources might seem like an all-around negative, it’s also possible to see it as holding immense potential for change. Why? Because like those who came before us said: the revolution will not be funded. 

Currently, funding systems tend to favour organisations that hold more structural power: those based in the  Minority World, who have the institutional capacity to meet donor requirements, and can demonstrate a ‘track record’ based on their historical position of power in the funding ecosystem. This funding ties feminist movements to the very structures of power we seek to overthrow. And as resources become even scarcer, our movements risk further fracturing as they compete for resources.

Future 1 - The Revolution Will Not Be Funded  

Feminist movements should capitalise on this moment to completely reimagine feminist funding ecosystems. While resources may be scarce in the short term, this moment holds the potential for a deeper feminist transformation. Rather than continuing to compromise our values, this moment challenges feminist movements (particularly in the Minority World) to take power away from institutions that marginalise Majority World causes in favour of a decolonial approach where feminist movements the world over have the resources, solidarity and strength in diversity to self-determine their priorities and collectively act on them.  

For those in the Minority World, this presents an existential challenge: find new ways to stand in solidarity with feminist groups from the Majority World – acting as co-conspirators to advocate against the institutions which they have benefited from – or get out of the way. 

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A brightly coloured yellow, blue and orange street scene of diverse representation in institutions (media, justice, finance). People are walking into a Transformative Justice Centre, and covering corporate profit signs with a 'community bank' poster. Inside the bank a woman is handing a 'reparations' cheque to a First Nations woman.





Trend 2 - Falling Trust in Institutions

Trust in institutions like governments, businesses and the media have been falling for most of the past decade, weakening people’s confidence in traditional forms of authority and information. This is a trend that has only been accelerated by COVID-19 as the uncertainty created by the pandemic has pushed increasing amounts of people to look for reassurance and answers elsewhere.   

Questioning structures of power and building a sense of identity around smaller communities with shared values can lead to a new feminist future - but it can also lead to an extremely dark one defined by cults and conspiracies. One where people’s fears and prejudices influence how they understand the motives and actions of those in power as they cling to the increasingly extreme views of ever-smaller likeminded communities. 

Future 2 - Collective Wellbeing

So, what is needed to take us down a feminist path?  How do we ensure that this shift can create transformative change and help us question the systems of power that have allowed capitalism, inequality and marginalisation to persist in order to re-organise in radically new ways? 

In achieving this future, the question of the individual versus the collective is key. When questioning power structures, we need to focus on building a sense of collective good, rather than simply question for questioning’s sake, or for the purpose of furthering individual wants or fears. Taking the path that focuses on the collective can allow us to create a non-hierarchical feminist future that centres holistic care and concern for our environment. One where relationships, people and nature as a collective are valued above personal gain.  

In this reimagining of power structures, we also need to think about who bears the brunt of a total collapse of institutions. As the pandemic has shown us, women and other marginalised people are usually the ones left to pick up the pieces. In this sense, we have a responsibility to use this disruptive moment to bring attention to current injustices and build a better world where institutions reflect the diversity of the people they serve, and prioritise communal wellbeing over individual profit. 

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A triumphant scene of people celebrating and working towards racial justice. The scene is in nature, green rolling hills and a bright purple sky. White women are passing the mic and stepping back, to uplift and centre First nations women, Trans women and people from feminist movements all over the world. All around the scene people are joining hands.






Trend 3 - Accelerating Racial Justice

The Black Lives Matter movement has emphasised that racial justice must be firmly on the agenda of progressive social movements – including feminism. The implication for our movements is clear: gender equality is an important goal, but alone it is not sufficient. Any feminist future must include racial justice. 

In some ways the pandemic has broken down barriers that previously made inclusion of diverse voices in global feminist movements more difficult. Remote work and the normalising of online webinars, for example, have made it possible for more people than ever to connect, have important conversations, and even hold their governments accountable without the usual barrier of distance and travel. With that has come the invaluable sharing of ideas and experiences across movements, communities and cultures on a scale we haven’t seen before. 

Future 3 - No Gender Equality without Racial Justice

We need to carry these changes with us into the post-pandemic world to build a future based on racial, as well as gender, justice. 

We also need to plan for the inevitable backlash from white supremacist, misogynist, and fascist movements – and, more insidiously, from those who don’t hold these views overtly but still want to maintain the status quo. 

While we have seen increased awareness of racial inequality and the need for proactive anti-racist work, awareness does not always translate into action, and change in social norms must be accompanied by formal and legislative change in order to prevent disillusionment. 

Feminist movements must deepen our intersectional understanding and analysis in order to understand and overcome hierarchies within the fight for racial justice, challenging power within movements and uplifting diverse voices and perspectives. 

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A vibrant and dynamic pink and orange scene of women from movements around the globe, striking en-masse to smash the patriarchy, glass ceiling and to make space for those behind them. A diverse and passionate group of women and gender diverse people are fighting for abortion rights, justice, safety and recognition of care work.






Trend 4 - Backlash Against Women's Rights

Backlash against women’s rights existed long before the pandemic - but COVID-19 has intensified this pattern while drastically limiting the tools available to feminist movements to fight back. 

At the same time, more people are seeing the impacts of gender inequality first hand, as lockdowns and changing financial situations mean women have had to take on more unpaid caring responsibilities and gender-based violence has increased. As is the case when multiple marginalised identities intersect, Trans people continue to experience the most extreme forms of discrimination and violence – something that has only continued through the pandemic. 

Future 4 - Backlash to the Backlash

While the continued struggle can lead to burnout and exhaustion, feminist movements need to create cultures of collective care and nurture the growing understanding of gender inequality so that people feel empowered to fight back and become the backlash to the backlash. 

Power is never ceded – it must be demanded. But we don’t want to fall into the trap of creating new forms of power that seek to dominate others. We need to move from “power over” – men holding structural power over women – to “power with” – where all people can work to transform the old structures to our collective benefit. 

Within this future, we will see more participants in our movements as we work together to challenge the current status quo around gendered roles in society and force a change in how we view and value reproductive and care work – leaving space for a more gender equal future.  

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A joyful and vibrant scene in a green park that shows Society is organised holistically, integrating people and planet. People’s worth is decoupled from their economic contribution, enabled by the establishment of a reasonable minimum income which frees people to reach the fullness of their potential—creative, social, economic and environmental. Rejecting the structural violence of capitalism eases pressures on mental health and reduces gendered violence creating a more humane society.






Trend 5 - Economic Stress for Working Women

Many women’s careers have been set-back by the pandemic. For those lucky enough to stay employed, they still had to balance working from home while also home-schooling children during school closures, manage dangerous shift work exposing themselves and their families to the virus, or simply dealing with the additional household duties than tend to fall to women (especially in heterosexual relationships). Even those without school-aged children found their ability to focus on work, studies and research – let alone finding joy in creative pursuits – to be greatly diminished. Within repeated cycles of lockdowns in some countries, this trend holds the potential to cause long-lasting damage for women, both economically and personally.  

But while economic stress on working women is the starting point, the impact of this trend goes far beyond the economic dimension, combining with issues of wellbeing, social cohesion, and gendered violence. And it doesn’t just affect those who are working in the formal economy – the impact on working women is just a symptom of a broken economic system needing a much bigger overhaul. 

Future 5 - Radical Care, Connectedness and Solidarity

Realising this future starts with creating alternative support systems that exist outside of the formal economy to build cultures of radical care, connectedness and solidarity. We know this is possible, because many people experienced this feeling of collective care at the very beginning of the pandemic, participating in mutual aid projects and re-connecting with their local community in various ways. This kind of collective care is a form of activism in itself. 

Within this re-imagined world, people’s worth is no longer based on their economic potential. Instead, what ‘work’ looks like can be re-created in a way that challenges the basis of the economy itself and, in the process, reduce the structural violence that comes with being part of a capitalist system. Throughout this process, feminist movements need to make sure that people are cared for and can fully engage in shaping our new future through a just and holistic transition. 

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A symbolic illustration of Re-learning from First Nations cultures, we develop a greater connection to the land we live on, care for, and regenerate. In the dark starry sky the Earth glows, she is surrounded by First Nations women and Elders from Australia, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Aotearoa harnessing water and fire, caring for animals and plants, embracing and protecting






Trend 6 - Rolling Systemic Disruption

This is perhaps one of the bleakest trends, painting a picture of a world defined by rolling and snowballing catastrophes. In a world where the climate crisis and the breakdown of supply chains are already making natural resources more costly globally, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that this existing trend could be made rapidly worse by additional crises.  

In the face of this doomsday scenario, one thing is clear: capitalism has got to go. Not only does it fuel inequality and climate change, but capitalism also drains our wellbeing, and disconnects humanity from understanding that we are part of a larger ecosystem. 

Future 6 - First Nations Values, Knowledge and Worldviews

First Nations values, knowledge and worldviews offer us a way forward. We need to re-learn our connection to the Earth’s ecosystem and recognise that humanity is not separate from or above the environment, but deeply connected to our living planet. We need to deepen our connections to one another, while making sure we don’t close in around our small communities, but instead maintain a network of connections across distance and difference. 

Rolling systemic disruption provides us with the opportunity for a radical reset, not only for the planet, but for our own mental health and wellbeing. 

Feminist movements must deepen our intersectional understanding and analysis in order to understand and overcome hierarchies within the fight for racial justice, challenging power within movements and uplifting diverse voices and perspectives. 

A key goal of Imagining Feminist Futures was to understand what feminist movements need to do differently now to take advantage of the structural disruptions of the pandemic and bring about new futures. 

There is no one simple answer, but across all 16 workshops and 48 future scenarios, some common themes emerged: 

A symbolic illustration of change isn't linear. A tan hand is placing a pin on a point in a squiggly pink line

Change is not linear. Progress and backlash are a continual cycle, and we might find ourselves at different stages of that cycle at the same time across different communities, movements, and nations. Feminist movements need to understand and be prepared to ride the waves of progress and backlash if we are to create lasting, sustainable change. 

A symbolic image of the world being gently pulled out of a box, the world is changing colour symbolising a massive shift

Transformational, systemic change is necessary to achieve a feminist future. But while thinking outside the box is essential, we also need to work with the reality of the world as it exists today, otherwise our solutions may not be viable or sustainable. 

an illustration of two hands, one is pushing a speech bubble with the word 'justice' into the centre. The other is turning a symbolic switch, communicating urgent change.

Total systemic shifts can come at a cost, which is often born by the most marginalised. We need to have a plan for  just transitions – not just in the climate space, but for all areas of social change – so that while we are changing the system, we are also challenging inequality and marginalisation. We need to communicate what is at stake and why this change matters so that we can bring people on the journey while centring justice in all our solutions. 

A warm illustration of two hands joining, symbolising connection and collective action. Surrounding, sprouting from the hands are bright leaves and flowers.

Collective feminist activism is both a tool to achieve feminist futures, and an expression of what feminist futures look like in practice. Start small, start local, and build connections within and between feminist movements. Backlash can drive activism, but we can’t only be motivated by what we are against – feminist movements need to collectively build visions of the future we are working towards. 

Two dark skinned open hands, facing upwards presenting feminist ideas and values in the now

Don’t wait for the future to arise – we can create it now! By living the principles and values of feminist futures in the present, feminist movements are creating  feminist realitiesevery day. 

What does your feminist future look like?

Share it with us!


Imagining Feminist Futures After COVID-19 is supported by a Steering Group which provided guidance to the project to ensure relevance to the broader feminist movement. IWDA is grateful to the input of members past and present, including: Anita Gurumurthy (IT for Change); Aruna Rao (Gender at Work); Channsitha Mark; Joanne Sandler (Gender at Work); Julie Thekkudan (Oxfam International); Nalini Singh (Fiji Women’s Rights Movement); Joanna Pradela (IWDA); Bronwyn Tilbury (IWDA); and Alice Ridge (IWDA).

We would also like to thank Changeist and the team of feminist futurists who designed the methodology, Aarathi Krishnan, Bridgette Engeler, Prateeksha Singh, Susan Cox-Smith, Alisha Bhagat and Lily Higgins.

We thank everyone who participated in or facilitated a feminist futures workshop.

And our thanks to Emma Ismawi for her work in designing this Zine.