As women’s rights activists chart a new course in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, will they increasingly take the feminist fight directly to corporations with weak records on gender equality?
In the wake of last week’s ruling, pockets of activists have taken to social media and mounted protests at locations of the religiously conservative arts-and-crafts chain, which can now opt out of a federal requirement to pay for contraceptives in health coverage for its workers. The Court’s widely-criticized decision is feared to prevent female workers, particularly those at lower income levels, from obtaining medical services such as IUDs and the morning-after pill. And from a tactical perspective, the decision has left some in the feminist movement debating what comes next.
One potential answer — direct mobilization targeting corporations with anti-women policies — has sprung up following the Court’s ruling. Online activists have circulated boycott Hobby Lobby petitions, including one that has nearly 200,000 signatures on the Daily Kos website, and the hashtag #boycotthobbylobby has trended on twitter. Over the July 4th holiday weekend, consumers mounted small-scale protests at store locations in far-flung places such as Tulsa, Okla., Warwick, R.I. and Aurora, Ill.
Although it is debatable if these efforts will gain traction, they could represent a new focus in the feminist movement on direct corporate campaigning. In recent years, other social activists — most notably those in the environmental and LGBT communities — have used corporate campaigns and shareholder resolutions to influence corporate behavior, but such tactics have been slower to catch on in the women’s movement.
Could this be starting to change? Last summer, for example, consumers in Texas mounted a boycott of Macy’s and Kroeger’s for secretly lobbying against a Texas bill for equal pay, and more recently activists have pushed Wal-Mart to introduce better protections for its pregnant employees, including through two shareholder resolutions introduced last December. Such campaigns parallel similar efforts mounted across the Atlantic, where European lawyers, including those in Germany and Spain, have been pushing the issue of the underrepresentation of women in corporate leadership at shareholders’ meetings of targeted companies.