Individuals and organizations facing restrictive, oppressive and/or authoritarian forms of governance may be able to employ hundreds of nonviolent methods to amplify their voices, challenge power dynamics and press for reform. Tactics include protests, boycotts, sit-ins, civil disobedience and alternative institutions. Nonviolent resistance has been shown empirically to be twice as effective as armed struggle in achieving major political goals. The U.S. Institute of Peace promotes nonviolent approaches through education and training in strategic nonviolent action and movement-building; applied research on such movements and the efficacy of outside support; and publications that inform the work of policymakers to advance alternatives to violence.
In recent weeks, the world has watched in awe as Iranian women rise in peaceful protest against their country’s violent and patriarchal theocracy. Their courage is at once extraordinary and familiar, paralleling other inspiring episodes of women-led nonviolent activism. Indeed, women have played central roles in many of the world’s most impressive nonviolent campaigns.
Iran’s women are seizing worldwide admiration with 26 days of courageous defiance against their authoritarian government’s violent confinement of females as second-class citizens who may not freely work, marry, divorce, travel or even be seen with their heads uncovered. Less noted are this audacious movement’s existing, and potential, connections to the tenacious, 14-month campaign by Afghan women resisting the even tighter oppression of the Taliban. Street protest slogans, social media posts and other links illustrate a synergy between the movements that both should use in the difficult task of converting their inspiring courage into real change.
Three and a half years after Sudan’s military deposed the authoritarian ruler, Omar Bashir, in response to massive protests, the current military leadership and divisions among political factions are stalling a return to elected civilian government. This year has brought a deepening economic crisis and violent communal clashes — but also a new wave of nonviolent, grassroots campaigns for a return to democracy. As Sudanese democracy advocates and their international allies seek ways to press the military for that transition, all sides should note, and work to sustain, Sudan’s nonviolent civic action.
In support of the Evidence Act and as part of the U.S. national security architecture, USIP is carrying out its own learning agenda. Peacebuilding has long been viewed as too messy and complex for evidence-based approaches — but USIP’s mix of research and practice belies that assumption.
Since January 2021, USIP has been collecting data on the frequency and characteristics of civic mobilization in 83 political transitions initiated through civil resistance from 1945 to the present to help understand when challenges to democratic progress have been successfully overcome and provide practical lessons learned for activists, policymakers and academics interested in nonviolent action and democratization.
Since 2020, USIP’s programs on religion and inclusive societies and nonviolent action have been conducting research to better understand the role of religion in nonviolent action campaigns. Many of the most prominent activists and nonviolent movements in history have drawn on religion as they worked to build peace and advance justice. Historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi often come to mind. But religious leaders, beliefs, symbols and practices have featured just as prominently in more recent nonviolent campaigns, including the Arab Uprisings, the Spring Revolution in Myanmar and Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.