Confronting Crisis, Creating Change: WLP Partner Challenges and Strategies

As challenges continue to intensify and escalate, WLP partners felt it necessary to come together, exchange experiences, and strengthen one another. We discussed ways in which our culture-specific programs and processes can address new barriers. Partners offered strategies to overcome obstacles and methods to maintain a long-term vision while sustaining the work of civic organizations and women's groups during a period of crisis.

CHALLENGES

Expanding fundamentalism

As fundamentalism expands across the world many women's organizations and their female constituents confront numerous challenges. September 25th brought a sobering reminder to the women in Afghanistan as well as women from around the world fighting for equal human rights that the fight will not go uncontested by opposing groups. Afghan woman's rights activist, Safia Hama Jan, was killed in Kandahar on her way to work. Hama Jan was an outspoken and dedicated advocate for women's rights and girls education. She served as the provincial director of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs since its creation in 2002. Her murder, believed to be an act of aggression by the Taliban, is one of many killings in the region that have targeted senior government officials. As security conditions become more volatile, and the insurgency gains momentum across the country, women are being targeted with disturbing regularity and attacks on schools and educational institutions are growing in frequency, leaving women's groups on edge. The recent reinstatement of the Department of Virtue and Prevention of Vice which was first set up by the Taliban will likely limit social progress in the country and significantly hinder the human rights and women's rights movements.

Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan (SIGI/J), the WLP Jordan partner organization, has been the target of fundamentalist hostility. In July of this year, SIGI/Jordan's leading Arabic website on women's rights and violence against women, with a daily readership of 12,000 people, was hacked numerous times by fundamentalist groups. The third time the website was hacked, most of their databases were destroyed, making it exceedingly difficult to restore the site. The fundamentalist group posted "In the name of God we destroy and hack this website."

As Morocco continues to create waves in the region through initiatives that promote women's rights, women's organizations are beginning to feel the brunt of fundamentalists' reactions. Morocco has been in the headlines recently for the nomination of a woman, Ain al-Shaq, to the position of governor of a district outside of Casablanca, marking the first nomination of a woman to that position since Morocco gained its independence in 1956. In June, Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM), jointly organized a conference on the removal of reservations and ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW). Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou stated that the government would look into lifting the reservations to CEDAW, leading to greater equality between women and men in the country, especially with regards to women passing on their nationality to their children. Increased activism by women's groups as well as government support for women's rights agendas has created a backlash by fundamentalists who have used a variety of means to suppress progressive efforts. WLP's partner organization, ADFM, has been feeling the impact of the fundamentalists' reactions.

Increasing insecurity due to wars and conflict

Conflict in WLP partner countries of Lebanon and Palestine in July and August caused the death of hundreds of civilians, widespread infrastructure damage, and displacement of numerous people. Women and children were disproportionately affected by the conflict. Grassroots women's organizations were among the first to reach out to displaced families, assessing the needs of women and children and ensuring that women take an active role in relief coordination efforts.

The organizations, including WLP's Lebanon partner, Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD-A) diverted significant resources from their core work on women's empowerment and rights advocacy to make sure women's needs during the conflict are met and that women's groups are engaged in coordinated action. They were able to quickly mobilize the grassroots because of their long-standing programs. The emphasis now is on ensuring that women do not lose the economic power and independence gained over the years because of the material and financial losses endured during the conflict and loss of jobs.

Palestine's partner organization, Women's Affairs Technical Committee (WATC), cited the country's high level of poverty as one of the major challenges impeding their work. As the conflict escalates, poverty is on the rise, making it evermore difficult to move forward on women's rights issues. Lack of infrastructure and resources, and limitations of international support make it nearly impossible to access the areas of Palestine where WATC works. Communication both within and outside the country has been relegated to barely one hour a day because of the lack of electricity and fuel to power the generators of the organization.

Restrictive NGO legislation

Women's organizations are facing challenges brought on by legal and extralegal measures introduced by governments to limit the work and influence of NGOs. In Egypt, new legislation has made it nearly impossible for NGOs to function independently, denies their right to freedom of association, and stifles their work for the promotion of reform and human rights. The law places restrictions on the establishment, activities, and funding of NGOs, and gives the government discretionary powers to dissolve organizations. The state also has such powers as to decide who sits on the Board of an NGO, how often executive committees can meet, and who can be invited to conferences. WLP's partner, Forum for Women in Development (FWID), has been waiting for more than six months for the government's permission to conduct leadership training workshops for women.

Growing authoritarianism

WLP partners also face the challenge of growing authoritarianism in several countries which result in either closure of women's organizations or have made it nearly impossible for them to carry out their work on a daily basis. In Zimbabwe women's organizations are dealing with a complex humanitarian situation that is further exacerbated by sporadic acts of repression. During 2005 they grappled with the government's ‘clean-up' operation in which more than a million urban poor were evicted in midwinter from Harare and urban centers across the country. Operation Marambatsvina, which means, "drive out rubbish," caused fear and suffering as police arrested vendors and flea market traders, mostly low-income people, especially women, who survive on petty trade. WLP's partner organization, Women's Self-Promotion Movement (WSPM), which works with women in the informal sector and in refugee camps, have had to re-focus their work to help constituents face the more immediate problems arising from the operation including loss of livelihoods and income.

Funding challenges

In most countries of the Global South, philanthropy is centered mainly around charity and religious endowments. Women’s rights organizations depend almost entirely on volunteer activity or international support. However, funding has decreased with the changing global conditions. For example, a number of US private foundations as well as European public agencies are cutting back their support for women’s rights.

Participants discussed the shifting priorities of the donor community and the limitations of funding for non-governmental organizations. They stressed that these should not however detract from the need for self-reflection and re-evaluation of our own mission and functions. External factors that have affected the funding scene have placed pressures on women’s organizations and have hindered the self critique that many of our groups began at the turn of the century. A process that was meant to help us focus on adjusting our organizational structures to meet the many challenges of a globalized world of conflict and scarcity as well as the opportunities created by the nearly costless and instant communication we can use for consciousness raising, sharing of best practices, problem solving, and advocacy. That is an important process that should not be overshadowed by the present atmosphere of fear and insecurity and resulting limitation in resource allocation.

STRATEGIES

In order to be proactive in addressing these challenges, WLP partners recommend the following strategies:

  • Emphasis on universality of rights and relativity of implementation
  • Contextualizing our message and language to minimize confrontation and bring about maximum inclusiveness while emphasizing universality of rights
  • Incorporating women's human rights concepts in the context of social and economic rights
  • Emphasis on consciousness raising of the political nature of our work and the importance of accessing political decision-making positions
  • Forging alliances with important cultural and religious figures to gain support for women's rights
  • Encouraging inter-faith dialogue and debate on common restrictions as well as supportive texts on women's rights
  • Focused networking and exchange of experience in order to conduct effective advocacy campaigns against restrictive NGO legislation
    • Recognition of women as fully empowered citizens with the full range of human rights that citizenship implies
  • Recognition of the importance and further strengthening of our partnership model that brings together on an ongoing basis autonomous, independent organizations with a shared vision and collectively designed concepts and methodologies
  • Strengthening the "learning" aspect of our organizations that is the flexibility to respond to the ever-changing environment in which we work and evolve
  • Strengthening communication through the use of technologies
  • Focusing on development of sustainability and organizational capacity building plans across the Partnership
  • Empowering a new generation of leaders by designing specific mentoring programs to facilitate trans-generational leadership transitions
  • Raising awareness of our inclusive, participatory, dialogue-based and horizontal leadership model
  • Building the leadership capacity of young girls and expediting transitions for emerging leaders
  • Inclusion of service programs in our work in post-conflict situations.
ShareThis
S:SSO to Sakai