Interview with Outgoing WLP Board Chair Jacqueline Pitanguy

On January 1, 2011 Jacqueline Pitanguy retires after four years as Chair of WLP's Board of Directors. A sociologist and political scientist and native of Brazil, she will remain a WLP board member as she focuses on the non-governmental organization she founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1990, CEPIA (Cidadania, Estudo, Pesquisa, Informaco e Acao – Citizenship, Studies, Oversight, Information and Action). CEPIA promotes human and citizenship rights on health, sexual and reproductive rights, violence, poverty, employment and access to justice.

WLP asked Pitanguy to share her thoughts about her time heading WLP's board.

Jacqueline Pitanguy at the Transnational Partners Convening in Amman, May, 2009

WLP: How has WLP evolved since you've been working with us?

Pitanguy: When I met Mahnaz [Afkhami, WLP founder and president], she was with Sisterhood is Global [SIGI]. Then she took the initiative of starting WLP, and from the very beginning I strongly supported her idea. So I feel I have been close to WLP since its prehistory, and it has not taken a different tack since then.

Mahnaz' idea was to initiate and foment and help women's networks to be established and to grow and expand, and to forge this very important exchange of ideas, of approaches and resources among organizations. WLP has grown in terms of staff and partners, and also in having much more resources and a lot of success in fundraising, even in moments when international foundations and other sources of funding were scarce. So while WLP is now using different instruments and tools, it has kept to its main mission of facilitating networking for the rights of women, and of course for peace and development.

 The partners meetings, I think, are the soul of the organization.

— Jacqueline Pitanguy
Former WLP Board Chair and Founder of CEPIA

WLP: What has been WLP's impact on your organization and its work?

Pitanguy: CEPIA is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and we are very proud that for two decades we have been very successful in making advances for the women's movement in Brazil. We have been using the WLP leadership training manual that we have translated into Portuguese and adapted as a most important tool.

We work with women who are clerks, working in factories or as paper pickers, assisting in public schools, teaching, working in shelters, groups of religious women in the Protestant church – a very, very diverse universe of women. We have been doing workshops, seminars and sensitizing exercises through the years, using the manual, so our partnership with WLP has been very enriching for the women we have reached and are still reaching; our project is ongoing.

Now we have another tool, the WLP political manual, which we have already translated and are adapting. And, as we have the first woman president in the history of Brazil [Dilma Rousseff], it will be very interesting to use this manual to discuss issues of women in power, women in politics.

Our relationship with WLP is a very good one because it is respectful; we both recognize our strengths and needs, and there's a basic principle of mutual reinforcement between two partner organizations. That is what guides a long-lasting relationship.

WLP: President Rousseff's election must be an important milestone for women in Brazil.

Pitanguy: Yes. Her very first speech after her election was directed to the women of Brazil, saying she really wanted equality to be achieved during her mandate. She will make it a point to bring in more women ministers and officials, so we see this as a very important atmosphere for our relationship with WLP.

A Troubled Moment

WLP: How has the environment for women's rights changed over your time with WLP?

Pitanguy: There are many different environments. In western societies like Brazil, new generations of young women take for granted equal rights and equal opportunities. They think things were always like this and they forget there can be backlash. One of our main challenges is to make these young women aware that they also have to be a part of the women's movement to keep the achievements made earlier and to advance further.

Internationally, the growing conservative atmosphere is not favorable for human rights, and not favorable for women's rights in general. In the southern hemisphere, we have President Rousseff in Brazil, and Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet now heading UN Women, but we can't talk of a homogeneous panorama. In a number of Islamic countries we see a growing and very worrisome radical interpretation of the Koran with very dramatic effect on women's lives – from access to education in Afghanistan to the imposition of moral and religious beliefs through laws that should be secular.

Women are the main victims of this religious extremism. I see a troubled moment. More than ever we need to partner with those who are in a more hopeful situation. They may be living in different cultural and national contexts but in the global context they can reinforce one another.

WLP: What is your vision for WLP in the decade to come?

Pitanguy: WLP is here to stay. It is now a consolidated organization. It has strong leadership with Mahnaz Afkhami and a very good group of people on the staff, so it's not a one-woman show. Also it has a strong network of organizations and a very good board, so WLP will be here in 2021, I'm sure.

WLP: Tell us about the highlights of your time with WLP.

Pitanguy: Oh, there have been many, many highlights! But I think most about the partner meetings where really substantive issues are discussed and strategies are drawn. Those meetings lead to projects, manuals, events, seminars and so on.

For instance, I was very moved at the partners meeting in Amman to see the sister of the late King Hussein so involved in the struggle against violence against women. Whenever I see this in an Islamic country, important figures who are representative and legitimate in their own country embracing this struggle, it really moves me.

Also, I like it very much when we are among ourselves and we have the opportunity to discuss the situation both theoretically and to bring our personal stories to the table, how our lives have mingled with politics. The partners meetings, I think, are the soul of the organization.

S:SSO to Sakai