Leadership Workshops in India and Malaysia Lead to Cooperative Efforts to Empower Women

March 5, 2006

Workshop Participants in Northeast IndiaWorkshops conducted by WLP's partners in India and Malaysia, the Centre for Organization Research and Education (CORE) and the Women's Development Collective (WDC), between December 2003 and April 2004, have resulted in cooperative efforts to improve women's lives and conditions in each of their communities.

In Northeastern India, the endemic armed conflict over indigenous peoples' land and property rights has had significant repercussions on the health and safety of women and children in the region. WLP's partner, CORE, is working to address these issues in cooperation with other women's and indigenous peoples' groups in the region. CORE is a regional grassroots organization based in Assam and Manipur, with twenty years' experience mobilizing around issues such as land rights, conflict and violence, sexual abuse, trafficking of women and children, and civil-society building, with a particular focus on raising gender awareness in traditional societies undergoing transition. By working collaboratively to implement leadership training workshops, CORE and WLP are providing indigenous women an opportunity and venue to redefine the meaning of leadership, organize, and take action in their communities to improve economic conditions and work towards a lasting peace in the region.

From December 2003 through early February 2004, over 150 people were trained in six leadership workshops held in villages in Assam and Manipur with diverse groups of indigenous women and some men. Many of the workshop participants from the Dhemaji, Assam area were already involved in grassroots efforts in their communities to help improve their economic status and to develop strategic responses to regional issues such as frequent flooding and continued armed conflict. Through their participation in the workshops, they felt empowered to begin coordinating their efforts with those of other villages, strengthening their ongoing work through collaboration, networking, sharing of strategies, and mutual support. "If women themselves take the initiative in their life," noted one male workshop participant, "no one can stop them from reaching their destiny."

Group WorkWorkshop participants in Manipur and in the Debrugarh area of Assam, were empowered by their workshop experience to form community women's groups that address local problems. One participant said, "I was inspired to come forward to help the women of our village, as well as other people, so that we can work together as one." In each of the six workshops the participatory, communication-based workshop exercises empowered participants to recognize their own leadership qualities. "Although for me a leader meant only a political leader, I have learned that we can also be leaders in our lives," expressed one woman. A number of participants began planning efforts to work with CORE to hold an indigenous women's conference in the region.

The workshop sessions on gender inequality stimulated lively discussion among the men and women participants. Indigenous women of the Northeast generally have greater economic and household decision-making autonomy than other groups of Indian women. Early marriage is less common, divorced women are not ostracized, and neither childlessness nor girl children are cause for harassment. However, gender inequalities exist and are compounded by the widespread poverty endemic among indigenous groups and by the ongoing conflict in the region. The majority of participants felt that the discussions heightened their awareness of various forms of gender inequalities that persist in their communities and societies.

Workshop in MalaysiaWLP's partner in Malaysia, WDC, recently conducted their first leadership training workshop in Kuala Lumpur with thirty participants, using the draft Malay edition of Leading to Choices: A Leadership Training Handbook for Women. After initiating several ice-breaker exercises to help participants get to know one another, facilitators encouraged participants to identify what they believed to be some of the key problems facing Malaysian society. Participants identified violence against women and children, the sex trade, curtailment of civil liberties, religious extremism, and poverty as some of the primary challenges to achieving peace and justice in the country. These issues informed group discussion throughout the workshop, providing the context for the analytical and skills-building sessions in Leading to Choices.

Participants were encouraged to connect the theories of the handbook with their daily lives and experiences, to discuss the changes they envision within their society, and to find ways to bring about positive transformations within their families, communities, and nation. As the workshop progressed participants divided into groups to focus on specific issues. One group of participants chose to focus on government corruption, finding inspiration in handbook sessions that illustrated the strength of coalitions and their ability to achieve goals by working collaboratively. Leading to Choices provided another group of participants with methods for working with journalists to create a campaign with the goal of revising Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA). A third group of participants used exercises from the handbook to develop a mock debate with Members of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) about the issue of creating an Islamic State in Malaysia.

Group WorkToward the end of the workshop, participants began integrating what they had learned into a plan of action for a project. Several participants proposed developing a workshop on gender sensitivity that they would conduct in cooperation with local NGOs. Participants who had enjoyed the role playing exercises in the workshop hoped to create a theater troupe that would present skits, short plays, and other activities designed to raise public awareness about women's rights, violence against women, and the sex trade. A number of participants went on to help launch Women Monitoring Election Candidates (WoMEC), a network of women's organizations that is working to bring women's rights to the forefront of political debate and monitoring each candidate's stance on gender equality. The WoMEC network had an active and highly visible role in promoting and raising awareness of women's rights issues during the national elections in March 2004.

S:SSO to Sakai