Regional Learning Institute for Women's Leadership in Central Asia

August 31, 2005

Regional Learning Institute for Women's Leadership in Central Asia participantsWomen's Learning Partnership (WLP) together with its regional partner convened a Central Asia Regional Learning Institute for Women's Leadership from August 24-27, 2005 in Shymkent, Kazakhstan. NGO leaders, journalists, and human rights activists from five countries - Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - participated in the Institute, which consisted of a week-long intensive skills development program in participatory leadership, interactive facilitation, persuasive communication, and effective advocacy campaign development.

The Institute took place amidst an atmosphere of heightened security and political tensions in the region. In the face of increasing restrictions on civil society and NGOs, human rights, and press freedom in the region, WLP brought participants together to create a regional network of women's rights advocates working to advance women in leadership and decision-making positions.

Oydin McKaneThe Institute created a rare and important opportunity for cross-regional sharing of personal and organizational experiences. Issues of particular concern to participants included the position of women in society, especially women's representation in government, media freedom, relations between NGOs and governments, and corruption. Institute participants gained a comparative perspective on the current status of Central Asian civil society, and empowered each other through identifying common challenges and goals.

Participants celebrating their empowermentWLP's participatory leadership methodology was used throughout the training. Participants were challenged to reflect on the meaning of participatory leadership, while learning a series of interactive facilitation techniques designed to place participants, rather than facilitators at the center of the learning process. Participants got acquainted with one another by working together to create pictorial representations of a "Basket of Challenges" and a "Tree of Expectations," rather than through formal introductions. One participant identified good listening skills as an important outcome of the participatory method, commenting that, "It is necessary for us to listen to one another and for me to listen to myself. It helps me to evaluate my own actions and to understand. To listen to myself means to be myself." Training was conducted using the Russian edition of WLP's curricula, Leading to Choices: A Leadership Training Handbook for Women and the Multimedia Curriculum for Leadership Learning.

Participants during a group work sessionOne of the Institute's highlights was an energetic discussion of ideas for new advocacy campaigns. Representatives from the Kyrgyz Republic proposed a campaign for the prevention of alcohol and narcotics abuse by children, while representatives from Kazakhstan wanted to work on the issue of women's political participation, with the goal of increasing women's representation in their parliament to 40 percent. Participants worked together to build consensus on campaign ideas before cooperating to develop effective coalition-building and communication strategies to meet their campaign goals.

The Central Asia Institute provided a unique forum where for the first time NGO leaders in the region came together and laid a foundation for cooperation, partnerships, and coalitions for common goals and objectives. Participants gained experience in innovative leadership techniques, which they planned to integrate into their work, and use to guide new collaborations with one another.

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