WLP Partners from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East Convene in Antalya, Turkey

 

WLP Partners Convene in Antalya, TurkeyIn June, Women's Learning Partnership (WLP) partners gathered at the beautiful Mediterranean seaside resort of Antalya, Turkey for our annual transnational partners meeting. The thirty-five grassroots women's rights activists from fifteen countries met to discuss how to strengthen the international women's movement by building the capacity of women's NGOs, how to increase opportunities for women's political leadership, and how to counter the "clash of civilizations" paradigm by building cultures of dialogue and tolerance.

Once again our meeting took place during a time of increasing violence and crisis in the regions in which we work, including escalating violence in Palestine, increasing fundamentalism in Afghanistan, expansion of government oppression in closed and oligarchic societies, and growing poverty. Rose Shomali, Director General of Women’s Affairs Technical Committee, spoke about the situation in Palestine, "Due to increasing violence, there were times where we could not reach our office. Or if staff members were in the office, they could not leave ... Last week, we had our General Assembly meeting, and one hour before the meeting we had to change the location because the place was shelled." Sakena Yacoobi, Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, discussed the growing violence against women, "In Afghanistan, the political situation is very bad right now. Day to day it is getting worse. The Taliban is all around the country, in every province. Women are afraid to go to school or to work because of the violence. The good news is that women are working very hard. They are resisting." Several of our partners had to travel to third countries to obtain visas or to fly to Turkey to attend the meeting. The serenity of the environment and the supportive atmosphere soon enabled partners to relax, and to engage in a dynamic and fruitful discussion.

Participants had the opportunity to discuss challenges they face in their countries, strategize on ways to face these challenges, and celebrate the successes of the women’s movement. We celebrated achievements such as Mauritania reaching and surpassing the 20% quota for women in parliamentary elections, Jordan’s new 20% quota for women in municipal elections, and Morocco’s attainment in February 2007 of a reformed nationality code which now allows women to pass on their nationality to their Muslim husbands and children. WLP’s partner organizations, Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc (ADFM) , L'Association des Femmes Chefs de Famille (AFCF), and Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan (SIGI/J) were instrumental in helping their countries reach these successes.

In one of the sessions on "Participatory Leadership – The Next Stage: Political Leadership and Empowerment" participants discussed women’s political leadership and empowerment and deliberated on strategies to not only increase the numbers of women in power, but to exercise a new kind of leadership that is participatory, democratic, and dialogue based. Among the strategies discussed were achieving quotas and special measures to help women gain political power, helping women reach quotas wherever they are put into effect, development of an engaged and informed electorate, using technology for advocacy and information exchange in closed societies, and finding context specific ways to challenge the culture of patriarchy. Mahnaz Afkhami, WLP President, commented, "Democracy is an extraordinarily popular concept in the Global South. Nearly everyone wants democracy ... But the same people who want democracy have much less interest in liberal values such as women’s rights and the rights of other religious and ethnic minorities ... So it is not sufficient to bring about the possibility for people to cast votes, important as it is. We need to help instill in people a culture of democracy."

In the last session on "Countering the 'Clash of Civilizations'" participants discussed ways of countering extremism through dialogue and moderation. Break out groups developed strategies for legal reform, dealing with political religion and extremism, as well as giving voice and visibility to moderate perspectives through the media. Partner discussions explored ways to reconcile traditional values with progress and modernization. Lina Abou-Habib, Executive Director of Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD-A), commented, "We have been talking about peace for more than 50 years, and we have been seeing more and more wars and blood. We have to agree on values and principles before the dialogue takes place… I think justice, human rights, freedom, and human dignity should be the basis for our readiness to have a dialogue. Without this, dialogue is not a goal by itself. We need to use dialogue to solve our problems in a peaceful way, in a way that respects every human being's rights."

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