Dhaka Plan of Action

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In October 1997 35 active networkers from 18 countries met in Dhaka to develop the third WLUML Plan of Action. We re-examined old concerns and identified emerging ones. We strategized about how best we could answer these needs knowing that we must act in the face of odds that sometimes seem overwhelming in our own specific locations.

We drew inspiration from each other to meet the challenges since it was clear that despite the differences that distinguish our lives, inform our points of view, and shape our strategies, we do share a common goal and can lend strength to each other through networking.

The richness of our long discussions cannot be adequately reflected here, nor the warmth and solidarity we shared. This Plan of Action does, however, place our struggle and unity in the context of newly emerging trends - both global and local - that impact on our lives and our work. It spells out our understanding of the immediate new challenges posed by the continued rise of fundamentalisms, militarization and the need to address sexuality. It also indicates where the continuity lies from earlier years and previous Plans of Action, and in the end provides the broad strategies and structure for addressing the various challenges.


The Context of our Struggle

Meeting to draft the new WLUML Plan of Action, we shared our experiences in our collective and personal lives, examined local and global developments, identified how recent trends threaten our lives as well as our struggles and noted the growing strength of women’s activism internationally as well as in our own contexts. We agreed that globalisation, i.e. the internationalisation of capital, marked by structural adjustment programmes, relentless privatisation and the growing power of transnational corporations; the changing relationship between the state and civil society; the militarization of society, the outbreak of armed conflicts (including between non-state actors) and the rise of the right accompanied by the emergence of extremist political groups organised around identity, all have a profound impact on our lives as women and as activists:

Converging with these developments, the forces identified in previous WLUML Plans of Action (Aramon - 1986, Lahore - 1990) remain obstacles to our creating and implementing choices for ourselves and for our societies. In particular, women's insufficient knowledge about their legal rights, their inability therefore to distinguish between customs, law and religion, and the isolation in which women are obliged to wage their struggle continue to be vital issues. And, as before, women's ability to control change and re-invent our lives is consistently undermined by the idea of one homogeneous Muslim world - a deliberate myth promoted by vested interests from within Muslim communities as well as from outside.

At the same time, a joint analysis revealed common perceptions of the strengths which characterise the network and which make possible resistance to the challenges we face. These strengths include the principle of autonomy for all individuals/organisations linked through the network; respect for differences of opinion and a participatory institutional culture; the sense of solidarity and support; the growing skills and capacity of linked organisations; their deep and broad linkages in their local contexts; and the growing depth and reach of the network.

Against the backdrop of new challenges and continuing obstacles, our struggle is also shaped by the opening up of debate on agendas central to women's lives - often through women's activism; the growth of alliances within the women's movement and beyond, especially crossing ethnic and religious boundaries; the growing opportunities for women's inclusion in policy formation; the strengthening of comparative analyses; and the visible impact of solidarity action.

We wage our struggle for space and agency against a background where we are witnessing:

1. The miserable failure of states in many parts of the Muslim world (as elsewhere) to close or even narrow the yawning gap between rich and poor, to provide jobs for burgeoning numbers of unemployed, to stem the insidious corruption that sows disillusionment throughout society, and to provide basic social services, such as health and education, that are essential to a decent life;

2. The formal abdication by states of their obligations to meet the basic needs of their citizens in many of our countries accompanied by an aggressive assertion of state control over society in which democratic rights and freedoms are repressed, not only to ensure the state's grip on power but also to fulfil the obligations outlined in the new trade, finance and re-structuring agreements;

3. The growing sense of insecurity that results from (a) the locus of decision-making shifting further and further away from people and (b) deepening poverty that widens divisions between the haves and have-nots and fuels competition for limited resources, and that pushes people into finding new ways of coping;

4. The ascendancy of collective identities defined by religion, ethnicity or culture, each projecting itself as the only way to protect and/or to access power for its (willing or unwilling) ‘members’;

5. The pressure this puts on people to accept ever more narrow definitions of self such that their multiple, non-antagonistic identities based on gender, citizenship, class, religion or ethnicity are reduced to one single, imposed identity;

6. The intensification and creation of divisiveness within civil society both between groups and against people who refuse to accept the identities imposed by ethnic, nationalistic, sectarian and religiously defined politics, and the ominous threat posed by those groups involved in identity politics who push their agendas through violence (including even armed violence);

7. The religious right playing a crucial role in identity politics everywhere, and the linkages that exist amongst politico-religious groups and between them and various other right-wing forces from the local to the international levels, both within Muslim countries and communities and outside them;

8. The links between mainstream politico-religious groups of the right and the extremist groups (whether spawned by them or not) working strategically to reinforce each other in pursuit of their common ends - even when these links are denied; and,

9. Women bearing the brunt of identity politics in terms of violence and in terms of control over their life choices:

· The emergence of armed groups and conflict in many countries that often specifically target women, e.g. the use of rape as a tool of ethnic or religious ‘cleansing’.

· A general brutalization of people that contributes to increasing violence against women in all spheres of life, and is facilitated by an easy access to the means of violence (be it arms or acid), and manipulation of the law.

· Definition of collective identities increasingly being hinged on definitions of gender so that the construction of a ‘Muslim woman’ is therefore integral to the construction of ‘Muslimness’, explaining in part the emphasis on controlling women's sexuality and other aspects of their lives.

All of these trends have direct consequences for women's activism. Under these threats, it is difficult for us to work across the divisions and boundaries created by such imposed identities. Combined with other factors, the ascendancy of identity politics directly erodes the space available for secular initiatives so that in an increasing number of cases, the secular space has been completely eliminated. Consequently, when as women or activists we work either across imposed boundaries or outside the frame of religion, we are often accused of betraying our community, ethnic group, country or religion.

The Challenges

In the light of this analysis we have prioritised the following three themes for this Plan of Action:

· the continuing rise of fundamentalisms;

· militarization/armed conflict situations and their impact on women in Muslim societies;

· sexuality.

We recognize that rising fundamentalisms and militarization create an aura of desperation and urgency, that seems to demand high-profile, high-impact, immediate measures. Yet we also know that it is not possible to focus solely on these new themes. As a network, we believe that the most long-lasting and effective strategy for enabling women to improve their own situations is solid capacity-building programs that address not only today's front-page news, but also the constant struggle that takes place in the interstices of women's everyday lives, where they are already deeply engaged in the strenuous tasks of ‘doing daily battle.’

As a network we will therefore continue to address the themes elaborated in the 1986 Aramon Plan of Action and the 1990 Lahore Plan of Action and to maintain the core set of WLUML activities derived from them. These include alerts and solidarity actions, documentation and dissemination of information, and the current Women & Law Programme.

Finally, cutting across all aspects of our work and lives, we are confronted with the ways in which concepts of ‘Muslimness’ are constructed, legitimised and imposed. The 1986 and 1990 Plans of Action focused on the construction of ‘Muslimness’ primarily by those operating from within Muslim societies. This PoA extends the analysis to examine how international forces functioning from outside Muslim contexts also contribute to constructions of ‘Muslimness’ in ways that ultimately constrain our lives.

A. The Continuing Rise of ‘Fundamentalisms’

Though the use of the term ‘fundamentalism’ has been debated within WLUML for many years (some of us do not use the term; others find that it is the most widely understood and least objectionable term to name the phenomenon being addressed) we are in agreement about the broad nature of the phenomenon we refer to here as ‘fundamentalism’ i.e. the use of religion (and, often, ethnicity and culture as well) to gain and mobilize political power. We decided that for current purposes we would use ‘fundamentalism’ as shorthand for the phenomenon though we also discussed the possibility of publishing our own debates about the various terms that are used within our countries, in order to clarify the pros and cons of each term.

As defined by us, fundamentalisms have always been a primary issue for WLUML, providing the impetus for its creation and the backdrop against which its principles, strategies and activities have been formulated. We strongly believe that the continued rise of fundamentalisms can only be understood by seeing them in their proper context which is the political struggle for power.

Whereas, previously, we focused on identifying and analysing the impact on women of fundamentalisms in our countries, and on documenting and sharing women's strategies for combating the phenomenon, we now feel the need to focus on understanding and exposing how exactly one form of fundamentalism functions and spreads as an international, cross-country phenomenon and its links with other fundamentalisms.

We recognise that in each county or community, unique circumstances of history and economic, political and/or social development fertilize the soil into which fundamentalism drops its roots. Yet it is increasingly evident that fundamentalism is fuelled by international forces as well. Sharing detailed, documented information about the ways in which fundamentalist movements and ideologies have moved into and gained a foothold - or choke hold, as the case may be - in different countries, will help us to understand the international dynamics of fundamentalisms, how fundamentalist ideologies and movements can transform themselves from a mere presence in a society - appearing as but one of the many ‘options’ for religious observance or affiliation - into a source of compulsion and, ultimately violation.

Finally it is very clear that fundamentalist movements often stoke each other's fires, either through collaboration or through confrontation. We have seen how, for example, the Vatican and other conservative Catholic groups found common ground with right-wing Muslim forces in their opposition to women's health and assertions of human rights in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. And how, on that basis, they were willing to form an explicit and public alliance - an alliance that was also very visible in the Beijing Conference in 1995. On the other hand, in the context of ethnic or religious conflict, the dominance of fundamentalist movements on one side contributes directly to the strengthening of fundamentalist movements on the other side. This we see in situations such as India, where the power of Hindu fundamentalist groups to spark communal violence ultimately fuels fundamentalist positions within the Muslim community as well.

B. Militarization/Armed Conflict and Impact on Women in Muslim Societies

We believe that fundamentalist movements thrive by encouraging people to link their identity exclusively to membership of a collectivity defined by supposedly immutable characteristics of religion, ethnicity or nationality; then by erecting the barriers between such collectivities; and finally by intensifying the threat deemed to be posed by the ‘other’. The resulting ethnic or religious confrontations underlie some of the most brutal conflicts of our time. Thus our struggle against fundamentalisms flows directly into our work on militarization and armed conflict.

While war itself is not a new phenomenon, over the course of this century, the nature of war has changed dramatically. A century ago, the death and displacement of civilian populations was a by-product of war; today it emerges as the object of war, as the chilling euphemism "ethnic cleansing" makes clear. In World War I, 14% of all deaths in war were civilians; today the number is, incredibly, over 90%, the majority of whom are women and children. Moreover, the conflicts of the last fifteen years have caused massive and traumatic movement of populations, with the impact falling disproportionately on women and children who, today, constitute some 80% of all refugees, a very large percentage of them from Muslim countries.

As many of the women linked through WLUML cope with wars and armed conflicts in their own countries and as part of their daily lives, we as a network reaffirm our commitment to two kinds of initiatives: the movement to end impunity, and the painfully difficult work of building peace.

C. Sexuality

Control over sexuality is a central theme of the social programs promoted by fundamentalist movements everywhere. It has also been a painfully visible element in recent armed conflicts in which mass rapes and forced pregnancies - the tools of ethnic and religious ‘cleansing’ - are deliberately designed to rob women of control over their sexuality and reproduction as well. Closely linked with the issue of control over sexuality is the imposition of dress codes. Although frequently justified as either ‘religiously correct’ or ‘traditional’, the newly imposed dress is in fact alien to that particular context, and an attempt to create a new international ‘Muslim’ uniform.

WLUML’s research in the Women & Law Programme has addressed some of these issues. It has also helped clarify the ways in which various Muslim personal laws and custom in our countries relate to control over women's sexuality. We have regularly dealt with related issues such as dress codes as well. Indeed, analyses of how we experience control relating to sexuality is fairly well developed within WLUML's printed material and in the discourses of women's movements in Muslim countries and communities.

Yet, beyond the topic of general control over sexuality, in matters such as sexual orientation or even sexual pleasure, and on issues such as incest and child abuse, there is a forbidding silence. These remain deeply taboo topics in most Muslim societies and discussion of them is still surrounded by fear and denial even within women's organizations. Recognizing the important role that sexuality can play in the construction of self, we see how the silence that envelopes these questions ultimately creates for us, as for women elsewhere, true barriers that prevent our full enjoyment of human rights and development as human beings. Thus we feel the need, as a network, to go beyond the limited analysis of external controls on women's sexuality, and to create a safe space for sharing, discussing and analyzing a broader set of issues related to sexuality.

D. Constructing Legitimacy

We recognise that much of the dynamic involved in the construction of ‘Muslimness’ is generated from within Muslim societies themselves - albeit with reference to the threat of external forces. However we strongly believe that concepts of ‘Muslimness’ are also built through images and through social/political forces operating from outside Muslim societies. For example, there are striking similiarities in the way some in human rights groups, in donor agencies and in the media react to the rise of fundamentalisms.

Human Rights Groups:
Some human rights organizations - perhaps unintentionally - help build the legitimacy of fundamentalist groups. Because their mandate is primarily to focus on the violations of human rights by the state, human rights groups focus on violations committed against fundamentalists such as arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, torture and absence of fair trials. We support them in their efforts to bring to light and end such violations, for in the final analysis, such violations impede the building of a democratic and just society both for women and for men.

However, the extreme imbalance between the representation of violations committed by the state and by fundamentalists in recent human rights reports creates de facto support for fundamentalists, as it helps represent them only as victims of oppression rather than as oppressors. While claiming to be neutral and objective, such reports in fact present a biased view of the situation of human rights in our countries and therefore end up providing a political platform and legitimacy for fundamentalist groups. It is only when fundamentalists have come to power and seized control of the state, as in Afghanistan, that human rights organisations finally report in detail on their violations of human rights and undemocratic plans, too late to come to the rescue of women and other progressive forces.

Development Agencies:
Some development agencies also, perhaps inadvertently, strengthen and legitimize fundamentalist political projects by collaborating with and supporting fundamentalists who present themselves as a viable alternative to the collapsing state institutions. Ironically, donors may finance fundamentalists’ schools, hospitals, and social services while states are forced to cut support for all these services under pressure from international financial institutions. It is very important for us to stress that by so doing even well-meaning donors actually provide important backing to political forces they would not, should not, dream of allying with.

Our discussions yielded multiple examples of well-meaning donor agencies providing funds for Qur'anic schools, madrassahs and social work organised by fundamentalist groups, despite the attendant conditionalities imposed by them: the pressure for the men to attend mosques, for women to cover themselves, discrimination against girls, the end of coeducational schooling, the banning of girls from sciences, sports and arts, educational programmes that promote a hatred of others and forcibly impose a particular brand of religion on all.

The Media:
Given the critical role of information technology today, the media is a pivotal arena in which identities are forged and legitimized. We find ourselves caught in a dilemma. The mainstream media in Europe and North America or in countries where other fundamentalists have become, or are becoming, powerful (such as Hindu fundamentalism in India) contains enough Islam-bashing to put on the defensive all those, including migrants, who struggle against fundamentalism. In instances when denouncing fundamentalism ends up feeding the dominant stereotype that all people from Muslim countries or communities are inherently fanatic fundamentalists, the opponents of fundamentalism are silenced. And yet, we need to speak out to shape public opinion so that it does not - out of ignorance - support the fundamentalist political project.

The more progressive press, which in principle should be our natural allies, presents a different type of problem. Wanting to distance themselves from Islam hatred and the colonial past, well-meaning people fall into the trap of cultural relativism. In the name of the right to difference, they are prepared to support any practice, be it totally unjust and against the common understanding of human rights, if so-called ‘authentic leaders’ of the community justify it by reference to culture or religion. The progressive media therefore give a platform to fundamentalists as the sole representatives of Muslims. Beautiful concepts such as freedom of expression or cultural diversity, become distorted from their original meaning and are used to endorse the right to seclude women, to mutilate them or more generally to control and restrict all aspects of their lives. For instance, several countries in Europe have debated whether to allow FGM ‘for the concerned sections of the population’ on their soil, or to allow polygyny (i.e. polygamy for men) or repudiation/unilateral divorce for men only.

Further complicating matters, fundamentalists have co-opted the language of rights, including women's human rights. In fact the discourse they have with journalists of the international press is a far cry from the one they have inside our countries, and is radically different from their actual political, social and individual practices.

All too often, in the media as elsewhere, Muslims - or those so labelled - are constructed as ‘the other’, radically - even ontologically - different from other human beings fighting the same struggles against fascism and patriarchy. Because we as women's human rights activists so blatantly challenge the stereotypes, they react much like fundamentalists do: they worry about our legitimacy, doubt our analysis, question our premises and challenge our conclusions. We are presumed to be ‘westernized’ and not authentic enough, we are not really ‘Muslim’. Meanwhile, fundamentalists who fit into the stereotype of ‘otherness’ can be heard.


Strategies & Programmes

A. Guidelines for Addressing Themes

A1. Rise of Fundamentalisms

We recognize that none of the international forces which facilitate the rise of fundamentalisms can be wholly understood from the isolated perspective of any one country. Rather, the key to understanding lies in our ability to pool information and to create strategies across countries. Thus, our particular role as a network is to link across countries and communities in order to:

· Identify and expose the international dynamics of fundamentalism by pinpointing warning signals;

· Strategize about ways and means to counter it; and

· Organize both locally - within Muslim communities and across religious divides - and internationally) - across different Muslim communities and with others outside the Muslim world - to fight its geographic spread and its ominous growth in power, resources and even legitimacy.

Warnings and Indicators: Our interaction has shown us how, with the export of fundamentalist ideologies, specific practices that were once limited in their prevalence have now started to spread through Muslim communities and across continents regardless of specific cultural norms, schools of thought etc. We view such phenomena as warning signs that fundamentalist movements are gaining strength in a society and as indicators of how fundamentalism in one country can be linked to changes in another. For example:

· The practice of muta’a (‘temporary marriage’), for centuries only recognized as a legitimate practice by some Shi'a communities, has now been exported by fundamentalist ideologies to other parts of the Muslim world such as Maliki Sunni Algeria;

· The concept of a wali or legal guardian for women, previously limited to specific schools of thought and geographical areas, has started gaining wider and more formal recognition in South Asia where most Muslims follow schools of thought that do not require a wali;

· Female genital mutilation (FGM) originating as a cultural practice in the sphere of influence of ancient Egypt and having no basis in religion (and currently practised by both Muslims and non-Muslim in some places), today is being propagated as an Islamic requirement amongst some Muslim communities of South and South East Asia;

· Finally, the spread of a supposed ‘Islamic’ dress code for women and its enforcement through law and through the often violent actions of self-appointed male ‘guardians of morality’ is gaining ground. In this context, we emphasize that the particular styles of ‘Islamic’ dress being imposed today in many of our communities have absolutely no basis in our own tradition. These are being deliberately exported by some countries and groups and imposed by those who are aggressively promoting a fundamentalist ideology.

The Mechanisms: Fundamentalist movements use many mechanisms to spread their influence and control throughout the world. It is important that we identify and address them.

Education & Social Welfare:
In key social areas, (e.g. education, health, and social welfare), fundamentalist groups have moved in to fill the vacuum created by the absence of state services. By providing these services, these fundamentalists gain adherents amongst those increasingly marginalized who also view their own governments as powerless in the face of austerity programs imposed by the international financial institutions.

The services provided by these groups are bankrolled by foreign governments and development agencies that either aim specifically to strengthen the ranks and agenda of such groups or, (perhaps even worse) disregard both the educational content and also the underlying political agenda of these groups. Because these schools often provide the only opportunity for education available to many people and sections of society, they end up having captive audiences for indoctrination. We have seen in country after country new madrassahs (religious schools) springing up thanks to such external funding. A very good example of schools that use education as a cover for religious and political indoctrination are those, which are - or were - the breeding ground for the Taliban who have now come to power in Afghanistan, with truly devastating consequences for women.

Fundamentalists have made enormously effective use of communication technologies
(sometimes thanks to external financial support). Simple inexpensive audio cassettes of fundamentalist preachings - that include tirades against women and against supposedly western values of equality and autonomy, and that incite people to violence and in extreme cases even to murder opponents - have flooded the streets and marketplaces of many Muslim communities. They are broadcast on public buses; on loudspeakers of mosques; and on the radio. Fundamentalist groups have penetrated the Internet not only maintaining a variety of web sites to promote their views, but also using this forum to issue warnings and threats to those who oppose their agenda as well as strengthening their own networks.

Having also mastered the art of using the language and concepts of human rights as well as women's rights, they are able to reach out to well-meaning progressive people and human rights organisations in Europe and North America.

Fundamentalist ideologies move across countries via legislative ‘reform’.
We see this quite explicitly in cases such as South Africa and Mauritius, where ‘advisors’ from other Muslim countries were brought in to help draft new laws to govern the Muslim community. Research from WLUML’s international Women & Law Programme has also documented this trend in different countries, tracking the ways in which specific legal practices move from one country to another.

Fundamentalist groups themselves are supported and fuelled by massive international flows of money and arms. In some cases, such as the support for the Afghan mujahideen, the flow of money and arms is clear. In other cases, the movement is quite surreptitious, involving not only government aid, but also profits generated by arms and drug trafficking. Slowly, evidence of such international movements of arms and money is emerging, particularly in recent criminal trials and extradition or deportation proceedings in France, Belgium and Switzerland, and in court proceedings in the U.S.A.

Finally, fundamentalisms spread by drawing in women themselves as supporters.
We therefore need to give special attention to this phenomenon. We need to understand the women who join fundamentalist groups and what they do within them. We need to understand what these women gain (and what they say they gain) along with our view of what they lose and relate this to their impact on general society. In all cases we need to be clear about the line between feminists (including those who work from within the frame of religion) and fundamentalist women (some of whom describe themselves as feminists). The dividing line includes the acceptance or rejection of separate worlds for women and for men, and the aim to install an ‘Islamic’ state. While there may sometimes be some areas of common ground (e.g., promoting education for girls), we also need to be aware of the potential dangers of alliances, if such were even possible.

A2. Militarization

Impunity: The intensive organizing of the global women's human rights movement through the process of recent U.N. conferences has helped propel us into a new set of international initiatives that seek to use the mechanisms of formal law and of women's international activism to hold human rights violators accountable for their actions. For example, although rape in war has long been prohibited by international legal instruments, in practice it has always been done with near total impunity. Thus, new efforts in the women's human rights movement focus on ending impunity.

As a network, WLUML supports and participates in such efforts via:

· involvement in formal legal actions at local, national and international levels;

· participation in emerging networks focused on the situation of women in wars and conflicts.

Peace Initiatives: The work of building peace is profoundly challenging.

Militarization and armed conflict are more than the engagement of armies; they actually lead to the brutalization of whole societies, and ultimately warp the pysche of individual people. Peace is not, therefore, simply a question of ending the shooting; rather it begins by breaking down the deep divisions that war induces in the hearts of people. It requires us to recognize and prevent the internalization of hatred of ‘the other’.

The importance of this work cannot be overstated. In many of our countries, the woman who defies the dominant discourse of ethnic or religious chauvinism and reaches across deep divides to work with women on the ‘other side’, risks a great deal. Apart from physical threats and attacks, the accusations of betrayal can pierce the heart. It takes both inner strength and outside support to stand for peace in the face of such attacks. It is the goal of WLUML to mobilize both kinds of resources for the women who dare to take such risks.

To do this, we support and participate in:

· trans-frontier initiatives to build bridges across communities;

· networks of women from different religious traditions working together to battle fundamentalist movements in all our various traditions;

· initiatives to combat violence against women in wars and conflict.

Finally, we recognise the need to face, to understand, and to find strength and power in the overlapping differences of race, class, ethnicity and even religion within the network itself.

A3. Sexuality

There is a clear consensus that sexuality should be a priority issue for WLUML for the next few years. Our goal initially is simply to provide a safe space within the network where these matters can be explored and discussed. Thus, sexuality will also be addressed in the Feminism Institutes (see below). In addition we are beginning a systematic effort to collect and to circulate material on these issues within the network.

On the topic of dress codes, we hope to record the changes that have, and continue to take place within our various contexts over time and across geographical boundaries by collecting a visual record (photographs, pictures, etc.). This will highlight the disappearing diversities and imposed identities and how these relate to specific socio-economic and political trends.

B. Existing Programmes and Activities

B1. Solidarity

Solidarity work has changed dramatically in the last 3 to 5 years as many organizations and networks throughout the world launch campaigns on a very wide range of human rights issues. Nevertheless, WLUML continues to be an important initiator of and contributor to international human rights cases and campaigns. We will continue this activity, giving priority to issues of most direct concern to women in Muslim countries and communities, while maintaining a mutually supportive stance with other networks.

B2. Collective Projects

Women & Law in the Muslim World:
The Women & Law projects - at varying stages of start-up, completion and outreach activities - have proved to be an extremely important vehicle for intervening in different contexts, consolidating linkages between regions, groups and individuals and strengthening, as well as creating new initiatives at the local, regional and international levels. These will continue with increasing emphasis on disseminating research findings and field experiences while consolidating outreach activities, trainings and exchanges.

Country teams have pursued a variety of different strategies in their outreach programs. Virtually all include elements of legal awareness, legal aid, paralegal training, advocacy training and human rights education - but in a range of different formats. There is now real enthusiasm about creating opportunities for different teams to learn from each other's experience on these issues in order to enhance their work.

Feminism Institutes:
This program is a key part of WLUML’s plans to train new, younger leaders to assume coordination tasks within the network, to enhance local initiatives, and to further advance our own thinking on the substantive priorities defined during the Dhaka Plan of Action meeting. The first two institutes will be conducted in collaboration with the Center for Women's Global Leadership, the first to take place in September 1998 in Turkey, and the second to take place in 1999 in Nigeria.

Sharing Information:
In many ways the essence of a network is the communication and linkages it creates. Therefore we will continue to collect and disseminate information on aspects that have always been central to WLUML’s work: the cross-cutting issues of women, laws, customs, and religion; the construction of collective identities; the various means used to control us. We shall continue to systematically gather the various strategies devised individually and collectively to increase women's autonomy and agency not only in exercising choices but in formulating the nature of those choices. And, as before, we shall share with each other within the network and beyond, our experiences, analyses and strategies.

Guided by the Publications Steering Committee, publications remain an important means of sharing with others the information collected throughout the network and generated via collective projects. However the network is exploring other ways of making information more widely available through:

· Web Site(s)
· Videos
· Radio

Sharing Experiences Through Exchanges: Exchanges lie at the heart of almost everything that WLUML does and will remain a key vehicle for sharing experiences and learning from each other. We envisage exchanges around:

· Women & Law Outreach Programs

· Resource persons: Women from one part of the network acting as resource persons in meetings or workshops conducted by women in another part of the network

· Internships: Experiences in coordination offices indicate how important internships can be for both the receiving and the sending organization. They also stimulate active involvement in the network.

· Exchanges with other networks engaged in similar activities. These strengthen links with the global women's movement and can also stimulate future projects.

B3. Capacity Building

In order to develop and implement the broad strategies outlined above, we recognize the need to build our own capacity:

· to generate, circulate, analyze and use information;

· to articulate and disseminate alternative points of view through more effective use of communications technology;

· to facilitate specific training programmes;

· to develop outreach programs that can lead to positive social and legal change;

· to do all of the above in ways that strengthen our international linkages.



Since its founding in 1984, WLUML has very consciously functioned as an international network. For WLUML, ‘network’ is not simply a term to denote an organizational structure. Rather, being a network implies for us a forceful commitment to a set of operating principles which enables WLUML to strengthen and support the work of the individuals and organizations it links. Unlike either an association or a coalition, the existence of the WLUML network depends on our links and not on the specific activities or strategies adopted by any one individual or group. As we expand, we must ensure that the structures and mechanisms we put into place allow each of us the flexibility and autonomy needed to grow, all while facilitating a dynamic and supportive synergy in our links with others.

Starting essentially from a one-woman coordination ‘office’, the network progressed to a small group assuming primary responsibility for ensuring the implementation of the Plans of Action. More recently, largely stimulated by successive collective projects, the network has developed a more complex and diversified system for decision-making and implementation of network activities.

Core Group

The Core Group, which has evolved from an initial group of 3 persons to the current 7, in essence does international coordination; it carries ultimate responsibility for the functioning of WLUML as a legal entity - i.e. for finances, functioning of the coordination offices, and over-all direction. In the end it is the body responsible for ensuring that the entire set of network structures described below meet the needs and priorities of the individuals and organisations linked through WLUML.

Coordination Offices

General coordination falls into several different categories: (1) sharing of information, analyses and basic everyday networking; (2) the specialised activities of alerts and solidarity and (3) collective projects and other network programs. Support for each is provided by WLUML's three offices: the Coordination Office (Grabels, France), the Africa and Middle East Office (Lagos, Nigeria) and the Asia Region Office (Lahore, Pakistan).

However, because our survival and growth as a network depends on the engagement of committed activist networkers, we also need other mechanisms for operationalising the Plans of Action.

The Coordination Group

Initiated in the second Plan of Action (1990) as a flexible group of active networkers assuming responsibility for specific projects, the Coordination Group had become more formalised by 1996. With this Plan of Action, we expect the Coordination Group (which includes all members of the Core Group) to develop into the most important body for programmatic planning and implementation for the network as a whole.

The Committees

In addition, a series of committees is being established to involve a larger number of active networkers in the coordination and implementation of specific activities.

This will enable each person and group to participate in those actions and initiatives that are of greatest interest and priority for her/them. The process of moving the coordination of specific programs into committees that consist primarily of people from the coordination group and active networkers started informally with the W&L Project and then more formally with the Publications Steering Committee. We view this development as an important way not only to share the work and get things done, but also to maintain the original vision of WLUML as a network providing a space for people to come together in specific activities as it meets their needs.