WLUML Newsletter 3

Publication Author: 
WLUML
Date: 
September 2006
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In July 2006, Women Living Under Muslim Laws held a week-long Plan of Action (PoA) Meeting in Dakar, Senegal. Following our last PoA Meeting (1997), this meeting aimed to update WLUML’s thematic priorities, strategies and organisational structure to ensure that they match the needs, concerns and capacities of our networkers. The resulting Plan of Action document will serve as the WLUML network’s guiding document for the next five years.

The 2006 WLUML PoA Meeting was the largest and most diverse of all PoA meetings, providing a unique opportunity for both established and new WLUML networkers to share their analysis and concerns, and to establish new cross-regional networking links with a diverse selection of individuals and organisations.Many of WLUML’s newer active networkers are from Francophone West Africa and North Africa so, to ensure their input into the analysis and to aid two-way interaction between networkers, the 2006 Plan of Action meeting was the first WLUML PoA to provide simultaneous French/English translation.

VOICES FROM THE REGION: PREPARING FOR THE WLUML PLAN OF ACTION

To ensure that as many networkers as possible had the opportunity to input into WLUML’s Plan of Action, a series of regional meetings (termed ‘Pre-PoA Meetings’) were held prior to the July PoA meeting. Participants identified the critical issues, contexts and needs faced by women in each region and proposed strategies through which WLUML, as a cross-boundary network, can address these. The pre-PoA meetings were also a means for identifying networkers most likely to actively engage with WLUML in the coming years. Reports from these regional meetings were translated into English, French and Arabic and presented by representatives invited to attend the Plan of Action meeting in Senegal.

AFRICA PRE-POA MEETING
January 2006: Bamako, Mali
The Africa Regional Pre-PoA meeting was held in Mali from 24 – 28 January 2006 and coordinated by the WLUML Regional Coordination Office in Nigeria, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights, in collaboration with Mali based networkers, Femmes et Droits Humains. A total of 33 participants attended from 14 African countries; Morocco, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Liberia, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Kenya and Ghana, along with the WLUML ICO MENA Programme Officer. Networkers identified the continued rise of fundamentalisms, violence against women, globalisation, HIV-AIDs and reform of personal status laws as the predominant critical issues in the region.

ASIA PRE-POA MEETINGS
June 2006: Colombo, Sri Lanka/Lahore, Pakistan
Meetings were held in Sri Lanka (1-4 June) and Pakistan (21-27 June). WLUML networkers from Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan were invited. These meetings were coordinated by the WLUML Regional Coordination Office in Pakistan, Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre and by the Muslim Women’s Research & Action Forum, Sri Lanka. In addition, networkers from Bangladesh developed a national analysis of Critical Issues. Concerns that were raised during these meetings included: the social implications caused by increasing Islamization and conservativeness within the region; growing poverty and unemployment, particularly among women; increased illiteracy; increased state violence and control over individuals and human rights organisations and increasing violence against women.

MENA PRE-POA MEETING
May 2006: Cairo, Egypt
The Middle East & North Africa Regional Pre-PoA meeting took place in Egypt on 22 – 23 May 2006. Hosted by CEWLA (The Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance) and coordinated by WLUML-ICO. A total of 22 participants attended the meeting from 11 countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, in addition to a WLUML PIC member and the WLUML ICO MENA Programme Officer. The critical issues identified at the meeting were: the continued rise of fundamentalisms; the need for personal status law reform, violence against women and the need to lobby for adherence to international treaties, such as CEDAW.

UK PRE-POA MEETING
June 2006: London, England
The UK Pre-PoA meeting was held on 30 June 2006 in London hosted by WLUML ICO. The meeting concentrated on migrant communities from a Muslim background in the UK as well as academics working on similar issues internationally and some international groups based in the UK with which WLUML networks. The meeting discussed social exclusion of people from Muslim communities in Britain, and identified critical issues, such as: the continued erosion of secular spaces and the emergence of new practices labelled ‘traditional’; the debate over dress codes for Muslim schoolgirls; the absence of alternative forums to engage youth in Muslim communities; and the continued pressure for a parallel legal system for Muslims.

WLUML TRAVELLING EXHIBITION IN CANADA

The WLUML exhibition, “Dress Codes and Modes: Women’s dress in some Muslim communities and countries” is currently on display in Canada, under the care of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Rights & Democracy. The exhibition presents the history and politics of women's clothing in Muslim communities spanning three continents and explores both the myriad differences and similarities between dress codes and styles in Muslim communities as diverse as Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, South Asia and Turkey.

With over 250 images include paintings, drawings and photographs illustrating the wealth of diverse cultures within and across Muslim communities, the exhibition questions the very notion of a homogenous ‘Muslim world.’ A wealth of historical quotations and original analysis support the images in exploring the experiences of women in these varying regions and historical periods who have been subject to imposed dress codes. But throughout the exhibit, the pictures and text highlight how political control, social status, gender, fashion and personal creativity are just as much responsible for influencing a person’s dress. In doing so, it shatters the notion that there is any single, uniform “Islamic” code of dress for women or men, and raises increasingly relevant questions about the political motivations that continue to give life to such notions.

The exhibition was first displayed at UBC Robson Square Campus in Vancouver before moving on to the YMCA in Montréal where it was on display throughout August. In September the exhibition will be moved to the University Environmental Design Gallery, Calgary and then finally on to Winnipeg in October.

Morocco: The Women's Caravan for Full Equality, Citizenship and Development in Rural Areas
By Najlah Atamnah of Alssiwar, a Palestinian women’s group based in Haifa
Organised by Yatto, a women’s group in Morocco that provides support for women victims of violence, the Caravan visited villages in South East Morocco to work with local communities on issues relating to equality, citizenship and development. With the help of local community groups the Caravan organized a number of workshops in these villages on health, environment, women’s rights, human rights and family laws, etc. The Caravan also provided counselling and legal advice to women on family laws and violence against women. Yatto was linked with Alssiwar through WLUML, and invited them to participate in the Caravan in order to share their experiences with women’s groups in Africa and the Middle East.
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