WHAT IS WOMEN LIVING UNDER MUSLIM LAWS?
Women Living Under Muslim Laws is an international solidarity network that provides information, support and a collective space for women whose lives are shaped, conditioned or governed by laws and customs said to derive from Islam.
For more than two decades WLUML has linked individual women and organisations. It now extends to more than 70 countries ranging from South Africa to Uzbekistan, Senegal to Indonesia and Brazil to France. It links:
- women living in countries or states where Islam is the state religion, secular states with Muslim majorities as well as those from Muslim communities governed by minority religious laws;
- women in secular states where political groups are demanding religious laws;
- women in migrant Muslim communities in Europe, the Americas, and around the world;
- non-Muslim women who may have Muslim laws applied to them directly or through their children;
- women born into Muslim communities/families who are automatically categorized as Muslim but may not define themselves as such, either because they are not believers or because they choose not to identify themselves in religious terms, preferring to prioritise other aspects of their identity such as political ideology, profession, sexual orientation or others.
Our name challenges the myth of one, homogenous ‘Muslim world’. This deliberately created myth fails to reflect that: a) laws said to be Muslim vary from one context to another and, b) the laws that determine our lives are from diverse sources: religious, customary, colonial and secular. We are governed simultaneously by many different laws: laws recognised by the state (codified and uncodified) and informal laws such as customary practices which vary according to the cultural, social and political context.
For an in-depth piece on the origins of WLUML, please read 'Heart and Soul' by founder, Marieme Helie-Lucas: http://www.wluml.org/sites/wluml.org/files/Heart and Soul_Marieme Helie-Lucas.pdf
HOW DID WLUML START?
WLUML was formed in 1984 in response to three cases in Muslim countries and communities in which women were being denied rights by reference to laws said to be ‘Muslim’ requiring urgent action. Nine women from Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Mauritius, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Pakistan came together and formed the Action Committee of Women Living Under Muslim Laws in support of local women’s struggles. This evolved into the present network in 1986. The network is guided by Plans of Action which are reviewed periodically.
WHAT ARE WLUML’S AIMS AND FOCUS?
The network aims to strengthen women’s individual and collective struggles for equality and their rights, especially in Muslim contexts. It achieves this by:
- Breaking the isolation in which women wage their struggles by creating and reinforcing linkages between women within Muslim countries and communities, and with global feminist and progressive groups;
- Sharing information and analysis that helps demystify the diverse sources of control over women’s lives, and the strategies and experiences of challenging all means of control.
WLUML’s current focus is on the critical issues identified as our priorities for collective analysis and action:
- Peace-Building and Resisting the Impact of Militarization
- Preserving Multiple Identities and Exposing Fundamentalisms
- Widening Debate about Women’s Bodily Autonomy
- Promoting and Protecting Women’s Equality Under Laws
As a theme, violence against women cuts across all of WLUML’s projects and activities.
HOW IS WLUML ORGANISED?
WLUML’s open structure has been designed to maximize participation of diverse and autonomous groups and individuals as well as collective decision-making. WLUML does not have formal membership and networkers are a fluid group of individuals and organisations who maintain regular two-way contact with the network.
WLUML distinguishes between networkers and active networkers. A networker can be either an organization or individual that/who:
• Subscribes to WLUML’s principles and values and puts these into practice in their own context;
• Receives and engages with WLUML information; and
• Engages in two-way communication with WLUML Council members, Coordination Offices or sub-committees
An active networker/networking group, in addition furthers the work and vision of the network under the umbrella of WLUML by:
• Contributing/participating in WLUML initiatives - e.g. collective projects, solidarity work;
• Engaging in a consistent two-way interaction over a period of time with WLUML Council members, Coordination Offices or sub-committees that are undertaking on-going WLUML collective projects/activities;
• Taking responsibility for some aspect of WLUML’s work; and
• Being involved at the decision-making level, for example in the identification of critical issues.
The WLUML Council comprises 20-30 people involved in aspects of cross-regional networking within WLUML for a significant period of time. They take primary responsibility for developing and implementing the Plans of Action.
The International Coordination Office (ICO) has primary responsibility for facilitating coordination between networkers. Regional Coordination Offices are currently based in Pakistan (Asia) and Senegal (Africa and Middle East) and are responsible for coordinating network activities in their respective regions. Although legally and financially autonomous, they are key components of WLUML. Based on their connections with networkers, and their knowledge and understanding of networkers’ activities and contexts, the ICO and Regional Offices ensure that the relevant people in the network are meeting, strategizing, planning and acting so as to support each other and thereby strengthen local, regional and global effectiveness.
WHAT ARE WLUML’S PRINCIPLES?
WLUML focuses on laws and customs and the concrete realities of women’s lives. This includes the often diverse practices and laws classified as ‘Muslim’ (resulting from different interpretations of religious texts and/or the political use of religion) and the effects these have on women, rather than on the religion of Islam itself.
The network consciously builds bridges across identities - within our contexts and internationally. We are especially concerned about marginalized women. This includes non-Muslims in Muslim majority states, especially where spaces for religious minorities is rapidly dwindling; Muslim minorities facing discrimination, oppression, or racism; women whose assertions of sexuality – including but not limited to sexual orientation - are either criminalized or are socially unacceptable.
WLUML recognises that women’s struggles are interconnected and complementary, and therefore has a commitment to international solidarity.
WLUML actively endorses plurality and autonomy, and consciously reflects, recognises and values a diversity of opinions. Individuals and groups linked through the network define their own particular priorities and strategies according to their context.
The personal has always played an important part in the work of WLUML, which values the solidarity and active support that the networkers extend to each other by way of personal links.
WHAT DOES WLUML DO?
Solidarity & Alerts
WLUML responds to, circulates and initiates international alerts for action and campaigns as requested by networking groups and allies. WLUML also provides concrete support for individual women in the form of information on their legal rights, assistance with asylum applications, and links with relevant support institutions, psychological support, etc.
Networking & Information Services
WLUML puts women in direct contact with each other to facilitate a non-hierarchical exchange of information, expertise, strategies and experience. Networking also involves documenting trends, proactively circulating information among networkers and allies, generating new analysis, and supporting networkers’ participation in exchanges and international events. While WLUML prioritises the needs of networkers, it also selectively responds to requests for information from, for example, academics, activists, the media, international agencies and government institutions.
WLUML consciously builds the capacity of networking groups through internships at the coordination offices, and exchanges, trainings and workshops.
Publications and Media
WLUML collects, analyses and circulates information regarding women’s diverse experiences and strategies in Muslim contexts using a variety of media. It translates information into and from French, Arabic and English wherever possible. Networking groups also translate information into numerous other languages.
An active publications programme produces:
- A theme based Dossier, an occasional journal which provides information about the lives, struggles and strategies of women in various Muslim communities and countries;
- A quarterly Newsheet on women, laws and society by Shirkat Gah, WLUML Asia Regional Coordination Office;
- A bi-annual Newsletter on women, laws and society by WLUML International Coordination Office (ICO);
- Occasional Papers - specific studies and materials which, for reasons of length or style, cannot be included in the Dossier series and;
- Other publications on specific issues of concern such as family laws, women's movements, initiatives and strategies, etc.
For more information and to download WLUML publications, please visit our Resources section.
Collective projects have included topic-specific initiatives that arise out of the shared needs, interests and analysis of networkers. Networking groups and individuals are free to participate, or not, according to their needs and capacity, and collective projects have involved from three to over twenty networking groups and lasted from a few months to ten years. Projects are principally coordinated and implemented by networking groups or individual networkers in their respective countries or communities; the coordination offices provide facilitation when necessary. Some collective projects are in collaboration with sister organizations and allies.
Collective projects have included training sessions, workshops, research for advocacy, meetings and exchanges around specialised topics.
Previous projects include:
- Exchange programme (1988)
- Qur’anic interpretations meetings (1990-2004)
- Women and Law in the Muslim world programme (1991-2001)
- Feminism in the Muslim World Leadership Institutes (1998, 1999, 2007, 2009)
- Gender and displacement in Muslim contexts (1999-2002)
- Initiative for Strengthening Afghan Family Laws – INSAF (2002 - present)
- The Feminist Dialogue (2006 - present)
- The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! (2007 - present)
- The International Coalition on Women Human Rights Defenders (2005 – present)
Africa & Middle East Coordination Office
Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal (GREFELS)
PO BOX 5330, Dakar Fann, Dakar, Senegal
Asia Coordination Office
Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre
PO Box 5192, Lahore, Pakistan
International Coordination Office
PO Box 28455, London, N19 5NZ, UK
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