The international solidarity network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and the Institute for Women’s Empowerment (IWE) joint programme “Women Reclaiming and Re-defining Cultures: Asserting rights over body, self and public spaces” was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, under the MDG3 fund for two and half years (October 2008 to June 2011).
The aim of the programme was to enable women to repossess and reconstruct cultural resources (including ‘religion’ and ‘tradition’) in order to claim rights, empowering them vis-à-vis those who use disempowering cultural/religious discourses to dis-empower women and deny.
The program focused on four specific objectives:
- To pioneer, develop and support strategies that enable women’s empowerment in the face of disempowering forces that use ‘culture’ to legitimise women’s oppression
- To produce and disseminate multi-lingual, multi-media products to diverse audiences, promoting women’s empowerment as a culturally legitimate, universally desired, and practically feasible goal across all contexts
- To build up global momentum around the Global Campaign Stop Killing and Stoning Women! (SKSW), thereby catalysing changes in policies, laws, and public opinion in support of women’s rights over their bodies, mobility, and sexuality, without ‘cultural’ exceptions
- To develop cross-cultural solidarity between women’s rights advocates working in diverse contexts, including Muslim and non-Muslim contexts
The main problems addressed throughout the programme were:
- The use of ‘culture’, including ‘religion’, by disempowering forces to legitimise the oppression of women
- Women’s disempowerment through their lack of access to information about their rights and to public spaces, including spaces for freely voicing their views
- The discrediting of women who resist as ‘cultural deviants’ who should be silenced, often by means of violence, actual or threatened
- The normalisation of women’s disempowerment as part of ‘culture’, which has to be ‘respected’
- The impacts of ‘culturally’ legitimised oppression in:
- Perpetuating systemic violence against girls and women
- Depriving women and girls of property and inheritance rights
- Inhibiting and controlling women’s autonomy over their own sexualities and bodies.
- The need for new strategies to protect and advance women’s rights over body, self, and public spaces as inter-connected sites of contestations for empowerment, particularly in relation to the politicisationof ‘culture’ by disempowering forces
- The inadequacy of existing international human rights instruments to address the nexus of women’s human rights, gender equality, the politicization of ‘culture’, and the role of non-State actors as disempowering forces
Within the broad arena of “culture, sexuality and violence against women” the WRRC Programme focused on three themes:
- Culture and violence against women (through the Violence is not Our Culture Campaign (VNC);
- Culture and sexuality;
- Culture and women’s inheritance and property rights.
The programme was implemented, primarily, in eight countries: Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria Pakistan, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. However, we also worked and networked with organisations working on similar issues in other countries when possible.