Women Reclaiming and Re-defining Cultures: Asserting rights over body, self and public spaces (WRRC) (2008-2012)

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Women Reclaiming and Re-defining Cultures: Asserting rights over body, self and public spaces (WRRC) (2008-2012)

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) as part of the activities of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

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 their human rights and equal citizenship.

The programme 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 Stop Killing and Stoning Women! campaign (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 issues 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, mind  and public spaces as inter-connected sites of contestations for empowerment, particularly in relation to the politicisation of ‘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 

The programme focused on three themes:

The programme was primarily implemented 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.


  1. Family Killing Fields: Honour Rationales in the Murder of Women

The authors argue that cultural and personal systems of honour that depend on the behaviour of others are an integral part of the killing of women by their families or intimates. Comparing patterns of conduct in both traditional cultures and English-speaking countries, this study focuses on the basic element of such honour rationales – control, feelings of shame, and levels of community involvement – to establish that such rationales are a worldwide phenomenon. An appreciation of such honour systems adds an additional theoretical dimension both for understanding the incidence of male intimate violence in English-speaking countries and for cross-cultural comparisons. Furthermore, it contributes to the current need for a theoretical framework that accounts for cultural and contextual patters of male intimate violence.

Author: Baker, Nancy V., Peter R. Gregware and Margery A. Cassidy
Year: 1999
Source publication: Violence Against Women, Vol. 5 No. 2: 164-88
     2. Women and Sexuality in Muslim Societies

Control of women’s sexuality remains to be one of the most powerful tools of patriarchy in most societies. The essays in this volume show that the sexual oppression of Muslim women is not the result of an ‘Islamic’ vision of sexuality, but a combination of political, social and economic inequalities throughout the ages. However, with this context, religion is often misused as a powerful instrument of control, with the goal of legitimising violations of women’s human rights. This book brings together female researchers, academics, activists, poets, journalists and cartoonists from different countries, who illuminate various aspects of women’s sexuality with analysis, research, literature and personal accounts.

Author: Women for Women’s Human Rights.

Contact wwhrist@superonline.com to order.

3. Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts – WLUML

Author: Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzić

The book examines Zina laws in some Muslim contexts and communities in order to explore connections between the criminalisation of sexuality, gender-based violence and women’s rights activism. The Violence is Not Our Culture Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws network present this comparative study and feminist analysis of Zina laws as a contribution to the broader objective of ending violence in the name of ‘culture’.