A bi-lingual (Bahasa Indonesia and English) website, wherein you can find more detailed an colourful reports of the development of the WELDD programme in Indonesia was launched: Goto www.perempuanmemimpin.com

Women Reclaiming and Re-defining Cultures (WRRC)

A Collaboration with WLUML (http://www.wluml.org), funded by Dutch government's MDG3 Fund, November 2009 – 30 June 2011


a. Context:

The use of ‘culture’ to legitimize the disempowerment of women is a global phenomenon occurring at macro, meso and micro levels across diverse contexts. Modes of oppression are being justified as supposedly the indisputable result of ‘cultural’ tradition – i.e. a historical fait accompli or a religious fiat which both insiders and outsiders are supposed to accept without questioning.

It is crucial to discredit ‘cultural’ excuses used to legitimise the disempowerment of women.  Accepting claims of legitimate oppression would lead to the normalisation of disempowerment as part of ‘culture’ and hence to be ‘respected’. Such worrying tendencies are already discernible in the international arena, as well as in national and local contexts. The UN Secretary-General (2006, para. 81) noted:

           “Cultural justifications for restricting women’s human rights have been asserted by some States and by social groups within many countries claiming to defend cultural tradition. These defences are generally voiced by political leaders or traditional authorities, not by those whose rights are actually affected.”(1)

Such attempts by some States to exempt themselves from international commitments to women’s human rights, using ‘cultural justifications’, reduce MDG3 as a universal goal. If such ‘cultural justifications’ were to be accepted, a number of developing countries could opt out ‘culturally’ from even trying to attain MDG3.

As noted by Yakin Ertürk, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women:

           “Today, culture is used as a tool of new forms of oppression of women, whether in its     orientalist or occidentalist guise.…  Compromising women’s rights is not an option; the challenge before us is to respect our diverse cultures while developing strategies to resist oppressive practices in the name of culture and to uphold universal human rights standards while rejecting ethnocentric rulings”.

This project focussed primarily on Muslim contexts and secondarily on non-Muslim contexts, so as to draw comparative lessons. Based on analyses of the precise combinations of factors that impede or promote women’s empowerment in particular situations, the project  intended to address the complex realities in which women’s empowerment strategies are necessarily embedded. Project design will be multi-directional, adapted to women’s dissimilar  needs in diverse contexts, and responsive to changing conditions.

The project will address the nexus of control over women’s sexuality (including bodily integrity, physical mobility and choice of partners), imposed through violence and exclusion from public arenas. It will strategise around the assertion of women’s rights over body, self, and public spaces as inter-connected sites of contestations, challenging the States and non-State actors manipulating these inter-connections. The project will seek to inform women who lack access to more gender-equitable interpretations of culture (including religion) and are thereby isolated and immobilised.  It will build on and strengthen women’s indigenous strategies of resistance by building capacity and connections to help ensure their long-term sustainability.

(1) A/61/122/Add.1, 26 July 2006. Report of the Secretary-General: In-depth study on all forms of violence against women. United Nations General Assembly, Sixty-first session, Item 60 (a) of the preliminary list*, Advancement of women: advancement of women

b. Intended Impact:

WRRC was conceived to address the following problems:

  1. The use of ‘culture’, including ‘religion’, by disempowering forces to legitimise the oppression of women.
  2. Women’s disempowerment through their lack of access to information about their rights and to public spaces, including spaces for freely voicing their views.
  3. The discrediting of women who resist as ‘cultural deviants’ who should be silenced, often by means of violence, actual or threatened.
  4. The normalisation of women’s disempowerment as part of ‘culture’, which has to be ‘respected’.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 politicisation of ‘culture’ by disempowering forces.
  7. The inadequacy of existing international human rights instruments to address the nexus of women’s human rights, gender equality, the politicisation of ‘culture’, and the role of non-State actors as disempowering  forces.

c. Strategy and Objectives:

The aim of the WRRC program was to enable women to repossess and reconstruct cultural resources including religion and tradition, to provide women with empowering resources vis-a-vis those who use cultural and religious discourses to disempower women and deny their rights.
Focal countries are:

  • Africa:  Niger,  Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan
  • Asia:    Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka

Work is carried out at local, regional and transnational level.

The objectives of the WRRC program  were :

  • To pioneer, develop and support strategies that enable women's empowerment in the face of disempowering forces that use ‘culture’ to legitimize 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!, 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

d. Implementation:

        Through a range of interventions:

  • Create safe spaces to explore and share ideas and experiences around controversial themes (physical and digital spaces)
  • Awareness raising and training for women (and men, boys and girls)
  • Develop (new) strategies and share – the use – of instruments to influence ones context
  • Produce material to inform and/or to attract attention
  • Start discussions and give input in the form of new arguments / other interpretations
  • Invest in media coverage (old and new media)
  • Bring local experiences to the international HR platforms
  • Feed into the lobby agenda and make alliances with other social movements.
  • Evaluate all the projects/strategies; systematise experiences, publish and disseminate the results.
  • Active mentoring, support and solidarity of partners, stakeholders and colleagues in all 3 WGs

e. Outcomes:  (adapted from WRRC self-evaluation Report, June 2011)

In less than 3 years, 46 projects have been implemented in close cooperation with partners in 7 countries  across the four continents.  Numerous multi-media and multi-lingual products have been realised through the projects implemented by partners of the 3 working groups.

In addition, two WRRC over-arching projects were undertaken: a database of progressive texts and resources, and a compilation and analysis of the strategies developed by WRRC(2).

In terms of achievement of the stated objectives:

Objective 1: to pioneer, develop and support strategies

Without doubt, the program has attained the aim to develop effective strategies to contest the various contextual aspects of cultural/religious legitimisation of women’s oppression. The analysis of the strategies (see footnote 2 above) describes the many effective strategies that have been developed and discusses how they were successful in their respective contexts.
The aim to develop ‘a global and coherent strategy’ should be understood in terms of bottom up coherence in strategic approaches that include essential dimensions such as recruiting various allies, use of different resources, being multi-focussed, and working on both the local and global levels. In this sense coherence has been achieved. The ‘clearing house’ function is partly realised, but needs further development.

Objective 2: to produce and disseminate multi-lingual and multimedia products

An extensive and diverse range of multi-media and multi lingual products was realised, used and improved and is available for others to utilise (see annex 2). During the 3-year span of the WRRC programme, the WLUML website expanded from 600.000 to 1.300.000 hits per month on average.  In particular, SKSW / VNC has contributed significantly to the increase in the number of hits, although this increase cannot be attributed to SKSW / VNC alone. VNC’s linked website has expanded enormously from 8000 at the start to over 6,6 million hits per year in 2011. Pages in ‘new’ languages on WLUML’s website are still under construction.

In terms of media coverage, there are definite results, especially where partners themselves already had good media access and networking and  could use these for WRRC’s goals . But to value the impact of this media coverage remains difficult, as is often the case.

Objective 3: to build up global momentum around SKSW

To change laws, policies and public opinion within a time frame of 2-2,5 years is difficult. There are examples of changing attitudes of key figures in (local) communities and, of course, of many women (and men) involved in the projects, but it is difficult to give concrete examples of changes of policies, laws and public opinion at the national level.
Definitely, local campaigns have been catalysed by the global campaign and the communication team has linked local activism with the international human rights agenda and platforms. Local women’s groups have enhanced their capacities to protect women’s rights. All three thematic working groups, not just SKSW, have achieved convincing results in this area.

Objective 4: to develop cross-cultural solidarity between women’s advocates in different context including Muslim and non-Muslim

Perhaps the very existence of the WRRC program, with all its partners and activities, is the most striking and impressive example of challenging the trend of fundamentalisms and of cross cultural solidarity: all three working groups united women working from different backgrounds, with different paradigms and strategic choices (for instance, to work within a religious framework or within a secular frame), making use of each other’s experiences, and helping one another to strategize.

Cross-cultural solidarity in terms of opportunities for project partners and WG members to compare and share activities and experiences across different contexts has been developed.  In at least one project, women of different religious communities worked together to strengthen each other’s ability to claim property rights.  Furthermore, through the solidarity appeals and campaigns of SKSW/VNC, frequently women of different religious/cultural communities supported each other’s struggles.

(2) Strategies of Resistance: Challenging the Cultural Disempowerment of Women, edited by Fatima Raja

f.  Useful Links and resources

 WRRC Archive site: http://wrrc.wluml.org
 VNC Campaign web-site: http://www.violenceisnotourculture.org