The Themes

This post is also available in: Arabic

1. The Transitions to Democracy category mirrors the title of the mapping by including pieces that provide a more general historic geopolitical overview of specific countries or situations in transition from a broad cross-cutting perspective, thus setting a contextual tone for more specific categories of resources.

For example, in “What can the South African transition tell us about gender and democratization?” Georgina Waylen provides a historical overview of women’s roles from 1990 to 1994, during the South African transition to democracy.  The article describes how the South African women’s movements came together across “geographical, racial and class lines” for a common purpose, consolidating “activities that were taking place to strategise about interventions.”  However, in order to gain a holistic view of how and why this process demonstrated relative success, she also examines other factors such as the existing political structure and systems from which this transition emerged.  This comprehensive analysis provides the foundation to understand these events from a more holistic perspective. In turn, women’s organizations and activists can further refine how they apply the lessons learnt to their own work.

2. Resources in the Political Participation category reflect a broad spectrum of views in current feminist literature on the topic. Women’s active participation, visibility, and inclusion in political processes are critical to the success of women’s movements and full inclusion and recognition of women’s rights and gender equality. Most would agree that the political realm is an effective forum for the advancement of women’s rights and gender equality. However, the strategies of engagement and advocacy, the types of agendas promoted, and the scope of work needed are central debates for women in this democratization process.   Political participation can be instrumental in shaping and transforming how society deals with issues of equality, equity, and rights and how the state legislates for equality, particularly at moments of transition with many opportunities for long term impact.

In “Democratizing Democracy: Feminist Perspectives”, Andrea Cornwall and Anne Marie Goetz, examine the popularly held belief that enforcing a quota system for women’s participation in politics will inherently ensure a more women’s rights based approach in political realms.  By drawing on examples from a number of different countries around the world (Uganda, South Africa, Iraq and others) that practice quota systems, they uncover some of the drawbacks of this strategy and advocate for a more holistic approach to involving more women in government spaces.  They argue that simply including women in political parties or reserved seats does not automatically translate into increased rights. Instead, women must have the opportunity to develop skills, strategies, and tactics to be effective leaders in the spaces where they can effect change, with an emphasis on the value of these experiences not only in formal bodies but informal ones as well.

3. The Movement Building category amplifies the importance of collective action and movement based approach to organizing with an array of rich resources giving a colorful account of successes in advancement of women’s rights. This category also interrogates the importance of building bridges across movements to achieve greater possibilities for change.

Hence, Shamillah Wilson in “Feminist & Women’s Movement Building in Southern Africa” identifies some of the dominant trends that currently characterise women’s organizing and analyzes key anchors and movement-building moments. These are then used as the basis to extract some insights for southern African women which is followed by a set of recommendations that could be used as a basis to catalyze movement building in the region.

Jane S. Jacquettte’s edited book, Feminist Agendas and Democracy in Latin America, examines how Latin American women’s movements have responded to the dramatic political, economic, and social changes of the last twenty years. In these essays, leading scholar-activists focus on the various strategies women’s movements have adopted and assess their successes and failures.  The book is organized around three broad topics: women’s access to political power at the national level, the use of legal strategies, and finally the international impact of Latin American feminists.  Jane S. Jaquette provides the historical and political context of women’s movement activism in her introduction, and concludes the volume by engaging contemporary debates about feminism, civil society, and democracy.

4. The Transitional Justice category examines different case studies showcasing the impact of addressing injustice on the degree to which women’s rights were achieved in various democratization processes. Women have often been referred to as “weapons of war” in all kinds of conflicts across and within borders, in different cultures, times and regions.  Mechanisms used to bring those crimes committed before, during, and after conflicts and wars to justice are critical for laying the foundation for the new democracies.

One of the resources under this category is UN Women’s brief but practical guide to “prosecutions, truth-seeking, reparations, national consultations and institutional reforms” in transitional justice in the publication A Window of Opportunity: Making Transitional Justice Work for Women (2nd edition).  While placing emphasis on the UN’s approach and its contributions, the guide provides an outline of strategies for women’s rights considerations such as developing a framework for gender-sensitive mechanisms, protection of victims and witnesses, and gender mainstreaming.  The examples are varied and provide a range of strategies used in different countries for both international and domestic cases. One such example details the Timor-Leste truth Commission; “Where the Commission’s women’s hearings concentrated not only on sexual violence, but on other aspects of women’s experiences of conflict, including the violations of women’s socio-economic rights and the more wide-ranging consequences of conflict.” This text provides a good overview and entry-point to understanding the other more country-specific resources included in this category.

5. The Constitutional/Legal Reform category looks at past experiences of constitutional reform in different regions, contexts, and degrees of religious influence. Constitutions, laws, and their formulation and execution form an important basis for understanding a government’s framework and approaches to women’s rights. There has been considerable debate and discussion on this topic across the MENA region, especially in connection to various interpretations of Islamic texts in relation to human rights.

An overview resource, “Constitutional Rights and Legislation” by Jolynn Shoemaker, highlights “the major elements of constitutional reform and legislative creation with a specific focus on the challenges and opportunities for women in societies emerging from conflict.”  In the first section, the author reviews some of the language found in different components of various international and national human rights instruments around “dignity, equality and nondiscrimination; bodily integrity and security; fundamental freedoms; political participation; residency, citizenship, nationality, detention and criminal trial.” It also addresses some of the specific challenges that arise in drafting constitutions for instance, customary and religious law.  The second section explains the content, structure and reinforcement of legislation, with a focus on how that impacts upon women’s rights in terms of citizenship and nationality, family, property and succession, and penal laws.

“Human Rights Provisions in the Second Amendment to the Indonesian Constitution from Sharī‘ah Perspective” is a more specific text addressing a particular context.  This text provides a thorough analysis on how “the Indonesian constitutional provisions make no explicit reference to Sharῑ’ah or Islam despite the fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world.”  By exploring different human rights instruments, the article makes a case for this success as stemming from the application of a substantive view of Sharī‘ah as opposed to a formal approach.

6. In the Responses to Fundamentalisms category, we uncover how religious fundamentalisms have been challenged in varying contexts by women’s rights activists and other rights-based movements. AWID’s own Challenging Religious Fundamentalisms program explores cross-religion and cross-region experiences of fundamentalisms as well as strategies for responding to fundamentalist rationalizations and actions against women’s rights.  Understanding the factors that cause fundamentalisms to grow and how fundamentalist groups and organizations build support for their views is also a crucial ingredient for developing strategies to promote women’s rights and equality.  Addressing the negative implications of fundamentalisms is crucial to women’s rights, while at the same time, the ability to build strong alliances across borders requires confronting how Islamophobic and orientalist discourses have essentialized Islam and dehumanized Muslims and how international solidarities can be forged in this context.

An important new contribution in this area of work (August 2013) is Karima Bennoune’s book Your Fatwa Does not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism. The book promises “to illuminate the inspiring stories of those who represent one of the best hopes for ending fundamentalist oppression worldwide.” The book showcases the experiences of activists from around the ‘Muslim’ World, who Bennoune interviewed, in challenging the repressive arm of religious Muslim Fundamentalism. From Pakistan to Morocco and Iran, we hear the stories of activism and organizing of men and women who stood up against the violence of fundamentalism and effected change in their communities. For example “In Lahore, Pakistan, Faizan Peerzada resisted being relegated to a “dark corner” by staging a performing arts festival despite bomb attacks. In Senegal, wheelchair-bound Aïssatou Cissé produced a comic book to illustrate the injustices faced by disabled women and girls.”