Welcome to the Center for Women's Global Leadership

On November 17, 2003, the Center for Women's Global Leadership held a public forum event as a venue to introduce our International Strategic Directions Consultation (November 18-21) and to reflect on the future of women's organizing. Some of our diverse group of women leaders from various regions of the world shared their reflections on victories, challenges, and next steps for the international women's human rights movement. Below please find the program, speech summaries, and photos.

Reception: 4pm · Program: 4:30-7pm
Trayes Hall B, Douglass Student Center, Douglass College
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey · 100 George Street · New Brunswick, New Jersey
Event Flyer (PDF Format) · Directions to Trayes Hall, Douglass College Student Center
Sponsored by the Center for Women's Global Leadership, the Institute for Women's Leadership, and Douglass College at Rutgers University.


Welcome and Introductions
Carmen Twillie Ambar, Dean of Douglass College
Mary Hartman, Director of the Institute for Women's Leadership
Richard L. McCormick, President of Rutgers University

Introduction of Participants & Panel Moderator
Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director, Center for Women's Global Leadership

Women's Human Rights: Progress and Challenges
Sunila Abeysekera, INFORM - Information Monitor, Sri Lanka & IWL Visiting Global Associate
Mahnaz Afkhami, Women's Learning Partnership, Iran/USA

Current Organizing and Visions for the Future
Wanda Nowicka, Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland
Pramada Menon, CREA - Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action, India
Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, The African Women's Development Fund, Ghana/Nigeria

Music: Olympia's Daughters

Welcome and Introductions

Carmen Twillie Ambar, Dean of Douglass College

Dean Ambar welcomed everyone to Douglass and stressed the increasing importance of women's colleges - "Women's colleges are more relevant today than we even dare to know." She noted that these types of events are about making the inextricable connection between the progress of women in the United States and the progress of women around the world. "The more that we make that connection here, in this country, the more that our voices have power and have resonance." These types of strategic conversations are going to continue to happen at Douglass College, Dean Ambar assured, noting the upcoming "Women in Era of Globalization: Power and Gender" event on March 25, 2004. Mary Robinson, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will be the keynote speaker at the event.

Mary Hartman, Director of the Institute for Women's Leadership

Mary Hartman expressed her pride to have been a part of the Center for Women's Global Leadership's history at Rutgers from the earliest days and to be celebrating its achievements. She said she was also looking forward to the wisdom of the extraordinary women gathered at the event to ask all the hard strategic questions and to reflect on the difficult and critical challenges we are facing around the globe. Dr. Hartman then introduced Richard L. McCormick, the president of Rutgers University. She highlighted the President's interest in global issues and his vision of Rutgers as more active in the global arena with a strengthened commitment to global education and service.

Richard L. McCormick, President of Rutgers University

President McCormick welcomed everyone to Rutgers and to Douglass College - the largest women's university in the land, "where outstanding young women from around New Jersey, around the nation and around the world are part of an academic community for women but also part of a larger university and the extraordinary advantages that brings. We believe in Douglass and today's symposium is a great example of why." He congratulated Mary Hartman on receiving a Ford Foundation grant for the Institute for Women's Leadership for a study of racial and gender equity in higher education. The President expressed his pride in the accomplishments of the Global Center and in Charlotte Bunch's leadership. "Under her guidance, the Center has made tremendous strides in developing women's leadership and the cause of women's human rights around the globe."

The President then introduced the general context for the event and the strategic conversations by noting that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights that was held in Vienna, in 1993. At the Vienna conference, women's rights were recognized as human rights and violence against women as a serious human rights issue. While this was a proud accomplishment, it was just a starting point, he warned. "There are still far too many areas of the globe in which women's rights are trampled. There's still so much work that needs to be done to stop violence against women in all its forms." He noted that this event and other strategic conversations provide time to assess progress in the past ten years, challenges that lay ahead, and strategies to address them.

Introduction of Participants and Panel Moderator

Charlotte Bunch, Executive Director, Center for Women's Global Leadership

Charlotte welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. She started by explaining why the event was called both a symposium and a celebration. "It's always important as we reflect on the problems and challenges ahead to remember the accomplishments and the gains that have been made, not only by our movement, but also by women around the world in many different ways, as the source of inspiration for us." Charlotte pointed out that there is not a lot of notice in the world, including at the UN, that 2003 is the 10th anniversary of the UN World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna. "That was one of our motivations for wanting to have this program, because we felt that in many ways it's symbolic of the problem we face that people aren't celebrating very much what happened ten years ago. - There is much more of a sense of the looming problems that we all face."

Charlotte spent a few minutes reflecting on the celebration aspect - i.e. the accomplishments that were made in the past decade. Examples she provided included: 1) The establishment of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, which was one of the demands of the Global Campaign for Women's Human Rights in Vienna (the Rapporteur reports and documents very specifically various forms of violence that women experience and brings greater visibility to those in the UN system); 2) Progress made around the question of women, peace and security, such as the recognition of rape as a war crime and the inclusion of gender-based persecutions in the International Criminal Court (ICC) where seven out of the eighteen elected court judges are women; 3) Recognition of the particular ways in which women's human rights are violated in social and economic areas and attention to issues like equal pay, women's rights to land, inheritance, education, health and reproductive and sexual rights.

"It's not only the recognition of women's rights as human rights and attention to violence against women that is important, but also the incredible work that women have done all over the world, over this past decade, to analyze and seek to realize many concrete changes that make a difference in women's lives."

"I pose that as one of the reflections for our audience here in this country, that we see ourselves not just as women who care about women's rights in the world but are challenged by the positions of the U.S. government that impact negatively on women around the world."

Charlotte explained that the speakers at the event would be talking about their organizing and their reflections on where we are in the world today, before the international consultation. The consultation, she explained would discuss the following questions: What is the challenge for women's human rights in the current geo-political climate? What does it mean to work on these issues in the post-9/11 world - where U.S. unilateralism and the war against terror have further marginalized human rights and women's rights? How do we think in new ways about how to take this particularly difficult moment and advance the rights of women in relation to the question of human rights across the world, in relation to the questions of economic and social justice?

"We've asked these trusted friends, that are listed in your program, to spend four days with us looking at these challenges and thinking about new strategies and visions for effective feminist work on behalf of human rights, on behalf of women's leadership, for a better world, in the belief that a better world is possible. But for that better world to be possible requires leadership from women."

"The work of the Center would not be possible if it wasn't for the inspiration that we draw from the women around the world who are working for a vision of a better future. So we've asked five of them today to share a little bit of that with you and us - just a taste of all that's happening around the world."

Women's Human Rights: Progress and Challenges

Sunila Abeysekera, INFORM - Information Monitor, Sri Lanka & IWL Visiting Global Associate

Sunila is the Executive Director of INFORM, a Sri Lankan Human Rights Documentation Center that works on human rights in conflict and war situations. She is also a member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights Development based in Thailand. She has been active for many years on women's rights and feminist issues. She received, in 1998, the United Nations Human Rights Award, an award she shares with Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and other notable people. She is also an IWL Visiting Global Associate, a program initiated with the idea of bringing some of the women from around the world to Rutgers University.

Sunila began her speech by noting that the reason she is here, in spite of all the current political developments in Sri Lanka, is that this is one of the few moments to celebrate ten years after Vienna. She started off by sharing an anecdote about the way in which her work as a women's rights activist and human rights activist became connected. In the early 1990s, she began working on human rights in Sri Lanka, in the midst of an insurgency in the south of the island and a civil war in the north. She and a group of friends began documenting disappearances of people in the conflict, what then was a very dangerous operation. During one of her regular visits to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, she ran into Charlotte Bunch, who she had met at the Nairobi World Conference on Women in 1985. Charlotte told her about developing plans for how to bring the issue of women's rights to the human rights agenda in Vienna. "In that moment my two separate lives of being a women's rights activist and human rights activist came together for me, in a very miraculous and wonderful way."

Sunila continued her speech by reflecting on the progress and challenges that emerged from the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993): One of the important things that emerged from the Vienna conference, "was not only the fact that many women from around the world came to Vienna and lobbied for the inclusion of women's human rights on the agenda in a very serious way, but that the World Conference actually provided the first international forum in which the subject and the victims of human rights abuse from around the world, from many different communities, actually appeared on the international arena in the flesh." In previous work on human rights, there was usually a separation between international groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the actual people who were experiencing a variety of human rights abuses. "In Vienna, for the first time, many members of minority communities, indigenous communities, women, lesbian and gay people were literally physically present, staking their claims to be heard and making their claims to be heard from their own point of view." This was one of the huge moments of confirmation of the human rights movement - the coming together of a truly diverse movement for reclaiming human rights.

The second important aspect of the Vienna conference was the focus on the two critical issues of universality and indivisibility. "For women, the issue of universality has always been more critical because women's rights are always the rights that are impinged upon by using arguments of culture, tradition, religion, and traditional practice. The debate and the positioning of many government and many human rights NGOs in Vienna on the issue of universality was based on the acknowledgement that human rights cannot be taken away from people by using arguments of culture and tradition. This has been, even today, one of the most critical advances made in terms of contextualizing what human rights can mean for women." The issue of indivisibility is about the inseparability of people's right to enjoy their political rights and also to enjoy economic and social and cultural rights. "In the years that have passed since Vienna, in Sri Lanka, working with human rights and women's rights, we have opened the understanding of universality and of indivisibility from Vienna, in critical ways to a whole range of social movements that have struggled for peace and democracy in Sri Lanka."

Sunila emphasized the importance of the work done by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women about the specific violations of women's human rights in situations of conflict. This has been "really critical to us in enabling movements and different campaigns to demand justice for women whose rights have been violated as a result of conflict." Women's rights that are violated in situations of conflict, Sunila explained, includes not only violence, rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment of all kinds, but also the massive violations of women's economic rights as they're displaced from their villages and communities, as they become the internally displaced, refugees, and asylum seekers outside the country.

"The human rights framework has enabled us to engage in most times constructive and sometimes very frustrating conversation with organizations like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, that focuses on the protection of refugees and people who are displaced as a consequence of conflict." The human rights framework provides in Sri Lanka ways to claim rights of women who are interminably enslaved and who are seeking to return to their places of origin or who are seeking to resettle in the places to which they have moved.
In terms of challenges for the women's human rights movement, there is still much work to be done, Sunila said. "There still remains a huge tension between humanitarian principles, humanitarian law, and human rights that continue to plague us as we work with women who are affected by wars and conflicts. There also continue to be a whole range of debates and discussions about issues of content and choice, about reproductive and sexual rights, and issues of citizenship that some women now are advancing within a human rights framework -perhaps being a notion and a context that allows for a new way to look at issues of equality and universality."

Sunila closed her speech by saying, "As I look back and remember how difficult it was to get the United Nations Human Rights system to even agree that violence against women is a human rights abuse, then certainly there's much that we have achieved. But if we look forward, simply because the world has changed so much since then, and because there are so many more categories of women, men, and children who are rendered absolutely without safety in the face of conflict, in the face of legislation that allows our governments to act in an anti- democratic manner with no recourse to any kind of justice, and in the face of the compelling logic of the market that undermines economic and social rights in many of our countries, I certainly think that the human rights framework provides us with some kind of a space within which women can continue to struggle. But it also requires more and more creative interpretation."

Mahnaz Afkhami, Women's Learning Partnership, Iran/USA

Mahnaz is the founder and president of Women's Learning Partnership, an organization that works primarily with women living in Muslim majority countries. She was previously Minister of State for Women's Affairs in Iran. She has published a number of books, including three manuals on women's human rights, violence against women, and women's leadership, that have been adapted and translated into twelve languages and are being used by individuals and organizations throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. She is one of the leading voices of women grappling with the questions of culture and women's human rights, and helping us all to think about these in new and more creative ways.

Mahnaz began her speech by acknowledging "the extraordinary role" that Charlotte Bunch and the Center for Women's Global Leadership played at the Vienna conference.

She started by sharing news of women getting into positions of power. Asma Khader, one of her organization's active members who was supposed to be part of the international consultation, a human rights activist in the area of violence against women and honor crimes, has joined the cabinet, not just as a minister, but also as a spokesperson for the government of Jordan. "I can't but think that such a presence would enhance the governments to go toward a kinder, softer, gentler approach to government." Another friend, a professor of literature and an activist, has joined the government of Syria. Speaking about the issue of women in government, she commented, "These are issues on which we have some ambivalence. We all want women to be in the places of power where decisions are made. But when it comes, it's quite painful and quite unpleasant and quite daunting to have to do it. But, in my own experience, there is no other way but going to that room, sitting there and trying to affect things, but hopefully having the support of activists and NGOs, to push us, to help us and support us." Another good news was that Mahnaz' friend and countrywoman Shirin Ebadi, received the Nobel Prize for Peace, "which was just the most extraordinary bit of news under the conditions that she has been working and being caught between the attacks from the West in general and also from fundamentalists inside the country."

Going back to what happened in Vienna, Mahnaz spoke of the implications for women activists from the regions she works in (Central Asia, Africa, Middle East), "What happened to us there was clarification of certain theoretical underpinnings of our relationship to human rights activism. For many of us, it became apparent that we have to define our activism in the area of human rights." "We learned in that conference from talking to others, from networking with each other, that we must define our activism and define our ways of approach to human rights in our own terms."

Another result of the conference was a reaffirmation that "human rights activism for women really has to relate to democracy activism and general human rights activism - we need to define, we need to brainstorm, we need to talk to each other in spaces that are our own, but ultimately if we're going to succeed in changing the nature of the human rights situation, we need to connect to the larger picture. We need to connect with other activists."

Mahnaz noted that in the industrialized North, there are certain guarantees, legal frameworks that allow people to express their diversity of opinion, "And that diversity is useful and should be nourished and should have the space to do that." However, in certain parts of the world, those guarantees and fundamental infrastructures that exist in the North are not in operation. "So we have to ensure that we really emphasize universality, again not in the sense where everybody has the same definition of rights necessarily, but in the acceptance of human rights, universal rights as being based on every individual person having certain rights."

"In many of the meetings I have attended, if you speak to a group of grassroots women, whether or not women are skilled, and asked them what is it you wish and whether it be Jordan or Iran or Palestine, or anywhere else, people will come up with a list of rights very closely resemble the Declaration of Human Rights. Everybody wants the right to work; everybody wants the right to freedom of expression; everybody wants the right to freedom of movement; everybody wants the right to have a say over their children's future. Rights are for everyone - every human. No one says that, 'No, I don't want the right to have a say in my marriage or who I'm going to marry, because I happen to be from this or that faith.' And I think there really are shared aspirations of human needs. What has happened however, is people's priorities, people's ways of implementing these rights are very culture specific and specific to their context. So we have to distinguish between the universality of rights and the relativity of implementation. Sometimes of course there is this seemingly, you hate to call it that, but sort of a colonialist activism from the North that sometimes supports some practices or lifestyles which are really less than positive for women in the name of "culture." We must remember that what's good for any one of us is good for everyone, that if we want something for ourselves we shouldn't think that someone else should not necessarily have that right."

Speaking about the issue of fundamentalisms, Mahnaz said, "It becomes more attractive for governments to support the fundamentalist forces rather than the women's forces, because they seem to have public support and they seem to have grassroots following. So it's become an uphill battle for women in the sense that it's almost a situation of physical and spiritual and actual danger to activists in those parts of the world. But nevertheless, like many other situations in this time, it has made women conscious of what they need to do, of what they are about to lose, what gains they have made. The networking and the activism and the efforts are spawned right now and they have been for a long time."

Mahnaz highlighted the valuable impact of new technologies, new possibilities of communication, which have facilitated the ways to connect and exchange information.

In terms of what needs to be done, Mahnaz brought up the North-South connection, saying that what women from around the world need from women activists in the United States is that they try to affect the U.S. government. "With one stroke of the pen the president in this country can do so much damage to the health and reproductive rights of women across the world." She also suggested that the Global Center could serve as a bridge to the policy makers in this country by helping women's voices to be heard.

Current Organizing and Visions for the Future

Wanda Nowicka, Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland

Wanda is active in the promotion, protection, and advocacy of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national, regional, and international levels. She is president of the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and is one of the founders of the regional network, ASTRA, Central and Eastern Europe's network for sexual and reproductive health and rights. She recently organized the arrival in Poland of the Dutch boat that was providing reproductive health services just off the shores of Poland.

Wanda started her speech with a personal reflection about the Vienna conference where she spoke about the violation of women's reproductive rights in Poland. It was very important, she said, to speak about issues such as abortion law in the context of a human rights conference. "Believe me, there are human rights groups who do not believe that access to abortion has something to do with human rights."

1993 was also the year when, after four years of struggle, an anti abortion law was passed in Poland. Poland was one of the very first countries that legalized abortion in 1953 and abortions were legal in Poland for almost forty years. In light of the problems in the U.S. regarding "partial-birth abortion", "All of us should be watching the situation because backlashes are possible and it is very hard to get the rights back." Poland has been struggling since 1993 to regain rights that were denied by the anti-abortion law. Wanda talked about the role and influence of the Catholic Church in lobbying for the law to be passed and the rise of fundamentalism in the country. Although it's not very big in numbers, she said, "It's very strong and has a lot of power, and this is a phenomenon we have to deal with now and for a long time to go."

Wanda's organization has been using all kinds of strategies to fight the anti-abortion law by documenting how this law is really working and what its real effect is on women's rights, i.e. how many tragedies women are experiencing as the result of this law. She also said that a lot of support was received from women all over the world to help with these efforts. This is not only a Polish problem, "It is a problem of global women and it's been happening other places as well." "Since that time, we've been working a lot with women all over the world on different issues, in different ways, and different forms." Wanda said it was recognized that there was a need for some different ways of activism. "The traditional ways of using reports, petitions, a collection of signatures, all kinds of campaigns are important, but sometimes they are not that effective as we would like them to be."

Then, Wanda spoke about a recent project conducted in response to the anti-abortion law. According to international law, national laws do not apply beyond twelve miles from the shore. Dutch women brought a boat equipped for providing women with reproductive services off the shores of Poland. This showed the effect of the anti-abortion law by demonstrating how women needed to go to such extreme things, like going to the boat to receive services that the state ought to be responsible for providing to them.

The first success was that it was shown that the anti-abortion law is a violation of women's self-determination, and abortion was put back on the political agenda. Wanda's organization submitted a draft bill to the Polish Parliament, which could potentially bring some changes. Another huge advancement was that the opinion polls show that the support for legal abortion increased ten percent from last year. Women's rights activists are able to show the problems and difficulties women face as the abortions are performed "underground" (illegally), "because abortion laws did not stop abortion anywhere."

In terms of challenges, Wanda noted the fundamentalism that is present in her region, "The threat to reproductive rights in our region is a really serious problem. Very often this is ignored by all kinds of groups and one of our responses was the establishment of the regional network - ASTRA."

Wanda also spoke about the global feminist debate "neglecting, not intentionally, but in reality, the reality of women from Central and Eastern Europe." "We are not only someone 'between' [North and South]…there is a real need for integration of what goes on in this region to global women's agenda." Another issue in the region is the impact of the change of regime from communism to democracy and a market democracy. Also, there is the issue of the European Union and how women are affected by whether their government is a part of it or not.

Wanda closed by saying that, looking back at the past successful years of our activism in the international arena, "I think that sometimes we were too optimistic about our gains. We had this feeling that the 1990s belonged to us. We thought that we really moved the world forward. Now… here we are." The setbacks showed "how easily we can be deprived of those gains."

"How should we really work towards more effective maintaining and promoting of human rights? Sitting wherever you sit, what can we do to really move things forward? What can we do to stop what's going on now, in the world which most of us don't like?"

Pramada Menon, CREA - Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action, India

Pramada is the director of programs at CREA, Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action, based in New Delhi, India. CREA works to empower women to articulate, demand, and access rights by enhancing women's leadership and focusing on issues of sexuality and reproductive health, violence against women's rights and social justice. Pramada has worked in the development sector in India for the last fifteen years as a trainer, planner, and administrator.

Pramada started by confessing that the Vienna conference transformed her life, but that she did not actually attend. At the time when the conference was happening, she had been working in India and asking herself: "Why is everyone going off to Vienna? What are we talking about? What is 'human rights'?"

The difficulties with the term, Pramada suggested, have a lot to do with the language that people tend to use. "I don't believe for a minute that the work that I did pre-Vienna was not human rights work. I think maybe there wasn't the opportunity to use the word 'human rights.' For a number of years, human rights meant 'Amnesty' (International) - they would come and tell about how our countries were wrong - that we had state violations. So where did the transition happen? " Pramada said she felt it was important to look at the issue of making human rights accessible. "I often feel like we should do a little book that says 'Human Rights for Beginners'" - to make the concept and the human rights system seem less "daunting."

"I think the critical question is one, how do you make it more accessible for people and two, how do you put it together? The idea of the work that we do is not to alienate people. Part of it is also that because there's talk about human rights and women's human rights, and feminism, there's also a backlash against it. We call ourselves a feminist organization, but I have colleagues who say, 'Yes feminism is fine but sometimes I'm really uncomfortable about being called a feminist.' Why are people uncomfortable about being called a feminist? What is it? There's also a whole bunch of people who are uncomfortable around the words 'human rights' and about working with human rights, but if you looked at their work, what they're doing - it's rights based work. So is it the language that's difficult? Is it that people feel that there is an agenda that is being pushed down?"

"I'm interested to know about all the others who are outside this room who are not here to listen to us. And why are they not listening to us? And why is it that very often we seem to lack young people and we don't get them into this whole discussion - so therefore it's going to be the same people who are going to be there for a number of years? Is it that we're making the work that we do something which becomes difficult for people to understand? "We need to think about what is it that makes information accessible to people and they want to read more."

Pramada then talked about the situation in India regarding sexuality and rights, "Our government and everybody else is really uncomfortable talking about sexuality." In India, there is a penal code, which criminalizes same sex relationships but uses the word "any act against the order of nature. Now against the order of nature is flying." What we need to look at is how the Indian right has been so successful in controlling these laws and debates.

Pramada pointed out we need to look at global initiatives. "Everybody has to start with globalization… But at the same time we need to be able to take on globalization. We need to globalize our issues." One of the ways to do this, she said, was through new exchange programs between countries and discussion about these issues. For example, "What has happened is that people have been forced to go back to their own countries [after international discussions] and maybe acknowledge the fact that yes, we need to talk about sexuality. And you know, even worse, have to acknowledge the fact that there might be lesbians and gay men in their country. And that's been terrifying for a lot of people. But we really need to start talking about that because I think that most often we just don't want to address those issues."

"If we want to talk about a truly global movement we need to talk of a movement that opens this discussion."

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, The African Women's Development Fund, Ghana/Nigeria

Bisi is Nigerian and British. She has worked for many years on women's human rights issues, particularly in the interest of black, immigrant women. She has been involved in feminist leadership development programs that support young women's leadership and co-founded the African Women's Leadership Institute. She is currently the Executive Director and co-founder of the African Women's Development Fund, which funds the work of women's rights organizations across Africa. She is also president elect of the Association for Women's Rights and Development (AWID).

Bisi started her speech by talking about the power of legitimacy, the power of credibility, and the power of consistency of the women's human rights movement. "It is the power of legitimacy that has guided us all into this work that we do around women's human rights, and has brought us together from different spaces. It is the power of credibility that has informed the processes through which we have all grown as individuals, activists, and also as organizations. And it is the power of consistency that has kept us together."

In the years since Vienna, Bisi said, "the women's human rights movement has built legitimacy, credibility, and has been consistent. And I believe that we have done this mainly by creating the feminist faith and by keeping faith."

"Wherever I go I preach the gospel of feminist faith. The feminist movement for feminists of all persuasions is a political and ideological space, and this space is made up of the many individuals, networks, partnerships, relationships, organizations and associations that constitute the feminist movement. We use this space to mobilize around the feminist principles; we use it to argue, to agree and to disagree. We use it to sharpen our analytical skills and we use it to foil our activism. What makes this space work is the faith. This faith is manifested in our processes of self-discovery, our dreams, our hopes, our aspirations, and our yearning for more knowledge."

Bisi then talked about her own journey in the processes of creating those feminist spaces and sustaining the faith. Ten years ago, she was based in London and was running a space for African women (to support African women living in England and to sustain the social and activist movements those women had been involved in on the continent.) In 1994, she attended the Women's Global Leadership Institute (WGLI), organized at Rutgers University by the Center for Women's Global Leadership. There she met other women who were interested in creating and sustaining spaces for African women.

After her participation in the '94 WGLI, Bisi created the African Women's Initiative Institute (AWII). AWII had become a forum for networking and information for women on the African continent. Since 1996, AWII trained over 900 women all over Africa, and many of these women have formed their own institutes/organizations in their own communities.

After many years of working on women's leadership development, Bisi shared that she and two other colleagues decided to find a way to address the problem of getting resources for feminist organizing in the African continent. In year 2000, they founded the African Women's Development Fund. Since then, the Fund has supported 185 women's organization in 32 African countries and has given over $4 million in grants. The success was possible through the human, financial and technical resources and relationships in the global women's human rights movement, Bisi said.

Bisi then gave examples of some of the programs and organizations that the African Women's Development Fund has supported: the Women's Human Rights Initiative Training program in Ghana; projects against harmful traditional practices, such as FGM, in Nigeria, Mali, and Gambia; an inheritance project in Tanzania; Women's Human Rights foundation in Nigeria; shelters for survivors of domestic violence; networks working on women's human rights issues in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and a civil defense fund for women's rights organizations in Nigeria.
In 2002, the African Women's Development Fund set up a special fund for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence and had recently awarded grants to 16 organizations in 9 countries to organize activities around the 16 Days in 2003.

Through this work, Bisi noted, we are helping women find their own spaces, and thus - their own voices. Looking towards the future, she warned that, "As we carry this work forward, we will continue to remind ourselves that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done." Some of the next steps Bisi proposed are: keeping focused on an agenda for transformation with initiatives of inclusion and emancipation; replenishing our ranks - investing time in leadership development, managing transition, inter-generational organizing; continuing to nurture relationships, partnerships, and networks, etc. Furthermore, "We have to be brave and speak out, and I say this particularly for our sisters in the United States." - "Silence never protected me, it will never protect you." Finally, "We all have to be vigilant, because the more we gain, the more we stand to lose."

In conclusion, Bisi proposed an answer to her question whether the "cup" of the women's human rights movement is half-full or half-empty. - "Because there is so much power and potential in the work, partnerships and the relationships that we all share, it goes to show that - if we continue to keep the feminist faith, I believe that our cup is half full because we have been legitimate, we have been credible, we have been consistent, and will continue to be."

Olympia's Daughters

Founded in 1990, Olympia's Daughters is an a cappella women's vocal ensemble that performs at community-building events and religious congregations. Through song, they challenge attitudes, foster healing, share hearts, spirits and love for music. The group takes its name from Olympia Brown, the first woman ordained by a national denomination as well as a leading suffragist. Olympia's Daughters has four CDs.

Olympia's Daughters: Althea Clarke, Jacquelyn Diggs, Sue Fulton, Penny Gnesin, Carol Goodman, Peggy Hannis, Brooke Johns, Maria Manna, Renata Miller, elmira Nazombe, Carmen Pinto, Karen Quigley, Kathryn Smithyman, Surita, Debbie Weiler.

For more information, email <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

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16 Days Campaign