Topical Workshop:  Democratic Transitions and the Inclusion of Women—Perspectives from the Middle East/North Africa and Latin America

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Session on Advancing Women's Rights During Democratic Transitions, World Movement for Democracy, Lima, Peru, October 2012

Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace
Yakin Ertürk, Turkey (Former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women; and Professor of Sociology, Middle East Technical University)
Middle East and North Africa:
Lina Abou-Habib, Lebanon (Executive Director, Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action)
Asma Khader, Jordan (General Coordinator, Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI/J); Secretary General, The Jordanian National Commission for Women; WMD Steering Committee Member)
Amina Lemrini, Morocco (President, Morocco High Council for Audiovisual Communication; Founding Member, Moroccan Human Rights Organization; Founding Member, Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc)
Latin America:
Jacqueline Pitanguy, Brazil (Founder & Executive Director, Cidadania, Estudo, Pesquisa, Informação e Ação; WMD Steering Committee Member)
Gloria Cano Legua, Peru (Executive Director, La Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos)
Marion Marquardt, France/USA (Women’s Learning Partnership Senior Technology Program Consultant)

Session on Advancing Women's Rights During Democratic Transitions, World Movement for Democracy, Lima, Peru, October 2012

During the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP) organized panel, speakers shared insights, experiences, and analyses on how best to include women and advance universal human rights during times of democratic transitions, drawing on experiences from the MENA and Latin America. They posited what the gendered outcomes of democratic transitions might look like, and discussed how the women’s movement could weigh-in with significant bargaining power during times of transition.

Although transitions may differ from one context to the next, compelling similarities can be drawn.  For instance, co-opting transitions by conservative and anti-women religious groups appears to be a worldwide phenomenon, as we continue to see cases of compromising on women’s right for the sake of national security. We have learned that often, democracies do not adopt gender equality agendas on their own. This issue is further exacerbated by an increasingly conservative political climate that views women as subordinate and relegates them to the private sphere.  This is a new challenge in comparison to the late 1980s, when governments and international actors were more open to equality, human rights practices, and the full realization of women’s rights.  Panelists noted the challenge of recognizing the contributions to society made by the women’s movement, and the tendency to write-off past successes as impositions by former dictators or first ladies. Speakers identified the post-Arab Spring as nothing short of a war on women, for example, in Tunisia, the mention of complementary gender roles in the new constitution and the introduction of female genital mutilation.  Additionally, diversity and minority rights are under threat and so is the freedom of belief or non-belief, which must be included as a structural rather than a secondary element of democracy.

Session on Advancing Women's Rights During Democratic Transitions, World Movement for Democracy, Lima, Peru, October 2012

However, panelists teased out elements of success:
  • Women have made irreversible gains and “sending them back to the kitchen” is no longer an option. Women are more educated and more aware of their rights than in the past.
  • The dynamic role of women in popular movements is a positive indicator for the future.
  • Despite different contexts and different practices, there exists a universal belief in inclusion, justice and the international covenants and declarations. We can safely struggle and strategize together, using the framework of underlying democratic and human rights agreements.
  • Tools at the disposal of the women’s movement include international covenants and declarations.
Also, session participants requested that World Movement for Democracy organizers include women’s perspectives in every panel and discussion; men simply should not be forming strategies without the inclusion of 50 percent of the population. Additionally, several strategies were identified:
  • Women need to clearly claim a secular state to guarantee separation of religion and governance, and thus ensure freedom of religion.  “Religious politics” must be identified as such, and it is essential to go beyond exceptionalism of any religion.  With regards to women’s rights, “Islamic feminism,” or any ideology that places identity above the universality of the rights of human beings, is a contradiction and is not helpful in creating a culture of democracy and equality.
  • Women should insist on their status as “women” and oppose references to a sexless, classless, and colorless concept of “people”.
  • Furthermore, peace and economic justice are essential. Indeed an egalitarian economic distribution of wealth and an inclusive economy are cornerstones of inclusive and participatory democracies.
  • Women need to be involved in shaping progressive legal frameworks, notably constitutions that provide the foundation for all other legislation, and are difficult to modify.
  • Women need to reactivate the international solidarity system and turn to organized politics and broad international coalitions with like-minded movements for effective action, as well as to ensure that a women’s and rights perspective is present, at the heart of the political movement for change.
Panelists and participants concluded that democracy is a process and work-in-progress, where recognition of inclusiveness, participation, diversity, equality, and women’s and men’s full rights are key elements in the journey towards achieving democracy.

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