WIDE Annual Conference 2011

What is now known as the ‘Arab spring’ has had a dramatic ripple effect all over the region, still in upheaval to different extents. Although women were prominent actors of those upheavals, issues of non-discrimination, equality and women’s rights face difficulties to be included in the frameworks of ongoing and/or upcoming constitutional reform processes. Moreover, in many countries retaliation against women has been brutal, ranging from rapes to virginity tests to imprisonment and torture.

The international community is playing a significant role both in terms of diplomacy as well as direct support and selective media coverage. “The Arab spring” has created new international interests as well as new funding pots. What are the implications for the peoples of these countries and for women’s rights in particular?

To discuss these issues with other women leaders from the region as well as with women activists from the European Union, the WIDE Network, in close partnership with the Collective for Research and Training for Development – Action (CRTD-A), is delighted to invite you to its Annual Conference “Women’s Rights and Gender Equality amidst the ‘Arab Springs’” to be held on 27-28 October 2011, in Brussels, Belgium.

Download the invitation.

Download the draft agenda and concept note.


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WIDE Annual Conference 2010 Report Now Published

Migration and globalisation are key issues for the women’s movement as they are having serious impacts on women’s lives and rights.

Women from all corners of the globe including many representatives from European migrant women associations came together at the WIDE conference to share and reflect on this open question of migrant women’s human rights at risk, compelling us to rethink, expose and denounce the architecture of policy-making in Europe (and globally), and to explore the links between decisions taken at a global level and the impact they have on the ground.

You can download the report from here.

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Feminist Dialogue in New York

The Feminist Task Force of the GCAP organised a day of feminist dialogue parallel to the MDG Summit. The panel discussion addressed how women are facing financial and economic crises globally.

Listen to Kinda Mohamadieh from the Arab NGO Network for Development – ANND.

Listen to Luisa Cruz Hefti (FTF-GCAP), who presented the perspective from Europe.

Perspective from Latin America was presented by Ana Agostino. Listen to Ana Agostino’s presentation here.

Perspective from the United States, where the crises was originated from, was unfolded by Diana Salas, from Women of Color Policy Network – NYU. Download Diana’s speech from here.

Rehana Khilji from HOPE Pakistan talked about the impacts of crises and climate change on the rural women in Pakistan and more generally in Asia. Download Rehana’s presentation from here.

The main claim of Josephine Kamel from African Women’s Economic Policy Network (AWEPON) was to have women “on the table, near the table, under the table and around the table of decision-making”.

Josephine’s presentation available here.

The last in the panel was Natalie Raaber from AWID, who gave the global perspective analysed the previous contributions from the global women’s rights agenda.

Listen to Natalie here.

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Bucharest Gathering in Pictures

Photos from the WIDE Annual Conference 2010 are now available on Flickr.

Find them out from here.


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Domestic and care work should be recognized as work

The 2nd Panel presentations were held on the subject of gendered migration in Western EU states, which are increasingly in need of a large amount of domestic work – one of the largest sectors driving international female labour migration. This work is usually performed in the informal sector of the economy, the workers being excluded from benefits of the social and health security system. Most of the women who will take these jobs are exposed to illegal and unregulated status in the host country.

Women’s migration on domestic and care work in Europe must have an impact on EU policies. But the ambiguity of migration discourses and the lack of public debate over domestic work at the policy level will sustain the current economic neoliberal model. Another consequence is the phenomenon of multiple discriminations for migrants moving into low skilled jobs to meet the increasing demand for cheap and flexible migrant labour. All economic globalization through transnational corporations has a huge impact on countries, communities and people, leading to labour exploitation. Even if “the impacts of globalization upon women’s work, mobility and empowerment are not easily summarized or generalized”[1], all women will be affected in different ways depending on the places, contexts or personalities.

Andrea Spehar analyzed how in the context of globalization no country remains unaffected by migration, and especially by labour migration as driven by uneven global economic development. A set of trade liberalization policies (through WTO) and a big number of bilateral free trade agreements settle down a full market access for transnational corporations. The disadvantage is that “contemporary trade policies have prioritized the interest of global capital and profit maximization over poverty eradication, social justice and gender equality”, which is the case of European strategy pointed in “Global Europe: Competing in the world”, 2006.

While the majority of the world’s workers is found in the informal economy, the “feminization of labour captures the increased share of women in the formal labour force relative to the men”, and “also includes recognition of the deterioration of working conditions in predominantly female jobs”. Usually migrant women’s labour is found in almost all less paid sectors, and working conditions are exploitive and risky. In consequence, the reasons for hiring women workers create an advantage for TNSs are the wage inequalities, “their subordinate position in the labour market, and the discrimination and abuse of women workers that are not incidental or accidental to the global economic order. Instead, they illustrate the structural inequalities in contemporary divisions of labour where different forms of discrimination are fundamental to women’s employment conditions in the global economy”. A gender quality dimension should be seen through labour migration. The concept that defines the visibility of migrant women, “feminization of migration”, really reveals the “increase in women’s autonomous migration over the past few decades”[2].

From recent statistics the highest percentage of international female migrants can be found in Europe, but for women who migrate there are no changes in gender role, underlined Filomenita Høgsholm. While “the dismantling of the welfare states in Europe… reorganized the division of responsibilities between the states and families for care and dependent sectors of the population” migrant women often “replace national women in their traditional care and domestic roles”. This can be called “new gender order” where women entering labour markets outsource “parts of their care work to migrant women”. Only by valuing the domestic work, recognizing it as real and legal work, with dedicated policies, it will change the gender order. And the concept that will shape the global economic labour system is the migrant domestic worker.

Referred to as domestic work, there are no specific international regulations or common accepted definition. For EU member states the legislative and policy approaches are varying “from child and elderly careers to security guards and gardeners”. The usual understanding relies on the areas covering family care and household maintenance. While regulation depends on each state for giving (temporary) legal entry to domestic workers, it can be said that domestic work is “characterized by the following aspects: the intimate nature of the social sphere where the work is performed; the social construction of this work as a female gendered area; the special relation between the employer and the employee, which is highly emotional, personalized and typified by mutual dependency; and the logic of care work which is different from that of other employment areas”[3]. The extreme need is to “re-conceptualize care work as valuable and productive, for example, by finding ways to national economies and the sustainability of the welfare sectors”[4].

“Domestic works have no legislation, are lower paid jobs, and are made by migrant women without legal status” – noted Fe Jusay. What can be the strategy for domestic workers rights? The migrants, even undocumented, contribute to economic growth of the host country and of the home country through remittances. This issue is a feminist one and has to be done through redistribution of resources and state contribution (moving the service from private to public dependency). The domestic workers should politicize their work – through unions gathering, parties statements, feminist campaigns, etc. The impediment is the illegal status of migrants that expose them to other risks like deportation in home countries. That’s why the EU member states law should be reinforced in the first place to adopt migration status. Unfortunately, migration regimes in EU states are very different. Then, the possibility to issue work permits for the purpose of domestic work is very low in most of EU countries. As an organization, EU doesn’t have the power to influence the member states to modify even the gender legislation. But, it is much easier for the international movements of women to influence the local or national behaviour.

“We should mobilize women, not women’s policies” said Andrea Spehar, underling the role and importance of international feminist lobbying and raising awareness campaigns through women’s movements. “National, regional and international networks of civil society organizations working towards the human rights of women migrant workers have emerged in various parts of the world”[5] encouraging and sustaining a feminist strength. Among them are: ENoMW and RESPECT in Europe, WIDE, EWL, WIEGO, etc.

The overview of the migrant workers strategies enables the capacity building that should emphasize the migrant empowerment through self-organization and education. The gender aspects in strategies of migrant workers represent a profound and serious consideration. By gender mainstreaming there will develop links, networking and international working groups on rights assignment. In the same time, response strategies need to be constantly adjusted to the circumstances, realities and perspective of MDGs through transnational advocacy, lobby and campaign. It is also important that lobbying and campaigns should raise the interest of transnational corporations: WTO, IMF, WB or the EU governments, Parliament and policy makers. The key to keeping the objectives alive is the pro-active in outreaching to migrant networks as well as to encourage them, especially to empower women in the grassroots.


Franck, Anja K, Spehar, Andrea, Women’s labour migration in the context of globalisation, WIDE, 2010.

Ioana Vrabiescu, graduated in Gender and Political Studies at National School of Administration and Political Sciences, participant in Panel 2, first day of the conference.

[1] Franck&Spehar 2010, p. 11

[2] idem, p. 13

[3] idem, p.40

[4] idem, p. 56

[5] idem, p. 66

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Empowerment of women in the grassroots

Taking into consideration the poor representation of the Romanian women at the WIDE international conference held in Bucharest, a question arises. Why were they so underrepresented in Panels?

Despite the fact that the organizing country should take the advantage of the location, the matter of  representation was not, in fact, due to the organizers, but just a mere consequence of some existent facts: there are no women’s movements that can be seen because Romanians don’t even imagine grassroots women’s movements.

While women struggle became an agenda for an academic approach, is not yet an issue for educational policies. Even if EU pre-adhesion conditions stipulate the necessity of the Romanian state to implement appropriate legislation for women’s human rights, the raising awareness of the Romanian women about the existence of these feminist political views is not a real one.

They are still victims of domestic violence and of gender discrimination at workplaces, without being conscious of it. In their families, a 95% of the cases treated domestic work as a women’s specific concern. Among EU states Romania has the lowest women’s representation in Parliament (9,7%), and, unfortunately, this subject is ignored by the international support due to the “official laws” that can stand for gender equality. Many of the Romanian labour migrant women who leave their families behind, expose themselves, both in their country and in the receiving ones, to incredible dramas.

The serious problem is the understanding of gender equality norms by the local people. The way to do it remains unknown, even though I can easily say that raising awareness and empowerment of women in grassroots could be the best way. And a real help for a healthy civic society are international NGOs, like WIDE, which will facilitate the transfer of knowledge and capacity building from organizations around the world.

Like in the final Panel presentation of WIDE, where Barbara Sprecht pointed out the international strategies of capacity building and networking for development and actions which will enforce women’s rights, I think the role of new European member states should be more visible, more active. And for better results this should be done both ways: states as aid receivers and aid donors.

There are 3 key concepts for fighting against the vices of economic global system: solidarity, networking and movement building. The same economic global system which is unjust, unsustainable and shaped by neo-liberal policies is the one which creates gender, race, class, age inequality through exclusion and discrimination. The aim is to educe this junction as a social, political, cultural and economical intersection, to unpack the themes and to address them globally.

Ioana Vrabiescu, participant in Panel 4, second day of the conference.

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“We must give women the choice” said Ms Samia Allalou at Wide Conference 2010

 We are at the third day of the Wide Annual Conference2010 in Bucharest – “Migration in the context of globalization” and we are talking with Ms. Samia Allalou.

Samia Allalou is a Paris-based Algerian journalist, television anchor and documentary filmmaker, and has been a board member of Women Living under Muslim Law (www.wluml.org) since 2007. At Wide conference she facilitated the workshop on women, migration and religion, especially Islam.


Allalou interview part 1

Q: First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity of this interview and I hope you enjoyed the conference here in Bucharest so far. My first question would concern the ways feminism and the Islamic culture go together, first on a wider level and then specifically in the case of Algeria from your perspective.

A: There is a movement called Islamic Feminism, but I am not talking about this movement because I don’t agree with these theories. From a political point of view, Islamism is very different from feminism. But feminism would go together with Islam. Do you feel the difference? The words are very important. So yes, feminism goes together with religious Islam.

Allalou interview part 2

WLUML works with Muslim laws. Not all of the network’s members are Muslims, or if they are Muslims they fight for Islam, or they are even atheists, who don’t believe in God at all. So being a feminist and working on Islam is possible. And some Muslim feminists in WLUML, like Ziba Mir-Hosseini who is from Iran or like the members of the Sisters in Islam Organization, do a very good job reinterpreting the Quran. Because in all the religions you have the white side and the black side: in the Jewish religion, in the Christian religion and in the Islam. And we know that most religions are inspired by patriarchy and until now there were always the men who interpreted the religions and now it’s time to change this. Those Muslim women who are trying to reinterpret the Quran, the women are reading the Quran for ourselves and are trying to find the white side of the religion, the equality in the text, because in some countries you can talk about the universal rights of women before talking about what it is said in religion. In WLUML we have 3 ways to function: we make advocacy for women’s rights and for human’s rights, we make advocacy as an objective for secularism and the third way is reinterpreting religious verses, all in order to achieve equality between women and men.

Q: I have read Benazir Bhutto’s biography where she also tries to reinterpret the Quran. Are you continuing her work?

Allalou interview part 3

A: There are a many women who are working in this way, such as Iranian or Malaysian women. It is very interesting and Benazir Bhutto did not do this out of hazard. There is a big need for this when we are in a religious Islam state; we cannot go without those reinterpretations. You need to use the religion to say to women that it is not Islam, but it is what the men are saying, but it is not really like that; and then you can go to those women and talk about equality, about feminism, about domestic violence; for example when you want to talk about violence, you need to go from their own stories, you cannot tell them that violence against women is bad, at least in theory. You ask them, you try to talk about their lives and they begin to talk about their life. So with this perspective of life, even their lives seem strange:”I am not equal with my brother”, “I am not equal when I go out and when I work by night”. For example by night in Algeria you are harassed everywhere if you go out by night. You cannot live alone. There are migrant Algerian women in the South of Algeria who were aggressed only because they live alone. So when you begin to share those experiences with women, you can then arrive to talk about feminism, which is equality. Simple equality between men and women, it’s not theory. And then you can talk to them about what the International Convention is. Step by step. Step by step you arrive to universal rights. And then about secularism, because in some states the laic law says “don’t believe in god!”. There is no link; it’s only the separation between the religion and the law. This is what we tell to the women, if the religion is not linked with the law, you are equal, you cannot be violated, you cannot be aggressed and you don’t give up. Therefore they adhere; they get involved in our movement when they feel secured and confident.   

Q: How do you feel the Algerian society and women rights have evolved after Algeria’s independence in the ‘60s? Did women rights developed at the same speed as their EU counterparts, was there a step back or was there just a different approach?

Allalou interview part 4

A: Women were in a war against colonialism in Algeria between ’54 and ‘62 and they participated intensively and effectively. Even men were proud because those women were participating equally with them to liberate the country. But in ’62, after the independence, men wanted to tell women, not directly but to explain to them in several ways that now the war was finished so go home. But the women didn’t want to. And they were fighting for their rights but in a silent way. The media didn’t show their movement in ’62 and ‘65, nor in the ’70s when there was a movement against a rumored Family Code in Algeria. The protests went on until 1984 when the conservatives in the Algerian government and in the Assemble voted the Family Code. There was only one party, the conservative unity, there wasn’t a democracy, and so the code wasn’t in fact voted but imposed. Since then the women has to obey to the husband and she needs a tutor – someone who is responsible for her, even if she is 60 years old she still needs a man, her father, her cousin or even her little brother to be responsible for her. When a men wants to divorce, for example, this process is unilateral, he just tells to the women or to the judge that the wife is divorced, she will receive a letter from the tribunal saying she is divorced and has to leave the home even if she has the guard of the children – she has the guard but she is guarded!-  and she has to live alone. And in 2003, just before 2004, 20 years of living under the Family Code, we decided to launch a campaign to say “20 years enough!” and we try to find other ways to talk about this issue, not by politic discourse because it is not accessible to every women, so we thought of a film and then a song – a song is good because it is not very long – and we made a clip for this song and the text talk about what is the Family Code really about, in real lives. We launched this campaign very strongly in France and Algeria at the same time and in 2005 there were some amendments for some discriminatory articles; for example the women doesn’t have to obey anyone. The women can chose her tutor, but it still needs to be a man because women are not accepted – 1 man can be a witness but in the same time there needs to be 2 women to count for a witness.; then the family cannot be an obstacle if she wants to marry; and most important, from 2005, if a woman wants to divorce, she will stay in her home and the husband becomes responsible for the children is the woman doesn’t want this no more. Before he was the first one: woman, mother of woman, aunt and then the father; now he is second. And there is something very important that has changed since 2005 which is the Code of Nationality. This has nothing to do with the Family Code and it said before that children could have Algerian nationality only if the father was Algerian. Now it has changed, so that children are also Algerian whether the Algerian woman is married or not. There are people always asking for abrogation of the Family Code, we don’t need this code.

Q: Were there known cases of Sharia law being applied above secular law in recent decades and can Algeria have a positive influence in terms of women rights on less developed neighborhood such as Mauritania and Sub-Saharan West Africa?

A: Sharia law, I don’t accept it. There are laws, there are Muslim laws, Sharia doesn’t mean anything. The word is very fashionable. The Family Code is all inspired by religion and there is no parallel secular justice system in Algeria. In Mauritania for example there is a custom law. In Algeria there is like a convention, there are many things that are not written in the law, yet people are using those things, as customs or as inspired from religion. But in tribunals we talk about religion only concerning the Family Code – divorce, marriage, heritance, because in Muslim countries women are not equal in heritance either. About the influence of the WLUML International Network, this November we were organizing the Leadership Institute and there were 2 Mauritanian women and also Iranian, Senegalese, Pakistani, Indonesian, Bangladesh, Malaysian, Algerian, Egyptian, Nigerian, Indian, Chinese, French women, sharing and experiencing a lot of networking from all over the world. This way they know now there is a plan of action which is based on the problems in those countries are, on the obstacles and on the strategies or the issues to manage these obstacles. If there is, for example, a problem in Mauritania, it’s like in ’76 in the other countries of the network, so we try to push and to put more pressure to make a difference. It’s not always easy, but we try.

Allalou interview last part

Q: I was puzzled to learn that many of the victims of human trafficking from Islamic cultures in the Caucasus and Central Asia end up as prostitutes or bought brides in fellow Islam states such as Turkey, The Arab Emirates and Iran. This might seem a bit hypocritical; do you think there is an acceptable level of public awareness on this subject?

A: No. In the Arab or Muslim states there is nothing about this. There is nothing because the media are not doing their job and even in the occidental media there is a big amount of hypocrisy because they don’t want to show this. Because people who are doing this are reach people, rich Arabs. And they don’t want to offence those rich Arab Muslims people. The problem everywhere is the silence regarding this issue.

Q: What strategy or pack of actions from the EU you consider would help most the women rights in Northern Africa and the Middle East: Economic incentives, coercion, or laissez faire

A: I think there is not a strategy from Europe, but I believe in strategies from women’s movement in Europe, this is really important.

Q: EU usually gives incentives like for health and trade, or they can force it like in Iraq. So is it a forced, is it economic or do you just go by yourself as a state?

A: Well it depends on the project. I know that in Algeria there are a couple of projects financed by the EU. But there should be more pressure coming from the EU. We can say it doesn’t exist and here is a problem of hypocrisy also. On one hand there is what they say in the EU about the women’s movement and on the other hand the relation between the EU and the local governments.

Q: There is also a difference because there will put less pressure on a rich or loyal country.

A: Yes, of course, this is the case with Algeria, petrol. There is not a lot of pressure and they hate this, there is also a kind o specter of a stranger’s hand which is doing all the bad things in our country. If you come from abroad and you say there is a problem in your country, you can not do anything about it, you don’t have the right. We can do this because we are from there, we can do it easily.

Q: We are debating in Romania for like 10 years about legalizing the prostitution. What do you think from a pragmatically point of view? Do you think that the Dutch model where prostitution is legal and they enjoy social security, health insurance and pension, is it better or should we keep it in the black market?

A: I don’t think that the black market is good for anything. So maybe to legalize it, but not to industrialize it, not to make it an industry, like in Germany, this is not a good example for me. 

Q: So what would be cost-effective solutions in order not to have so many victims of human trafficking?

A: Maybe to make women do other things, training, there are a lot of jobs women can do. But they are often forced to prostitute. In my point of view the best option would be if we could help women not to give up, but to get training, to have a choice, to do what they want. We must give women the choice. If they are good with prostitution, ok. I wish we could help them so they have another choice, not to tell them do you want to be a prostitute or not. If she doesn’t know anything else, she will continue with it. But if we could help her have another skill and have another view on life, maybe she could do something else.

It was a pleasure to meet you, thank you!

Monica Sonia, PhD Candidate in International Relations with the National School of Political Sciences and Administrative Studies, Bucharest, Romania

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