The end of the organization, WLDI In the late 1990s during a period of growth and expansion, an evaluation of our situation offered a blueprint for future development. By 1999 we entered a significant and difficult organizational moment. We needed to move to institutionalize WLDI and create financial and organizational stability. We needed to change from an organization held together by the effort of a tiny staff of two or three responsible for programs, management and fundraising to a institution where functions would be divided and specialized. We recognized that our major challenge was to retain the dynamic and vital quality of WLDI without becoming bureaucratic and losing the vision that had given it life while finding sources of income that would permit organizational stability. During this period we expanded staff and continued to design and implement projects within the framework of our mission to mobilize and collaborate with researchers, advocates/defenders, activists and monitors throughout the world to
identify legal, cultural and structural impediments to women's enjoyment of their rights; (research)
develop action strategies to promote policies that practices that uphold women's rights internationally and nationally; (advocacy) and
train women to understand and engage the human rights process in defense and promotion f women's rights (capacity building)
But one critical piece was missing: a stable funding source that would permit us to achieve the institutional goal while continuing to carry out our individual programs. Our attempts to develop a constituency of individual donors to support our organization was unsuccessful and we continued to rely on institutional donors to function. A move by one of our donors to cut core funding in favor of project support occurred at this very time and severely limited our options. Thus, despite the outstanding quality of the members of our board of directors and staff, we were unable to pass this hurdle of institutional stability. With insufficient funds, staff diminished and the organization dissolved. For a deeper understanding of the factors that led WLDI to close their doors, I refer you to the experience of the Women Peacemakers Program. Their farewell letter details the pressures facing many women's rights organizations struggling to continue operating with a minimum level of financial security. Read it here: WPP Closure The work of WLDI has not ended, however. It leaves as a legacy international interdisciplinary research and educational work by and in support of the movement, conceptual frameworks, strategy elaboration tools and training courses in rights advocacy aimed at equipping women throughout the world with skills necessary to become effective defenders and advocates for women's rights. The three independent regional organizations, with roots in WLD, are a dynamic force today in the struggle to promote and defend women's rights in their regions and across the globe.
The legacy of Women, Law and Development WLD was part of a broad movement of women’s rights advocates, activists and defenders. It was by no means the only contributor to the movement, but it played a key role at a critical point in time. The vision articulated by the women of the WLD Nairobi Forum in 1985 is what gave inspiration and vitality to the work of WLD in its various iterations and to the broader movement over the years. The core targets they set were these:
Work toward the establishment of an International Commission on Women's Rights
Create a network of women's organizations throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America to share information and experiences about women's struggles for their rights in various parts of the Third World
Implement regional conferences to bring together women's organizations in order to exchange information and share experiences with strategies addressing issues of women, law, and development, and to coordinate research and action at the regional level;
Establish an Emergency Committee of third world women for voicing concern about, and mobilizing world opinion against, any violations of the civil, legal, and human rights of women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America;
Formulate draft legislation on specific issues concerning women at regional and international levels;
Popularize the language of the law by using mass media and other strategies to demystify the law and make it more accessible to the people;
Work toward an "alternative law," which would maximize women's rights and be drawn from the language, reality, and experiences of the vast majority of third world peoples, whose interests historically have been ignored.
All of these recommendations have been and are still being fulfilled, although not in exactly the way they were envisioned thirty-some years ago with a primary focus on third world women. The outcomes have been international, but it is women from Asia and the Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean who have given the movement a dynamism it lacked when international work on women's rights was dominated by North Americans and Europeans. The "conferences" and "establishment of the WLD regional networks" were achieved within five years of 1985 forum. The work of the networks over the past thirty years on violence against women, rights awareness, economic justice, human rights, etc., has contributed to the development of what was called at the time "alternative law, maximizing women's rights and drawn from the language, reality, and experiences of the third world women." The "feminist law" of today being developed by APWLD, WILDAF and CLADEM makes this recommendation an on-going reality in their work, mobilizing women "to forge a feminist future," in the words of APWLD. The "international commission" and the "emergency committee for voicing concern about, and mobilizing world opinion against, any violations of the civil, legal, and human rights of women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America" has been largely achieved through the expansion of UN mechanisms, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and a strengthened Commission on the Status of Women. This came about through the mobilization of women throughout the world pressing for the recognition of women's human rights. The regional networks, such as APWLD, CLADEM, WILDAF, the OSI women's networks in Eastern Europe and the Central Asian republics formerly of the Soviet Union, together with international organizations such as the International Women's Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) with its primary focus on CEDAW and the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University spearheading successful women's rights campaigns all contributed to achieving these goals. As women engaged in various actions including research to clarify the issues and strategies, campaigns, and direct engagement with the UN system using CEDAW and regional or international human rights mechanisms, women's concerns began to be taken more seriously at national and international levels. As a result, the concept of rights expanded as did the mechanisms needed to hold violators of women's rights accountable.
Recognition and gratitude The women of today are more powerful and dynamic than ever before in their pursuit of respect for women's rights throughout the world and I see a direct link between the vitality of the movement today and the insight of the women in 1985 who framed the goals of a movement, established regional organizations and articulated a vision for our future. Many of these women went on to hold important positions within government and the UN system; others are still active in the organizations they founded. To name a few:
Radhika Coomaraswamy (Sri Lanka), a founder of APWLD and board member of WLDI, became the first Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Special Rapporteur for Children and Armed Conflict, among other posts.
Asma Jahangir RIP (Pakistan), a founder of APWLD, also served as UN Special Rapporteur on a variety of issues along with her life-long non-governmental activism in defense of human rights and the rights of women.
Savitri Goonesekere (Sri Lanka), also a founder of APWLD, is an expert on the rights of the child and has written extensively on family law and child labor.
Julieta Montaño (Bolivia), a founder of CLADEM and internationally recognized human rights and women's rights defender.
Susana Chiarotti (Argentina), a founder of CLADEM and still an active member and tireless worker in defense of women's rights in Latin America.
Florence Butegwa (Uganda), first Regional Coordinator of WILDAF and board chairperson of WLDI, worked with UN WOMEN for several years and has contributed to the global movement through her writing and insights..
Athaliah Molokomme (Bostwana), participant in the Nairobi WLD Forum and WLDI board member, is Attorney General of Botswana.
Akua Kuenyehia (Ghana), one of the founders of WILDAF and WLDI board member, was a judge for 12 years on the International Criminal Court.
These are only a few of the women whose vision and activism have contributed to the progress women have seen in the past number of years, but they are by no means the only ones who have contributed. Many, including but not only those named in this brief history, strengthened the movement in different ways. Among them are those who are no longer with us. They made significant contributions and are remembered with affection and gratitude.
Rani Jethmalani (India)
Irene Fernande (Malaysia)
Narda Meléndez (Honduras)
Giulia Tamayo (Peru)
Salma Sobha (Bangladesh)
For these and so many others with whom I have worked, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of their lives and of a vital movement to promote and defend women's rights throughout the world.
Go on to NETWORK LINKS to see the work of women's rights organizations today, especially those regional groups with roots in Women, Law and Development.
Women, Law and Development
In these pages, Margaret Schuler, the initiator and director of WLD for many years, shares the story of its development and the contributions it has made to the international movement.