WLD as a concept In the early 1980s, third world women seeking to improve women’s socio-legal status and participation in the development process saw how the law could be used in a strategic way as a tool for women’s empowerment. This was the origin of the “Women Law and Development” idea, and it put a different emphasis women in development work. Suddenly, the use of law could be supportive of women’s struggles. Awareness developed about how the law regulates access not only to economic and social resources (land, jobs, credit, and other goods and services) but to political power, that is, control over the allocation or administration of those resources through:
the formulation of laws and policies that are skewed toward the benefit of some and the burden of others;
the arbitrary or selective application or enforcement of laws or policies;
attitudes and behaviors that reinforce and condone the existence of inequitable laws and inconsistent application of the law.
The "Third World Forum on Women, Law and Development," held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985, brought these concepts together as a framework for dialog on how the law works to subordinate women (the issues) and what to do about it (the strategies) to achieve change. This WLD idea has continued to inform and inspire women’s rights advocacy work for over 30 years.
WLD as an Organization(s) WLD has had various organizational iterations. In these pages, "WLD" sometimes refers to the concept and sometimes to the organizations. As the story unfolds, the different meanings should be clear. Here are the relevant organizational references in brief:
OEF 1979-1982. The Overseas Education Fund of the League of Women's Voters, later OEF International, a USA Washington DC-based organization, began a project with women in Central America 1979-1982. Out of this project emerged the general framework of " Women, Law and Development" WLD.
WLD/OEF 1982-1991. After the Central American Project concluded, "WLD" became a program within OEF. It was WLD/OEF that organized the forum in Nairobi and subsequent work with Asian, African and Latin American participants to establish three independent, autonomous, regional organizations: The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and DevelopmentAPWLD (1986-present), The Latin American Committee for the Defense of Women's RightsCLADEM (1987-present), and Women in Law and Development in AfricaWiLDAF (1990-present).
WLDI 1990-2005. The WLD/OEF program became an organization in its own right formally in 1993. It was the only program within OEF from 1990 to 1993. First called the Institute for Women, Law and Development, it later became Women, Law and Development International WLDI. For simplicity sake from 1990 on I refer to the organization as WLDI.
As an international organization, WLDI's board of directors was drawn primarily from the international WLD network. Its mission was to support this network of women's rights advocates and activists by collaboratively developing resource materials on issues of concern to them. WLDI's substantive focus was on violence against women, legal literacy/rights awareness and human rights. It was also dedicated to providing capacity building experiences and materials on rights advocacy. The manner in which these resources unfolded is covered in these pages.
WLD as an approach A methodology is imbedded in the work of the organization and the concept, including critical analysis of the law, cross cultural sharing of ideas and strategies and participatory action research that engages participants throughout.