Research & Action Report Fall/Winter 2009
by Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, S.J.D.
U.S.-Saudi Women's Forum on Social Entrepreneurship
The U.S.-Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, a new initiative co-organized by the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), aims to enrich the lives of women and their communities in Saudi Arabia by developing and applying their business and leadership skills so that they may address social needs, while generating societal and economic value.
Dar Al Hekma (DAH), a private women’s college in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has partnered with WCW and the Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College on the forum. This summer, DAH students visited Babson, a Wellesley, MA neighbor to WCW, for a two-week course on Social Entrepreneurship. During the U.S. visit, students were taught by scholars from WCW and Babson, including Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D., WCW executive director, and Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, S.J.D., director of International Human Rights Policy Programs at WCW, on ways to set up a social enterprise. Students left the exchange program with an action plan to implement a group service project in Jeddah.
Prior to their arrival in the U.S., students participated in a short seminar that lay the conceptual foundation for the exchange program. Bailey and de Silva-de Alwis will travel with their Babson colleagues to Jeddah in January to continue their work with the students. The program will culminate with a leadership fair, showcasing the service projects of the students, and highlighting other accomplishments of the Forum.
The U.S.-Saudi Women’s Forum on Social Entrepreneurship program is funded by the U.S. Department of State in a cooperative agreement with ICF International, LLC and Babson College.
Women's Leadership Network
With private donor funding and organizational support, WCW is developing a network of women leaders in countries where Islam is a state religion, or where a large community is governed by religious laws, including Islamic laws. Network members are women who have broken new ground in political, public, and economic participation in their communities and in the world.
The network is at the seminal stages of building a body of scholarship that will serve as a platform for advocacy and the sharing of strategies to bolster women’s political, public, and business participation. Scholarly, first-person articles by network members, focusing on emerging gender developments in the Muslim world, will be published by WCW in a flagship paper series in late winter. These articles will examine emerging issues in family law; changes in equality lawmaking and violence against women; new developments in women’s political participation; and creative interpretations of the Shariah law to advance women’s rights.
The paper series will include an introduction by WCW’s de Silva-de Alwis that will lay out the thematic issues presented by the network members. This overview will trace the intersecting trajectories of the women leaders’ experiences as well as key societal and political challenges they have overcome and opportunities they have seized in their different home countries.
The critical issues, emerging ideas, and case studies identified in this paper series as advancing women’s status in the Muslim world will serve as the basis for web-based discussions by the network members. A strategy meeting to bring the network members together at WCW to engage in further discussions will be planned as a continued practical application of this work. A platform of action and a strategy paper will emerge out of this anticipated pivotal roundtable. Learn more about emerging issues from the network at www.wcwonline.org/muslimworldleaders.
Gender & the Law in China Expert Group Consultation
Twelve of China’s leading gender and law experts came together in September to build common cause on some of the country’s most exciting and emerging new developments as part of the Gender & the Law in China Expert Group Consultation project. All twelve were chosen based on the extraordinary contributions they continue to make to China’s evolving gender and law landscape. With funding from The Ford Foundation, WCW scholars welcomed the Chinese contingent and some of their U.S. counterparts to the Wellesley College campus for an intensive, fourday strategy meeting.
The aim of the program was to provide the members a platform to share ideas and strategize with each other on collaborative work that will spawn new opportunities to advance exciting new research and action on women’s rights in China. Moreover, this meeting provided an opportunity to brainstorm with colleagues from the U.S. and the Asian region. The expectation is that these new and strengthened multi-disciplinary partnerships will renew shared commitments while provoking cross-disciplinary research agendas, new insights, plural strategies, and a common vision that will augment the work of all participants at the Expert Group Consultation.
The China Gender and Law experts will put into motion the platform of action that was created at the consultation, which will inform new policy in China. The Honorable Nancy Gertner, U.S. District Court Judge, District of Massachusetts, and WCW’s de Silva-de Alwis, who moderated the strategy consultation, will meet with the experts in China in March to engage with them on their follow-up steps. This past summer, de Silva-de Alwis traveled to Beijing for a preparatory meeting at the Ford Foundation to build the groundwork for the China Gender and Law Expert Consultation.
*The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) under Cooperative Agreement Number S-NEAPI-05-CA-168. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendation expressed herin are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State. MEPI is a Presidential initiative founded to support economic, political, and educational reform efforts in the Middle East and expand opportunity for all people of the region, especially women and youth. More information about MEPI can be found at: www.mepi.state.gov. ICF International partners with government and commercial clients to deliver professional services and technology solutions in the energy, climate change, environment, transportation, social programs, health, defense, and homeland security markets. The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), located within the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, assists efforts to expand political participation, strengthen civil society and the rule of law, empower women and youth, create educational opportunities, and foster economic reform throughout the Middle East and North Africa.