More than 2,500 women from 140 countries traveled to İstanbul on Thursday for the start of the Association of Women's Rights in Development (AWID) 2012 forum.
The four-day international summit has attracted activists, journalists and scholars from across the globe to share their diverse experiences and together explore how to best move forward in channeling and reshaping economic power to advance women's rights and justice.
Not only does economic power impact women all over the world in every dimension of their lives, said AWID Board President Lina Abou-Habib, but it also cuts across all women's rights issues. The conference's hefty agenda, with break-out sessions ranging from gender-based violence and reproductive rights to political participation and education, proves just that.
The summit kicked off as both a celebration of women activists' work and a call to action to galvanize the international feminist movement.
“In the last 12 years we have taken a defensive approach in our political efforts. We've had to defend what we gained but we have not pushed forward. Now we need to rebuild the women's movement and take the offensive,” AWID Executive Director Lydia Alpízar Durán pressed.
İpek İlkkaracan Ajas from İstanbul Technical University, another panelist in the plenary, zeroed in on challenges she and other academics and activists have confronted in Turkey.
“Despite Turkey's economic growth, this is a country alongside others where the integration of women in the labor force has not been seen. Turkey ranks high in per capita income but ranks 190th, or 10th from the bottom, in its gap between employment of women and men,” Ajas noted.
Ajas also discussed a specific economic obstacle facing millions of women around the world -- the phenomenon of care labor, or the production of goods and services in the household. Not only is child labor almost exclusively shouldered by women, but it is also largely unrecognized by governments and economic markets, Ajas asserted.
“We need an equal sharing of household duties between men and women. This is an important component of gender equality, but it is also an area in which we are not moving forward,” she said.
Mahnaz Afkhami, a former women's affairs minister of Iran, led a break-out session Thursday for women's rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa to share their strides and challenges in advancing women's rights in the midst of the democratic uprisings that have swept the region.
Afkhami, a lifetime advocate for the rights of women and founder and president of the Women's Learning Partnership (WLP), works with women's rights activists around the world, especially in Muslim majority societies.
But the hindrances Muslim women face are not so different than those of women across the globe, Afkhami told Today's Zaman in an exclusive interview. “The struggles women face generally come from social structures on which society has been based – patriarchal, hierarchal and authoritarian structures, for example. And for the most part, these institutions exclude women from making decisions that affect their own lives.”