VNC Campaign: Engagement with the UN, Capacity Building, and Communications

The WRRC Programmme helped support the participation of VNC partners to the fourth WLUML Feminist Leadership Institute in Senegal in 2009, which was a two-week long training institute which brought together WHRDs from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and diasporas with sessions on media, human rights, rights within Islam, sexuality, and advocacy in Muslim contexts.

The Global VNC Campaign Team had organised delegations & panel presentations to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 2008 and continued to build and evolve its presence there in the first two years of the WRRC Programme (2009 and 2010). VNC began networking with Geneva based NGOs and UN agencies/departments, and presented a statement on traditional values to the UN Human Rights Council in Yr 3 (2010), and attended an open session of the annual meeting of the UN Special Procedures mandate-holders (i.e., Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups). During the 16th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva,  VNC organized a panel on Cultures, Traditions and VAW: Human Rights Challenges in collaboration with the International Women’s Rights Action Watch- Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP), the Partners for Law in Development –India and the Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID). VNC also launched its publication "Control and Sexuality" on zina laws to draw attention to how laws around extra-marital sex have become part of the legal system in some Muslim contexts and can be used to justify human rights violations against women and sexual minorities.

In May 2011, the VNC’s Strategic Evaluation Meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to bring together project partners, campaign team members, advisors, and external supporters.  The meeting evaluated the work done so far by the VNC Campaign under the WRRC Programme, as well as planning and strategizing for the future.

A total of 33 public statements/appeals have been issued by the VNC Campaign in all 3 years of the WRRC Programme, which are disseminated via the VNC’s diverse online platforms (website, listserve, facebook page and twitter).

VNC presented at the CLADEM forum: Education Beyond the Goals in Lima, Peru (2010), and distributed VNC CDs, and showed the Shirkat Gah documentary “A Small Dream”.

VNC networkers have also guest lectured/presented in high schools, undergraduate and graduate courses.

The VNC Campaign’s Communications have included internal and public communications, and collective projects that bring together outputs and analyses from partners. This has included the coordination of producing Control and Sexuality, largely supported by an external grant, and the WRRC helped support the ongoing online and print dissemination of the publication, as well as translations into partners’ languages. Along with an external source, the WRRC Programme also supported the translation of the three VNC Policy Papers into languages of WRRC-focal countries (funded through WRRC and external sources), redesigning the website to create private and public platforms for partners, and creating a multi-media compilation DVD with reports and audio-visual information, which has now being updated, expanded and 500 new DVDs have been produced in mid-2011 and are currently being circulated.  1000 DVDs were produced in 2010 half of which were disseminated in person at the Commission on the Status of Women, and the rest were distributed to allies and networkers from the WLUML International Coordination Office, to community and student groups in networkers’ countries including North America, and to UN staff and friendly country missions in Geneva. The distribution of the VNC-WLUML publication Control and Sexuality on zina laws in Muslim contexts was also strategically planned to reach a cross-section of civil-society, opinion-makers and even decision-makers.  In 2010, funded externally, WLUML networkers and volunteers developed a distribution list that included hundreds of research and resource centres including universities with departments on women’s studies, gender and sexuality in the Global South and North. This has supplemented the existing WLUML database for publication distribution, and the ongoing e-publication of the book’s chapters in English and other languages.

This ongoing work of the Communications team has laid foundations of a campaign communications strategy (developed in year 1 and 2 of the WRRC programme) and its mechanisms of communications, with the recognition that online spaces and (new and old) forms of media are themselves public spaces, which women may wish to reclaim and redefine in their work on culture, rights, and VAW. Having these foundations in place has allowed partners to frame their existing anti-VAW work so as to feed into the broader communications strategy of the campaign in areas where they wish to harness more international and/or online support. Therefore, in Year 2 of the WRRC, two regional trainings were held on strategic uses of ICTs for advocacy, attended by partners from the VNC Campaign (Asia) and also those working on other thematic areas of the WRRC Programme (Africa). These received very positive feedback from participants as well as trainers and organizers, and were designed to feed into the Year 3 projects by partners. These projects continued to focus on their research and advocacy around CVAW in local contexts, but also incorporated two additional facets to link with the Global Campaign: the strategic use of ICTs and linking with the broader framework of Violence is Not Our Culture during the 16 Days of Activism (Nov-Dec 2010). This served three purposes: building upon the skills-training of the previous year, amplifying the diverse messages of sister campaigners under a common framework, and strengthening cross-context solidarity between partners. This relates directly to the WRRC Objectives I (the strategy of following training directly with a project proposal opportunity), II (multi-media outputs), III (building momentum of the global campaign) and IV (fostering cross-context solidarity).

At the global level, the VNC Campaign partnered with the Take Back the Tech Campaign, through the APC-WNSP, and this is another level of cross-context solidarity: not only alliance-building between VNC sister campaigners, but also between the campaign and WHRDs that do not focus upon Muslim contexts. APC-WNSP was contracted to provide trainers for the two regional workshops, and also to develop an open-source, online campaigning space for VNC Campaign partners and an ‘ICT Toolkit for Activists’ e-publication that is tailored for the sister campaigners and campaign team. These were launched from May 2011 and will be distributed largely online  and through a limited number of printed copies. The toolkit is designed as part of the capacity-building work in Year 2 around Communications for Campaigning, along with the trainings and the collaborative online space, the main objectives of which is to enhance the effectiveness of local partners’ advocacy and communication strategy in their contexts. Their local campaigns are expected to have the long-term impact of attracting, reaching and mobilizing the support of a wider range of audiences through their application of learned communication skills and tools in their respective advocacy projects. The 50-page Toolkit includes colour photos from the Year 2 ICT trainings, and comprises the following chapters: Introduction: A feminist approach to online activism; Strategising and planning your online activism; Online Campaigning; Social networking and online activism; Steps in choosing social networking tools for your campaign; Securing your online activism; and recommendations for further reading. The Toolkit is already being read and commented on positively by external allies, including the Regional Representative of Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for the Pacific and the UN Independent Expert on Cultural Rights. In May 2011, a coordinator of the Religious Fundamentalisms project at AWID commented, “I went through your latest toolkit for online activism with great interest. What a wonderful contribution to the work! We will be highlighting it in our next Newsletter. I feel there is a lot we can learn from the way that the VNC has progressed.” The VNC’s Online Toolkit has been featured by a wide range of trans/national organizations websites and newsletters, including: HURIDOCS, AWID, APC, WUNRN, CIVICUS, Peace Women, World Pulse, Girls Action Foundation, GenderNet, Funds for NGOs, European Women’s Lobby, Solidarity Philippines Australia Network,  Make Every Woman Count, Peace and Collaborative Development Network, Network for Youth in Transition, Gender Links for Equality and Justice, and various blogs of women human rights defenders.

In late 2010, the Campaign marked the occasion of its third year, also the third year of the WRRC, with a series of global actions during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence: “Local partners and activists across Pakistan, Indonesia including Aceh, Sudan, and Senegal, as well as Iranian activists in diaspora all joined hands with our global partner, Take Back The Tech, in calling for an end to VAW said to be justified in the name of ‘culture’, ‘religion’ or ‘tradition’.”  Partners projects that produced multi-lingual and multi-media outputs were numerous and innovative, with impressive outputs considering the relatively small amount of seed funding granted.

The issues of the VNC Campaign also inform, and are shared through, the academic research being undertaken by two graduate students of the Communications Team, both of whom have raised the visibility of the campaign and the issues of culture and VAW on campus and in community organizations.  One published “The Piety of Public Participation: The Revolutionary Muslim Woman in the Islamic Republic of Iran” in a 2011 volume of the journal Politics, Religion & Ideology, and the WRRC supported the presentation of her paper “To Specify or Single Out: Should We Use the Term "Honor Killing" at an academic conference in Canada, which was subsequently published in the Muslim World Journal of Human Rights.

The Campaign website is the public face of the VNC, and was revamped in 2010 to include images, a new design, and improved usability and visual appeal. It benefits from being linked to the WLUML website and is also profiled on external websites such as those of partners organizations and the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition. When the campaign was launched in later 2007 it received 8528 hits, which escalated to 969,630 hits in 2008. In 2009 it received 1,430,556 hits, and by January 2011 had received 6,605,832 hits.