1999-2000

I. Summary
II. Regional Programs Overall
III. Africa
IV. Europe
V. India
VI. Latin America
VII. United States
VIII. International Human Rights Case Work
IX. Strategic Planning and Organizational Capacity Building
X. Finances , 1999-2000



I. Summary
Women's WORLD, a global free speech network of women writers, was founded in 1994 to address the deteriorating situation of feminist writers, who are caught between media consolidation and globalization, on the one hand, and backlash movements that target feminists, on the other. Its goals are:

  • To build a worldwide mutual aid network of women writers in order to break down isolation and defend those under attack.

  • To develop autonomous feminist institutions including presses, distribution networks, writers' centers, and institutes, as a basis for women's independent political thought.

  • To fight the silencing of women through research, public education, and action.

In 1995, Women's WORLD got its first grant, from the Ford Foundation, to bring a delegation to the Beijing Conference and publish a pamphlet, "The Power of the Word: Culture, Censorship and Voice," which named and analyzed the problem of gender-based censorship in the post-Cold War global context. This pamphlet has since been published in Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Urdu, and eight Indian languages, and we are projecting editions in Albanian, Italian, and Japanese. Using the analysis in "The Power of the Word," writer-activists in Women's WORLD began to build an international mutual aid network, linking globally but working from the bottom up through partnerships with local organizations, in order to do culturally specific research, advocacy, and movement building. Our first partnership program was initiated in Kenya in 1997; it was followed in 1998-99 by programs in India, Italy, Peru, and the United States, and, in 2000, by programs in Ghana, South Africa, Russia, and Uganda.


In other words, between 1998 and 2000, the number of our country-based programs doubled. Such rapid expansion strained Women's WORLD's infrastructure and finances, which did not grow commensurately. Strategic planning and organizational capacity building thus become our first priority for 2000, which culminated in a board retreat at which we worked out an innovative approach to organization, combining decentralization, division of labor, and a relatively fluid and non-hierarchical structure. We also developed a two-year strategic plan emphasizing country-based research and organizing linked by a web site, which will lead up to an international conference on gender and censorship, to be held in 2002 or 2003.


II. Regional Programs Overall

Women's WORLD began doing local programming in 1997, based on a regional network model. In hindsight, it seems that by1999 most of our work was shifting to a country-based model, although no formal decision was made to this effect. It has become increasingly clear that country-based work must precede regional work for both financial and operational reasons. Although the impact of regional networks is known to anyone who was involved in the Beijing process, such networking is difficult to fund unless it is focused on the UN. Because country-based work is concrete, easily comprehensible, and less expensive than regional work, many donors find it more attractive. While we continue to wrestle with the problem of how to support international networking activities, we have changed our emphasis from regional to country-based programs except in Latin America, where the regional network, RELAT, preceded local programming and is quite strong. All our country-based work is done in partnership with local organizations, some old, some new, some started by Women's WORLD board members.



III. Africa

Re-orienting our work in Africa:
The two-year pilot program we began in 1997 with the Gender and Development Centre in Kisumu, Kenya, gave birth to a new women writers' organization, FemArt, which proposed to be our base for organizing a regional women writers' network, first in East Africa, and then on a pan-African basis. When the pilot ended, we began a systematic process of program evaluation with the help of two consultants, and concluded that the program was too costly for us to sustain. The process was educational, in that it led to a reorientation of our approach to work in Africa. As part of this reorientation, we sent a delegation to the 1999 Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which drew a larger number of women writers than usual because its theme was "Women."


The 1999 Zimbabwe International Book Fair:
Women's WORLD's main purpose at the ZIBF was to identify potential partners and develop more detailed plans for our future work in Africa. We did outreach through several public workshops, "The Importance of Women's Presses," with Violet Barungi (Uganda), Florence Howe (US), Ritu Menon (India), and Promise Okekwe (Nigeria); "Building an Anti-Censorship Network," with Patricia McFadden (Zimbabwe), Ritu Menon (India), Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), and Meredith Tax (US); and "Producing Women's Health Materials," with Dianne Forte (US), Vossie Goosen (South Africa), Goretti Kyomuhendo (Uganda), and Bunmi Oyisan (Nigeria). We held two invitational brainstorming dinner meetings; rented a booth for our literature; spoke in a panel "Working With Men," convened by Patricia McFadden at a local coffeehouse; and attended the Indaba and the Zimbabwe Women Writers conference preceding the book fair. In our continuing effort to build up an international data bank of women writers, we asked writers who visited our booth and came to our meetings to fill out the questionnaire developed by the Women and Censorship Project in India. We also gave two social events, a dinner for Femrite (our sister organization in Uganda) at a local restaurant, and a tea party at SAPES Trust in honor of Ama Ata Aidoo, a founding member of Women's WORLD.


The two brainstorming dinners were the heart of our ZIBF program. The thirty-odd African women writers who attended spoke of their problems, hopes, and fears in a manner both intimate and inspirational. The conversations focused on four concerns:

  • General social problems, particularly structural adjustment, AIDS, and war, which close up the space available to women writers.

  • Informal censorship of women activists, found in traditional social attitudes towards women, often reinforced by governments, the media, and the growth of various fundamentalisms, with illiteracy acting as another kind of silencing

  • Specific barriers experienced by women writers, who suffer from lack of resources, training, and access to publishing opportunities, as well as discrimination by male publishers and critics

  • Co-optation of the women's movement by governments and "the establishment," so that the women's movement itself encourages censorship and ceases to be progressive


Participants felt that their concerns as writers could not be isolated from other social problems. In the course of discussing programmatic ideas, they identified four main needs:

  • A different kind of women's movement that includes poor, young, and rural women, and promotes a vision of development that incorporates cultural change

  • More women cultural activists, such as publishers, who can develop new markets for women's writing, and feminist critics, who can support new writers

  • A network of African women writers' groups, with groups that already exist helping to form new ones

  • An emergency action network through which African women writers can defend one another within the continent, to avoid situations in which human rights concerns are labeled "Western." The group appointed three people as contact points for this network.

Organizing trip to South Africa:
After the ZIBF, we sent a small delegation to South Africa to see if we could identify potential partners there. The situation appeared promising in Capetown, where we met with representatives of WEAVE, a fifteen-year -old collective of grassroots women writers, including Gertrude Fester and Beverly Jansen, and a younger group of feminists, including Desiree Lewis of the University of the Western Cape and Roshila Nair, Publications Officer of the Centre for Conflict Resolution. These two networks were interested in developing publishing resources for black women writers, who, now as before, are largely without voice.


SAWPI (South African Women's Publishing Initiative):
In the autumn of 1999, Gertrude Fester, Desiree Lewis, and Roshila Nair incorporated SAWPI, the South African Women's Publishing Initiative, whose purpose is to develop a social space in which the voices of black women can be heard--a space still lacking in South Africa. They sent Women's WORLD a proposal describing its mission: Although legal rights and compensatory polices in present-day South Africa suggest fundamental changes for women, it remains a deeply patriarchal and even misogynist society. Violence against women, women's social exclusion, and the suppression of women's voices are especially evident in cultural life, where entrenched patriarchal ideology limits their roles as producers of cultural texts or leads to the dominance of texts that reproduce oppressive gender stereotypes and myths. In this context, a Women's Press can play a central intervening role. It would not only create opportunities for more women to publish their work, but would help to generate a thriving culture of awareness of gender myths and imbalances. It should be stressed that South Africa, despite its emphasis on legal and formal rights for women, lacks this culture of gender justice. . . .


In March 2000, SAWPI held a workshop on Black Women and Censorship in South Africa attended by twenty-five writers, academics, and activists; Dr. Fatima Meer was a guest of honor. The conference adopted a program and elected a Core Committee (Desiree Lewis, Gertrude Fester, and Roshila Nair) to do fund raising and administration, and a Steering Committee consisting of those three along with Shelly Barry (Capetown), Betty Govinden (Kwa Zulu Natal), Gail Smith (Gauteng), and Deirdre Prins (Robben Island, Capetown). They decided to concentrate on four activities: 1) a newsletter, to provide a forum for women writers and publish their works; 2) writer's workshops, to provide opportunities for women writers to work with established writers on craft; 3) resources and research, to lobby at local libraries, write funding proposals, and assess the possibility of establishing a resource center for women's writings; 4) a feasibility study for a women's press, to be conducted over a period of six months, which will be used to seek funding and to lobby for state and other initiatives to promote women's voices in South Africa. SAWPI is now seeking support for these efforts and for an administrative person to coordinate them. At the end of 2000, some of the women involved in WEAVE and SAWPI brought out Ink @ Boiling Point : A 21st Century Selection of Women's Writing from the Tip of Africa, which may be the first anthology of Black women's writing to come out of the new South Africa.


Femrite Women's Writing Workshop:
Femrite is a women writers' nonprofit and press in Uganda, founded in 1995, that has published eight books in the last two years. Its Chair, Mary Karooro Okorut, contacted Women's WORLD soon after both organizations were born, and the two groups have remained in steady communication. For some time Femrite's Director, Goretti Kyomuhendo, had expressed the group's desire for literary training by an established African writer who could help them improve their work. Unfortunately, while Femrite had stable funding for its publishing program, it was unable to get support to help its members become better writers. In 1999, they asked Women's WORLD to develop a partnership program to address this need. In February 2000, Ama Ata Aidoo went to Uganda to lead a five-day writer's workshop for fifteen-plus participants organized by Femrite and supported by Women's WORLD; the subjects covered ranged from career to artistic to gender issues, and the workshop included active writing sessions and critiques.


Mbaasem:
In January 2000, Ama Ata Aidoo decided to return to Accra to live and to set up an organization called Mbaasem (meaning "women's affairs") with the goal of building a women writers' center and residency in Ghana. She has now incorporated Mbaasem, rented space for an office and the residency program, hired staff, and begun to establish it as a presence in Accra. She plans to hold a founding conference of Ghanaian women writers during the Ghanaian Book Fair in November 2001. Women's WORLD provided core support for Mbaasem's first year.


IV. Europe


In February 1999, Women's WORLD held a ten-woman European team meeting at Bellagio to develop a plan for organizing in Europe. The meeting was attended by Nadezhda Azhgikhina (Moscow), Sazana Caprici (Kosovo), Diana Çuli (Tirana), Monica Nagler (Stockholm), Luisa Passerini (Florence), Svetlana Slapsak (Ljubljana), Annamaria Tagliavini (Bologna), Tatiana Turina (Minsk), Hilary Wainwright (Manchester), and Meredith Tax (New York). The group decided to produce a collection of articles on the situation of women writers in various European countries, to be published in Albanian, English, Italian, Russian, and Serbo-Croatian.


The Centro de Documentazione delle Donne in Bologna volunteered to act as a base for Women's WORLD's work in Europe. The Centro is a twenty- year-old feminist organization working in culture, publishing, and human rights, with a training school (the Hannah Arendt School) supported by the European Union, and a program called "Women in Difficult Places" that trains and supports feminist groups and women's peace groups in Bosnia, Kosovo, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Israel, and Palestine. To introduce the idea of gender-based censorship, the Centro held a public meeting in Bologna, with Women's WORLD participation.

Unfortunately, the plans made in Bellagio were delayed by political instability on all fronts. The outbreak of war in Kosovo just a few weeks after our meeting made it impossible for the participants to remain in touch. Svetlana Slapsak was already persona non grata to the Milosevic regime because of her dissident history and long support for Albanian civil rights; when the NATO bombing began, the police confiscated everything in the office of her magazine ProFemina. Sazana Caprici fled Kosovo for Montenegro and could not be located for many months. Diana Çuli had to put everything else on hold to care for refugees pouring into Albania.


The situation in Italy also became problematic. The Centro di Documentazione delle Donna had received core support for many years from the left-wing city government of Bologna. In the election of spring 1999, conservative Berlusconi forces captured Bologna and immediately moved to cut the organization's funding. This meant that the Centro had to concentrate on its own economic survival, putting its plans for Women's WORLD on hold, with the exception of an oral history project to preserve and document the culture and life stories of Albanian women in a time of transition. The project has three objectives: an archive consisting of the tape recordings and transcriptions; a book to be published in the Astrea series by Giunti; and a press campaign to explain both. The interviews are being done by volunteers working with Luisa Passerini at the European University in Florence.


Women's WORLD had begun work in Russia two years before the Bellagio meeting; "The Power of the Word," Women's WORLD's founding pamphlet, was published there in Russian in 1997 by Nadia Azhgikhina and the Association of Russian Women Journalists. Nadia was elected to the Women's WORLD Board of Directors in 1999 and, in February 2000, she organized a conference of forty women writers, some recognized, some new voices, from twelve regions of Russia, the Ukraine, and Belarus. Participants discussed problems of freedom of expression, women's writing, gender-based censorship, and women's participation in contemporary media. They formed a network of women writers in the three countries, though it is difficult for them to keep in touch because the economic situation makes access to email impossible for all but a few.


The publication we planned in Bellagio, called The Power of the Word II: Women's Voices and the New European Order, edited by Nadia Azhgikhina and Meredith Tax, was finally published in Russia in November 2000; the English edition came out in December in New York, and Serbo-Croatian and Italian editions are projected for 2001.


V. India


The Gender and Censorship Project in India is the most ambitious Women's WORLD has undertaken. It is a ten-language research project in partnership with Asmita, an activist women's organization located in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Asmita's program includes legal assistance for women in distress; networking and campaigns, particularly around violence against women; training, popular education, and outreach; and research, publications, and cultural work. The purpose of the Gender and Censorship Project is: "To see how gender-based censorship, embedded as it is in a range of social and cultural mechanisms that invalidate women's experience and exclude them from political discourse, is far more pervasive and far more difficult to confront than official suppression. To see how critical the silencing of women, and the use of systemic force to ensure that silence, is to the maintenance and perpetuation of patriarchal power. ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports," pp. 4-5)


The Gender and Censorship project is led by a five-woman team including Ritu Menon of Women's WORLD (co-founder of Kali for Women, the oldest women's press in Asia); Vasanth Kannabiran and Volga, two leading members of Asmita; and the feminist writers Ammu Joseph and Gouri Salvi. The project includes the following components:

  • Three-day research workshops of fifteen to twenty-five women writers, diverse in age, class, genre, and degree of recognition, in each of the following ten languages: Bengali, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Malayalam, and Urdu. Selection of participants is done with local writers and/or nonprofits; participating writers prepare by reading The Power of the Word in translation.

  • Survey research with a questionnaire designed by social scientists

  • In depth follow-up interviews of five writers from each language group

  • Concluding conference bringing all the participants together, to be held in April 2001

  • Publications summarizing the findings, including two volumes of interviews


The project's goals are to:

  • Build a network of women writers who will provide solidarity and support to one another

  • Facilitate the creation of alternative forums for women's writing

  • Empower women by providing opportunities and training for skill development in all aspects of publishing

  • Interact with other educational and literacy programs in producing or providing gender-sensitive material

  • Analyze how and when particular forms of censorship operate

  • Resist the more blatant threats to freedom of expression by the state or religious groups


The project has already stimulated the first anthology of Urdu women's literature published in India in the last sixty years; a ground-breaking panel on women and censorship at the annual meeting of the Indian Association for Women's Studies; the formation of the first Indian women writers' association in West Bengal; and considerable attention in the press.


Seven workshops have been held to date, in Urdu (Feb. 1999, in Andrha Pradesh); Telugu (Feb.-Mar. 1999, in Tamil Nadhu); Malayam (August 1999, in Kerala); Marathi (May 1999, in Maharashtra); Hindi (Oct.-Nov. 1999, in New Delhi); Gujarati (Feb. 2000, in Gujarat); and Bengali (Nov. 2000, in West Bengal). The workshops in English, Kannada, and Tamil will be held early in 2001, and the National Colloquium will take place in April 2001. As the organizers describe the experience so far, "The thread that ran through most of these workshops was disconnection: the disconnection between what women said and what they wrote; between their spoken words and their silences; between their husbands' and fathers' apparent encouragement and support, and their explicit, disapproving silence when a norm was violated. Between women as the subject matter of writing and women as subjects and writers. Between language, literature and social movements, and the emergence of women's voices. Between language and gender, gender and genre." ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports," p. 4)


A taste of the richness of the material can be found in these brief selections from the workshops: "Women find their voices suppressed in the name of culture and tradition. They are told that a previous cultural heritage is being desecrated by such writing. And when women still write, struggling to express something through the interstices of these limitations as it were, they are told that their writing is mere vegetable and curry. Vegetable curry is synonymous with effete domesticity in a culture where meat eating is the symbol of manhood. The few women in Hyderabad who have attempted to overcome these barriers have been attacked and isolated for descending into the obscene and vulgar." ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports," Urdu, p. 11)
As Parvathy Devi put it, "Writing that reinforces or is, at least, uncritical of prevailing societal norms and values is praised, while writing that critiques patriarchal values and promotes the concept of women's identity as individuals provokes censure. Men who write differently are honored, but women who do so are isolated--either by ignoring them or by singling them out for negative criticism." ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports," Mayalalam, pp. 56-57)
"When asked which subject they found the most difficult to write about the majority said: the family. To write honestly about it was almost impossible. And so this household dimension of women's writing itself becomes a form of censorship. Apart from having to accommodate their writing to the demands of domesticity, women have to deal with the most intimate and deep-seated of patriarchal prejudices within the home." ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports," Hindi, pp. 88-89)
In addition to the old problems of social and familial censorship, the growth of fundamentalisms and communalisms in India is rapidly constricting the environment for free speech. "Since the beginning of the project in January1999 the situation on the ground in India has changed dramatically with regard to the question of freedom of expression. A most alarming trend has been the rise of what can only be called 'street censorship' with self-appointed guardians of morality and thought police taking matters into their own hands, often by the use of force and violence. In the last several months, painters, writers, film-makers, academics and NGOs have been targeted by the government and by ultra-right, ultra-conservative quasi-political organisations who seek to censor their work. Film-maker Deepa Mehta, recently in the news because she was prevented from shooting her film 'Water' in Varanasi is not the first artist to be thus intimidated, nor will she be the last." ("Gender and Censorship Project Workshops Reports, pp. 97-98)


Members of Women's WORLD in other parts of the world are so excited by the Indian project that several will attend its culminating conference in April 2001 in the hope of replicating the project in Peru, Russia, and the United States, in order to get cross-cultural and international data on the relationship of gender and censorship.


VI. Latin America


By the beginning of 1999, RELAT (Red de Escritoras Latinoamericanas), a regional network of women writers, had been incorporated as a Peruvian non-profit with Mariella Sala as Director. Its local board is made up of the Peruvian writers Aï da Balta, Mariella Sala, Carmen Ollé, and Pilar Dughi, and its regional directorate consists of Mariella Sala (Peru), Angelica Gorodischer (Argentina), Joyce Cavalccante (Brazil), and Virginia Ayllón (Bolivia).


RELAT's first major activity in 1999 was organizing a national conference of Peruvian women writers, held in July. About forty women participated, including urban writers, academics, and writers from the countryside. The four panels focused on the situation of women writers in Peru; the publishing industry; writing and political engagement; and literary criticism, including censorship and self-censorship. Rural writers spoke of the way they are cut off from cultural currents and isolated from their fellow writers by the centralization of culture in Lima. Urban writers spoke of the problems of the Peruvian publishing industry. The meeting resolved to set up a network to "act as a communication mechanism that will permit critical literary debates, inter-regional exchanges, and the development of writers' workshops." RELAT members also participated in the Peruvian International Book Fair and in two international meetings on gender and literature organized by male academics and cultural entrepreneurs in August and November 2000. In these meetings, RELAT members became "the center of a polemic about whether it was possible to talk of a gender literature, and the target of macho Peruvian intellectuals."


RELAT held the first meeting of its regional directorate in Lima in February 2000. Participants were Angelica Gorodischer (Argentina), Vicky Ayllón (Bolivia), Joyce Cavalccante (Brazil), Eliane Ortega (Chile), and Mariella Sala (Peru). Ana Maria Portugal of the women's organization Isis was a special guest. After a general discussion of regional problems of women writers, the group focused on issues of publishing and distribution, including "the crisis of the national publishing companies and the penetration and eventual hegemony of the Spanish publishing companies." The group decided to begin by developing a distribution program: RELAT will do a feasibility study of the possibility of using its web site to develop a virtual bookstore for Latin American women's literature. It will also use Latin American Studies networks in North America to publicize and distribute women's books from the region. In addition, the regional meeting decided to draw attention to RELAT and the work of women writers by awarding an annual prize for a different genre each year, and to collaborate with Angelica Gorodischer, Women's WORLD board member and founder of RELATAR, the sister organization in Argentina, on the second International Women Writers conference she organized in Rosario. This took place very successfully in August 2000; a third will be held in 2002.


RELAT has now set up a web site to act as a regional news bulletin, linked with the web sites of REBRA in Brazil and RELATAR in Argentina. It is developing a proposal for two writing workshops for young women in Lima's poor neighborhoods; and enlarging its database of Latin American women writers in order to provide bibliographic information. Despite all this activity, RELAT has continued to have difficulty financing its work. Its 1999 report speaks of frequent discouragement due to overwork and lack of financial support. "The Peruvian women writers that have collaborated with RELAT have jobs that engage them from ten to twelve hours daily." Many work at several jobs because of the economic situation; they also try to find time to write; they cannot carry out RELAT projects unless they can buy time for them from their other jobs. "It has been a difficult year, like every period in which a project is started. . . . Nevertheless, we realize that we have done quite a lot and we hope that next year, with the help of coordination in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Brazil, we can go forward with more solid and less lonely steps." Perhaps the political changes taking place in Peru, leading up to new elections, will make it easier for civil society groups like RELAT to find funding.


VII. United States


Because so much of the attention and resources of the New York office have been centered on building Women's WORLD's international program, ours US program has not advanced very rapidly. For the last three years, our main US objective has been to develop a Women's WORLD Institute that will:

  • Provide a US base for our international network

  • Bring global feminism home, by popularizing its analysis and acting as an intellectual center for the progressive feminist community and the broader women's movement

  • Develop writing programs to give a public voice to those women who are least heard--women on welfare, in the labor movement, in community organizations.


As a first step towards this goal, in the spring semester of 1998, we began to teach a pilot writing workshop for women on welfare in partnership with the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College. This workshop, for which students got course credit, was led by Marta Lucia, then Education Director of Women's WORLD. Although this course could only be given for credit in two consecutive spring semesters, the students felt so empowered by it that they continued to meet over the summer and through the fall semester without credit, despite their many scheduling difficulties and the fact that most are full-time students with jobs and young children. Their dedication made us determined to bring the course to fruition in a publication and public reading, which took place in June 2000, even though we were unable to find funding to carry on with this program.


We want to continue to build on the idea of empowerment through writing, integrated with leadership training, as a program we can offer women in welfare rights groups, labor unions, and community organizations. This is a key element in the Women's WORLD Institute we hope to build. We have begun exploratory discussions with several colleges and universities, in the hope of finding a partner that will be interested in housing Women's WORLD and providing support services. As a step towards becoming more visible in the academic community, we presented two international panels on gender-based censorship at the CUNY Graduate Center in December 2000, focusing on Eastern Europe and the Global South.


VIII. International Human Rights Case Work


Women's WORLD does intensive work on behalf of women writers who are censored, driven into exile, put under death threat, or subjected to other forms of persecution. Much of this work is done in cooperation with International PEN, PEN American Center, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations. Over the last few years, for instance, we have spent considerable time on the cases of Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh) and Fahmida Riaz (Pakistan), helping with immigration problems, long-range planning, and emotional support. Other writers whose cases we have worked on include the "Five Croatian Witches" (Slavenka Drakulic, Rada Ivekovic, Vesna Kesic, Jelena Lovric, and Dubravka Ugresic), Svetlana Alexievich (Belarus), Christiana Lambrinidis (Greece), Aïcha Lemsine (Algeria), Nadire Mater (Turkey), Patricia McFadden (Zimbabwe), and Svetlana Slapsak (Serbia). We continue to keep in touch by email with most of the writers we have defended over the years; many have become active members of our network.


IX. Strategic Planning and Organizational Capacity Building


Women's WORLD is governed by an international Board of Directors that meets once a year. Decisions between board meetings are taken by email, and a New York office does fund raising and international coordination. Current board members of Women's WORLD are Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Nadezhda Azhgikhina (Russia), Joan Ross Frankson (Jamaica), Paula Giddings (US), Kristin Booth Glen (US), Angelica Gorodischer (Argentina), Ritu Menon (India), Micere Githae Mugo (Kenya), Grace Paley (US), Mariella Sala (Peru), Meredith Tax (US), and Annamaria Tagliavini/Luisa Passerini (Italy), acting as alternates.


In 1999, the officers of Women's WORLD were: Chair: Grace Paley; Vice-Chairs: Ritu Menon and Ama Ata Aidoo; Secretary-Treasurer: Joan Ross Frankson; President and CEO: Meredith Tax. In November 2000, most of their terms ended and the officers rotated. The new officers are: Chair: Mariella Sala; Vice-Chair: Nadia Azhgikhina; Secretary: Joan Ross Frankson; and Treasurer: Paula Giddings.


Women's WORLD began strategic planning in 1999. By then, our pilot program in Kenya had been running for two years. We focused considerable attention on program evaluation and, in the process, made some key decisions:

  • We want Women's WORLD to be an international network of equal partner groups, not a US-based donor agency for women writers' groups in the Global South. We must move away from a model in which programs in the Global South get core funding from the New York office, to a model in which these programs raise their own funds, though the office can help them make contact with US donors.

  • We need to develop an international activity that will knit our country-based programs together; otherwise people in them will not really feel part of an international organization and think globally.

  • As the only international group doing work on gender and censorship, we have a huge job before us, and very slim financial and personnel resources. We therefore have to concentrate our efforts and make sure everything we undertake moves us closer to our goals. Whatever our desires may be, we do not at this time have the resources to participate in UN-focused efforts like Beijing+5, or to build grassroots coalitions like the World March of Women.

  • We need a longer, more in-depth strategic planning retreat, in order to rethink our structure, and begin capacity building in the light of the organization's expansion.


We had hoped to hold such a retreat in the winter of 1999 but had to wait until December 2000, for financial reasons. In the meantime, Meredith Tax, Women's WORLD President and chief executive, sought help to meet the growing challenges of her job. She asked advice of friendly foundation officers and the directors of other non-profits, and received management counseling from John Vogelsang of the Support Center. In this process, certain facts became apparent:
  • From the beginning, Women's WORLD had sought to keep its New York overhead costs down in order to put money into regional programs. These programs had now multiplied to the extent that the office could not service them adequately, particularly in light of the need to increase visibility and expand work in the US. But building up a large professional staff in New York would be cost-prohibitive.

  • The New York office was seriously understaffed. As the only full time staff member, the President was actually doing four people's jobs, functioning as both the "entrepreneurial leader," in charge of vision, program, and fund raising, and the "administrative leader," in charge of finances, contract fulfillment, and control, for both the International program and the US program.

  • Until the President could devote more attention to the US program, Women's WORLD would suffer from lack of visibility in the US. Such key initial program development could not be delegated to staff.


These realizations led the President to feel that it was no longer cost effective to have an international office in New York. There were also political costs to maintaining the traditional form of US-based international non-profit at a time when the US is the only remaining superpower. There were other board members in Women's WORLD as capable of being President as she. And in a period of globalization, when international division of labor is becoming the norm and electronic communications make it easy to stay in touch, surely some better system of governance could be found than concentrating leadership, administration, and funding in New York. She proposed that the Presidency rotate in 2002 to a location in the Global South, probably India, since our work there was most advanced, and that the new President set up an international office there. The New York office would then be freed to develop a US program. After a term of five or six years, the international Presidency would again rotate, and the office would go with it.


The Board of Directors of Women's WORLD went thoroughly into the question of structure at its strategic planning retreat in December 2000. It decided to table the President's suggestion for a year to eighteen months, and, in the meantime, set up a more sophisticated division of labor to handle some of the functions now being handled in New York--devolution rather than rotation. Four new committees-Advisory-Crisis, Affiliations, Publications, and World Conference--were set up, dividing considerable planning and administration work between them. The meeting also projected developing offices in India and Peru that can share the work of global planning, fund raising, and administration. To knit the organization together and develop more common work, it was agreed that we would organize a global conference on gender and censorship, to be held in 2002 or 2003, and bring together people working on our issues all over the world.


To further decrease the burden of work on the New York office and avoid building relationships of dependency, it was decided that the New York office would no longer raise funds for local projects outside the US. The office will remain responsible for communications, individual human rights cases, the US program, a web site, and fund raising for global programs like the conference. These decisions will be evaluated and further strategic planning will take place at our next board meeting, to be held in Peru in the winter of 2001.



X. Finances , 1999-2000


In 1999 and 2000, Women's WORLD received core support for its international program and its New York office from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and individual contributions. Our country-based programs during this period were supported by grants from Inter-Church Cooperation (UK), HIVOS (Netherlands), the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Prince Klaus Foundation (Netherlands), the Open Society Institute, the New York Community Trust, and the World Association for Christian Communications (UK). Despite their generous support, as the preceding narrative indicates, Women's WORLD's program have expanded so fast that our organizational and financial capacity is stretched to the limit. No matter how creatively we deal with questions of governance and administration, we cannot build an international organization on an annual budget of $250,000 to $300,000. Our need for larger foundation grants is clear, as is the need to diversify our income base, so that we can reach more individual donors, generate more income and visibility from events, and possibly bring in earned income from publishing and/or distribution projects.


The rapid growth of our work is a testament to its urgency. Our recent board retreat, at which we restructured our organization without ego or acrimony, indicates that our capacity for political and interpersonal growth is sufficient to meet the need. We are confident that others will see the importance of our work and help us grow.

Meredith Tax, President, December 15, 2000
Women's WORLD
208 W. 30th Street, #901
New York, NY 10001
USA
Tel: 212-947-2915
Fax: 212-947-2973
Email