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As mentioned in earlier sections, the ASR Institute of Women’s Studies, Lahore emerged out of the imperative to develop cost-effective, socio-politically relevant, and academically rigorous Women’s Studies courses and programmes in South Asia. IWSL seeks to address the needs of activists, development workers, human rights’ workers, university/college professors, graduate students, professionals, researchers, artists, writers, and those interested in women’s issues, who would like to keep abreast with developments in Women’s Studies and the women’s movement, nationally and internationally, without enrolling in an institution in the West.
The Institute, then, fills a vacuum by providing a type of Women’s Studies training that takes into account the specific realities of Asian, particularly Pakistani and other South Asian, women’s experiences and contributions. This Women’s Studies training emphasizes the linkages between oppressions deriving from factors other than gender, such as poverty and race.”
“The Institute also built up links with universities abroad, particularly, England, India, the Netherlands and USA among others. This was possible through the process of faculty identification and development. It has drawn support from and has been strongly advocated by women activists and academics from national, regional and international levels. The committed faculty with the Institute is working at various levels of policy teaching/ training. Some are involved in assisting with course development, contributing material and linking the Institute with other similar programs within areas of work.
In March 1997 a national and international faculty meeting was held to organize the framework of policies and direction of the Institute; finalize course modules; schedule teaching commitments and offer courses accordingly; determine responsibilities and delegate tasks selectively; and to work out broad ideas for reviewing mechanisms and evaluations of the courses on offer. Moreover, IWSL benefited from the exchange of ideas and experiences and methodologies of Women’s Studies from around the world.
Many of the faculty members are from South Asia or of South Asian origin or then from other parts of the ‘South’. This has been a deliberate move on the part of the Institute. IWSL is attempting to bring back into the region women who live and work in other countries mainly because of the lack of openings in their home countries in the past. This is especially true given that many of the scholars and academics associated with western universities and at the leading edge of feminist theory/ thought are in fact of Asian origin. By encouraging these women to come as resource persons/ faculty to IWSL means that the students/ participants at the Institute would be able to avail the experience and knowledge of some of the biggest names in feminism, Women’s Studies and Women in Development that there are. At the same time reconnecting these women on the ground realities of lives of women in countries such as Pakistan.
The Institute finally developed its formal courses and programs and gave specific dimensions to them. They are:
- To offer planned and intensive study-based courses in Women’s Studies.
- To encourage activists to build on their knowledge and theories; and academics and professionals to integrate activism into their area of work.
- To provide trainers, activists, professionals, NGO workers, academics, media workers, researchers with an informed grasp and understanding of concepts, perspectives, strategies related to feminism, women and development.
- To assist women conducting research in an institutional setting with supervision/ consultation and facilities.
- To provide a space for reflection, research, reading and writing in a conducive and supportive environment.
- To facilitate critical dialogue, fruitful interaction, and intellectual exchange the Third World
- As a process the programs are committed to:
- Review and build on changes in the socio-economic and political context of the Asian and international women’s movement.
- Create awareness and work towards transformation of society through personal and political consciousness.
- Strengthen professional and institutional capacities of non-government and government organizations in developing countries at policy, planning and managerial level.
- Include in the definition of Women’s Studies analysis of related sectors, such as, labour/ peasant studies, development studies, cultural studies, identity politics and economics.
- Institutionalize and integrate Women’s Studies in all sectors and disciplines or professions.
Premised on the notion that critical thinking and the struggle for justice go hand in hand, the courses and programmes at IWSL facilitate the growth and awareness of meaningful activism. IWSL stresses the role of knowledge in the transformation of individual and collective reality at psychic and structural levels, and is, therefore, also committed to the production of knowledge about under-researched, under-theorised aspects of women’s lives. From such a vantage point, the processes of research, activism, and teaching/learning are all interconnected, and vital to an effective Women’s Studies programme. Developing a strong research agenda is, hence, a crucial part of IWSL’s next phase of development.
The IWSL curriculum, including the subject matter and teaching methodology, was devised collaboratively by a large pool of national and international faculty. This curriculum is continually updated in the light of current developments in Women’s Studies. In addition, the Institute works with centres and individual departments in public universities to strengthen their programmes and eliminate the gender biases in their curricula.